Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names. The modern system of near-universal national conscription for young men dates to the French Revolution in the 1790s, where it became the basis of a very large and powerful military. Most European nations later copied the system in peacetime, so that men at a certain age would serve 1–3 years on active duty and then transfer to the reserve force.
Most European nations later copied the system in peacetime, so that men at a certain age would serve 1–3 years on active duty and then transfer to the reserve force.
In China, the State of Qin instituted universal military service following the registration of every household. This allowed huge armies to be levied, and was instrumental in the creation of the Qin Empire that conquered the whole of China in 221BC.
Conscription is controversial for a range of reasons, including conscientious objection to military engagements on religious or philosophical grounds; political objection, for example to service for a disliked government or unpopular war; and ideological objection, for example, to a perceived violation of individual rights. Those conscripted may evade service, sometimes by leaving the country. Some selection systems accommodate these attitudes by providing alternative service outside combat-operations roles or even outside the military, such as Zivildienst (civil service) in Austria and Switzerland. Most post-Soviet countries conscript soldiers not only for Armed Forces but also for paramilitary organizations which are dedicated to police-like domestic only service (Internal Troops) or non-combat rescue duties (Civil Defence Troops) – none of which is considered alternative to the military conscription.
As of the early 21st century, many states no longer conscript soldiers, relying instead upon professional militaries with volunteers enlisted to meet the demand for troops. The ability to rely on such an arrangement, however, presupposes some degree of predictability with regard to both war-fighting requirements and the scope of hostilities. Many states that have abolished conscription therefore still reserve the power to resume it during wartime or times of crisis.
Historically, the vast majority of conscription measures involve male-only participation. Even today, most countries mandating conscription only do so for males. Men who opt out of military service must often perform alternative service, such as Zivildienst in Austria and Switzerland, whereas women do not have even these obligations.
Nominally gender-equal societies such as Finland and Denmark also employ male-only conscription, as have the Netherlands and Sweden in contemporary times. The onerous time and other commitments involved with conscription, spanning two years in many cases, raises serious questions about the fairness of such programs and how they fit in with expectations of equal treatment irrespective of sex.
The onerous time and other commitments involved with conscription, spanning two years in many cases, raises serious questions about the fairness of such programs and how they fit in with expectations of equal treatment irrespective of sex.
While women, almost always exempt from conscription, are free to pursue work, study and other activities, men’s early career and life prospects can be impeded by conscription.
American libertarians oppose conscription and call for the abolition of the Selective Service System, believing that impressments of individuals into the armed forces is involuntary servitude. Ron Paul, a former leader of the Libertarian Party has said, “Conscription is wrongly associated with patriotism, when it really represents slavery and involuntary servitude.” The philosopher Ayn Rand opposed it because “Of all the statist violations of individual rights in a mixed economy, the military draft is the worst. It is an abrogation of rights. It negates man’s fundamental right—the right to life—and establishes the fundamental principle of statism: that a man’s life belongs to the state, and the state may claim it by compelling him to sacrifice it in battle.”
In 1917, a number of radicals and anarchists, including Emma Goldman, challenged the new draft law in federal court arguing that it was a direct violation of the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition against slavery and involuntary servitude. However, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the draft act in the case of Arver v. United States on January 7, 1918. The decision said the Constitution gave Congress the power to declare war and to raise and support armies. The Court emphasized the principle of the reciprocal rights and duties of citizens:
“It may not be doubted that the very conception of a just government in its duty to the citizen includes the reciprocal obligation of the citizen to render military service in case of need and the right to compel.”
It can be argued that in a cost-to-benefit ratio, conscription during peace time is not worthwhile. Months or years of service amongst the most fit and capable subtracts from the productivity of the economy; add to this the cost of training them, and paying them. Compared to these extensive costs, some would argue there is very little benefit; if there ever was a war then conscription and basic training could be completed quickly, and in any case there is little threat of a war in most countries with conscription. In the United States, every male resident must register with the Selective Service System on his 18th birthday and is available for a draft.
William James, consider both mandatory military and national service as ways of instilling maturity in young adults.
The cost of conscription can be related to the parable of the broken window. The cost of the work, military service, does not disappear even if token salary is paid. The work effort of the conscripts is effectively wasted, as an unwilling workforce is extremely inefficient. The impact is especially severe in wartime, when civilian professionals are forced to fight as amateur soldiers. Not only is the work effort of the conscripts wasted and productivity lost, but professionally skilled conscripts are also difficult to replace in the civilian workforce. Every soldier conscripted in the army is taken away from his civilian work, and away from contributing to the economy which funds the military. This is not a problem in an agrarian or pre-industrialized state where the level of education is universally low, and where a worker is easily replaced by another. However, this proves extremely problematic in a post-industrial society where educational levels are high and where the workforce is highly sophisticated and a replacement for a conscripted specialist is difficult to find. Even direr economic consequences result if the professional conscripted as an amateur soldier is killed or maimed for life; his work effort and productivity is irrevocably lost.
Jean Jacques Rousseau argued vehemently against professional armies, feeling it was the right and privilege of every citizen to participate to the defense of the whole society and a mark of moral decline to leave this business to professionals. He based this view on the development of the Roman republic, which came to an end at the same time as the Roman army changed from a conscript to professional force. Similarly, Aristotle linked the division of armed service among the populace intimately with the political order of the state. Niccolò Machiavelli argued strongly for conscription, seeing the professional armies as the cause of the failure of societal unity in Italy.
