Issue Report: Mandatory military service

Is compulsory national service a good idea?

Many countries in the world have compulsory service. Such democratic countries as Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey are among them. Compulsory military service is normally for 18-year-olds, and lasts between 1 and 3 years. And there are usually many types of service that can be performed, ranging from combat roles to intelligence and logistic work. Different genders are frequently given different responsibilities. In Israel, for example, males usually perform 3 years of combat/security service, while females perform two years of non-combat service. Many nations grapple with the question of mandatory military service, including the United States. Proponents believe it increases the strength of the military, strengthens the character of youth, and increases the collective conscience of a nation and the restraint of leaders when considering military action. Opponents consider it an affront to individual liberties, a risk in breeding militarism and the dominance of the state, and simply unnecessary when voluntary armies can be sufficient. These and other pros and cons and quotations are documented below.

Character: Does national service help build individual character?

Military service offers invaluable experiences

It is a significant change from past experiences for young individuals; a shift in perspective that can help them see life differently, inspire them to work harder in the future, and foster a greater sense of purpose and responsibility to one’s nation.

National service produces valuable character traits:

Young people are taught respect for authority, self-discipline, teamwork and leadership skills.

Military service turns youth into adults

Military service gives youth great responsibilities

National service teaches skills valuable in marketplace.

People could train as engineers, IT specialists, drivers, chefs etc. In the long-run this will reduce unemployment, lower the crime rate and help the economy.

Compulsory military service offers world travel

Compulsory service teaches practical life skills

Compulsory service engenders appreciation for freedoms

"Mandatory Military service and the effects it would have on society." Nolan Chart. December 15th, 2008

“Upon leaving high school men and women are required, by law, to join the military for at least two years. There is no choice in the matter; if they don’t go they get the same rights as a felon. Yes, when a person goes into the military they lose certain rights for a little while, but is that necessarily bad? No. If they have never had their basic rights taken from them they will never place as high a value on those rights, or on the sacrifice their ancestors made to give them those rights. It is a growing problem in America for people to take their rights for granted. Take peoples rights away temporarily and people start to value what they have more; and they start to value their country more. Patriotism will be on the rise.”

Mandating military service drains its many virtues

According to a 2006 Time commentary, “many have argued that requiring service drains the gift of its virtue.” This is because in order for an act to be patriotic, it has to be voluntary. If it is required, then it is nothing special.

Impossible to mandate morality of state

Bruce Chapman. "A bad idea whose time is past: the case against universal service." Brookings Institute. 2002

“Outside of mass mobilization for war—or in the special case of Israel, a small nation effectively on constant alert—the only modern nations that have conscripted labor to meet assorted, centrally decreed social purposes have been totalitarian regimes. In those lands, the object, as much as anything, has been to indoctrinate youth in the morality of the state. Litan may not have such goals in mind, but many universal service advocates want to use conscription to straighten out the next generation—to their approved standards. No doubt many-most?-think they can inculcate a sense of voluntary service through compulsory service.”

Government better off running training schemes.

This would also teach skills but would save all the money that would go into the bureaucracy of running national service.

Military service diverts young from university/career.

Time spent doing military service is time taken away from the transition between high school and university education.

Security: Is national conscription important to national security?

Service helps connect and check military with civilians

Kate Connolly. "Germany to abolish compulsory military service." November 22nd, 2010

“a necessary means to ensure the defence forces maintain a close relationship to civil society in order to prevent a repeat of the way in which the Nazi party was able to manipulate professional soldiers in the 1930s.”

Mandatory service makes leaders less trigger-happy

"Mandatory Military service and the effects it would have on society." Nolan Chart. December 15th, 2008

“The presidents children are in the military; congresses children are in the military. How fast would they be to go to war with the knowledge that their children would be deployed? Not as fast as they were willing to in the past. The government would defiantly become more willing to look at other options before leaping headfirst into a major conflict. There would be more protests from congress if the president went crazy and decided to charge into a foreign country.”

Compulsory military service is very cost-effective.

“Mandatory service is a very cost-efficient defence solution. Many European countries who have abandoned military service have had lost of problems recruiting,” Gustav Hägglund, former head of Finland’s armed forces said in 2009.