Other proponents, such as William James, consider both mandatory military and national service as ways of instilling maturity in young adults. Some proponents, such as Jonathan Alter and Mickey Kaus, support a draft in order to reinforce social equality, create social consciousness, break down class divisions and for young adults to immerse themselves in public enterprise.
Israel and Switzerland have compulsory military service. So can we implement something like this in India?
It is estimated by the British military that in a professional military, a company deployed for active duty in peacekeeping corresponds to three inactive companies at home. Salaries for each are paid from the military budget. In contrast, volunteers from a trained reserve are in their civilian jobs when they are not deployed. John Palmer: Military conscription isn’t dead yet
In June of 1973, the last man to be subject to military conscription was drafted. Previous to this time men of all social classes could be drafted into the armed services; were put, usually against their will, into uniform, and were sent to Vietnam to kill people in their own homeland, or to support those who did the killing.
The war in Vietnam itself does not, of course, seem foreign to modern sensibilities because it parallels the recent pointless war in Iraq. Neither Vietnamese nor Iraqis had ever attacked Americans but in both cases they invaded and attacked them. No, it is not (alas!) the war itself that seems incredible, it is the fact that the soldier-killers on US side were in some sense, enslaved (forced) to do the job.
Because they do not like to remember these events in their actual, raw form have deceived themselves by building a myth that their fighters were “defending freedom in America (and, by extension, in the world).” And now, since they have apparently given up the draft, they tell that this defense is carried out by an “all volunteer army.”
But how many readers know how many of these “volunteers” are not able to serve a full enlistment term? (Answer: about one-third of them) And how many readers are familiar with the term “stop loss” — a phrase which implies that involuntary servitude — even now — has not yet really been abolished? How many remember that early in the Vietnam conflict it was mostly professionals who died? (In 1965, 16 percent of battle deaths were draftees, but later on it was mostly hapless amateurs. In 1969, 62 percent of battle deaths were draftees.)
It is fair to say that the end of the draft in 1973 was indeed a step forward. But, that said, the current situation is still onerous, unjust and inefficient. The motive of most of military volunteers has more to do with economic necessity than with love of country — and, once they are in, many can’t make it and those that can make it might be held in longer than their contracted time..
Compulsory military service can give person a sense of discipline and patriotism.
One hundred and fifty years ago slavery was ended in the United States; this was indeed a great humanitarian step forward and will never be reversed. Forty years ago military conscription was ended in the United States and this also was a clear humanitarian victory. But in this case, the outcome could be reversed. Young men (but not women — feminists, where are you?), must still register for the draft. It is, as they say, the law. Scoffers may claim that the days of forcing men into uniform, and giving them weapons to confront other men whom they do not consider to be their enemies, are clearly over. Well … maybe. But then some of us who were subject to the draft thought there would never be another Vietnam. Iraq proved us naïve.
The time may arrive again when a megalomaniac comes to power in the United States. Once again we will hear of striking blows for freedom against nefarious enemies! And once again young men may learn to dread the ironic words “selective service” just as their grandfathers did. Palmer, of Charleston, served in the U.S. Air Force in South East Asia in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Should India implement compulsory military service?
Can you imagine every Indian man and woman over the ages 18 attending 2-3 months of military school or even attending compulsory military training? Israel and Switzerland have compulsory military service. So can we implement something like this in India? Will it be of any benefit?
After military training, the person should be given a choice of joining the armed forces or doing 6 months of compulsory social work. This will provide the armed forces with trained volunteers and the volunteer will get valuable experience
It’s definitely a good idea to have a well trained civilian as well as a trained army. Compulsory military service can give person a sense of discipline and patriotism. The army also offers numerous chances of basic as well as higher education. Compulsory military training can be taken up after graduation and should be completed anytime before graduation. The training period can be of 6-12 months depending on which branch the person shows a capacity for. After military training, the person should be given a choice of joining the armed forces or doing 6 months of compulsory social work. This will provide the armed forces with trained volunteers and the volunteer will get valuable experience that can count for school credit as well as an impressive resumé.
However, many are of the opinion that we don’t really need bigger armed forces. Every year, there’s a huge rush of youths competing with each other to enter the armed forces. And why not? The army offers good education opportunities, good salaries, housing for the officer as well his family, and don’t forget the army canteens which provide essentials at discount prices. For India’s vast collection of unemployed youth, the military is a good calling. So there is currently no shortage of soldiers, but a shortage of educated officers. The educated youth don’t really prefer the army as a profession as they know they have a ready market for their talent.
Is mass recruitment through alternate channels like compulsory service the best way for the army to get higher caliber officer cadets? Will the best still leave? Or will the training provide the hook needed to rope in the best brains for the officer cadre?
So this is where we get stuck! Compulsory army training is a good idea but we have the right to choose and the government can’t really force the choice. Do you think there’s a middle path here?
Admiral(Retd) J G Nadkarni says only limited conscription can end army’s manpower woes
The command chief engineer had a glib answer for everything. Hauled on the mat by the commander-in-chief for the poor maintenance of base buildings, he said, “Well Sir, it’s like this. The maintenance money has more or less remained fixed. It is based on an old formula derived many years ago. We have to both pay the maintenance staff as well as the materials out of the total maintenance grant. As you know, the outgo on pay has kept on increasing with doses of allowances and the DA — today I am paying 90 per cent of the grant in pay and allowances, leaving me little to buy the paint. How can I maintain anything?”