Conscription sometimes necessary to be ready for war.

Conscription during peacetime would mean that the country was prepared for emergencies when they happened, rather than having to prepare after the fact.

Mandatory service often needed to have adequate forces

Swedish brigadier general Bengt Axelsson responded to the phasing out of Sweden’s military in 2009: “I want to raise a warning finger. It’s not going to be possible to achieve the volume of soldiers people are now counting on having by relying on volunteers.”

Service necessary for some geographically threatened states.

Henrik Trasberg, a 20-year-old law student who is at the moment serving in the 4th Single Infantry Battalion in Johvi as a driver, thinks that mandatory military service is necessary: “Our geographic location and historical backround forces Estonia to have a good defense capacity. Further.”

Conscripts never as good as professional soldiers

Conscripts will not last as long nor be as combat reliable in the battlefield as compared to a real soldier who is trained to do both. These ‘conscripts’ (candidates) are only given the basic training of how to wield a gun and aim, but that short-lived training will never prepare them to readily pull the trigger to end someone’s life, therefore lowering their combat-efficiency because of the uncertainties they pose as soldiers. Furthermore, soldiers undergo years of vigorous physical exercise to constantly improve their physical shape for the merciless battlefield. The candidates however only have but a few months of such training at a lower magnitude, and this cannot be sufficient in preparing them for battle.

Compulsory service brings in unqualified and unfit.

Kaarel Siim, a team doctor in the Estonian Kuperjanov Infantry Battalion, said in March of 2011: “there are too many unqualified people and, in addition, quite a lot of them suffer from psychological problems.”

Compulsory service inefficiently uses training resources

Extensively training individuals that will subsequently only spend a couple of years in their respective roles is simply inefficient. It usually takes many years to secure a good return on investment from such training expenditures. Short-term compulsory service is, therefore, an inefficient use of resources.

No justification for mandatory service where no threat exists.

Britain, for example, is not under any threat and there is no evidence that it will be in the near future. The army is capable of carrying out its role and the training of conscripts would only divert its time from more important matters.

Unnecessary to train whole nation to prepare for threats.

Suhail Al-Enizi, aged 28, argued in 2010 that military service in Kuwait should not be mandatory: “I am certain that we have enough soldiers in the army. We don’t need to train the entire nation in order to be ready for threats; we are not in a police state. This is a democracy.”

Mandatory military service is more expensive

Bruce Chapman. "A bad idea whose time is past: the case against universal service." Brookings Institute. 2002

“Because organized compulsion costs more than real volunteering […], the indirect expenses for governments would be still greater. Chief among these are the hidden financial costs of universal national service to the economy in the form of forgone labor.”

Society: Does mandatory service help solve social ills?

Military service fosters a collective conscience

Swedish editorialist Kennet Andreasson wrote when Sweden ended its mandatory service in 2010: “There is good reason to fear that with the end of military service yet another level of collective conscience will disappear. […] The connection between obligations and rights has become less and less clear.”

Mandatory military service will cure many of society's ills

Armstrong Williams. "Mandatory Military Service Would Benefit the U.S." News Max. June 19th, 2006

“Would you like to see your son, daughter, niece, nephew or teenage neighbor become hard-working, respectful, disciplined, honorable and prepared for life? Would you like to see crime, teenage pregnancy and substance abuse rates decline? No, this is not an advertisement for a magic pill; this is an argument for mandatory military service.”

Mandatory service creates diverse, unified melting pot

Ari Bussel. "Mandatory military service works in Israel." News Blaze. November 26, 2009

“The IDF is a melting pot it is an army of all the people, those from rich and poor homes, religious and secular backgrounds, different shades of skin color, smart and slow, disabled and healthy, courageous and hesitant. Service pushes all through a mixer, treating them equally, placing the same demands and entrusting the same great responsibilities regardless of creed, ethnicity, or other labels or affiliations.”

Mandatory service fosters militarism

Oral Calislar. "Mandatory military service essence of militarism." Daily News. September 1, 2010

“‘Mandatory military service’ is one of the best methods of forcing militarism on society. The heart of the message sent to the entire society and all men are this: ‘No matter how educated you are, or what status you have in society, the military is above you; even the lowest military rank is your superior.’ Since the aim is to make people believe in how untouchable the military is, mandatory military service is a privilege that militarism will not let go easily. This is the reason behind reactions against military service by payment. […] ‘If you a lawyer or an engineer or an architect, an artist or academics; if you speak five different languages, the lowest ranking military official is still your superior.'”

Mandatory service unjustified to increase political engagement.

Ilya Somin. "Why Mandatory 'National Service' Proposals Target the Young." Volokh Conspiracy. September 24th, 2007

“At this point, I know some moralists will claim that the young “deserve” any political setbacks they suffer because they don’t participate in politics enough. Such arguments overlook the obvious fact that many of the political disadvantages of the poor (e.g. – lack of money, lack of access to political office, lack of experience) are ones that they can’t easily offset. And whatever the validity of the general view that the young should spend more time on political activity, I hope we can agree that forced labor is not a proper punishment for spending too little time on politics.”

Fairness: Is mandatory service more fair overall?

Wrong to pay soldiers to die for their country

Cody Lyon. "The Uncomfortable Truth of a Mandatory Draft." The Agonist. November 22nd, 2006

“With uncertain talk of troop increases in Iraq, military recruiters, under great pressure from higher ups, go out, look for and find young people to fill ranks in the nation’s armed forces. They offer college tuition, increased sign up bonuses and a salary along with the chance to defend one’s country. Some critics of the all-volunteer force say, in harsh terms, the reality is that we are willing to pay people to die for us during war-time.”

Military service secures all rights and privileges.

Ari Bussel. "Mandatory military service works in Israel." News Blaze. November 26, 2009

“f) The IDF is Israel’s future, for it enables Israel to focus on innovation and creativity, to flourish and thrive, to grow and succeed in the harshest of environments (climate, lack of resources, human enemies, etc.). By providing the deterrence and safety net, the IDF allows citizens not in active service to live their daily lives in the most unlikely and currently unfriendly of places their eternal homeland. The IDF is the cement, the building blocks, the embodiment of past, present and future of Israel.”

Volunteer military service attracts under-privileged

National service can involve non-combat roles.

"The Case for a National Service Draft." Right Democrat. November 25th, 2010

“The civilian service option.Don’t want to go military? Not a problem. We have lots of other jobs at hand. You do two years of them — be a teacher’s aide at a troubled inner-city school, clean up the cities, bring meals to elderly shut-ins. We might even think about how this force could help rebuild the American infrastructure, crumbling after 30 years of neglect. These national service people would receive post-service benefits essentially similar to what military types get now, with tuition aid.”

Only young pay price of involuntary military service.

Alan Reynolds. "We Don't Draft Firemen." Washington Times. May 2nd, 2004

“not all our citizens are between ages 18 and 26, and it is those who are and their families who would pay the entire price of involuntary servitude.”

Mandatory military service will still have inequalities

Youth always find way to avoid mandatory service.

Bruce Chapman. "A bad idea whose time is past: the case against universal service." Brookings Institute. 2002

“Youth, ever ingenious, found ways to get deferments, decamp to Canada, make themselves a nuisance to everyone in authority-and make those who did serve feel like chumps. Many of the young people who objected to military service availed themselves of alternative service, but no one seriously believed that most “conscientious objectors” were “shouldering the burden of war” in a way comparable to those fighting in the field.”

Mandating service inconsistent with liberal rights

Bruce Chapman. "A bad idea whose time is past: the case against universal service." Brookings Institute. 2002

“Universal service advocates such as Litan are on especially shaky ground when charging that citizens should be ‘required to give something to their country in exchange for the full range of rights to which citizenship entitles them.’ This cuts against the grain of U.S. history and traditions. Citizens here are expected to be law-abiding, and they are called to jury duty—and to the military if absolutely necessary. They are encouraged (not forced) to vote and to render voluntary service—which Americans famously do. But to require such service before the rights of citizenship are extended is simply contrary to the purposes for which the country was founded and has endured.”

Punishing conscientious objectors just looks bad

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