First Published on November 1, 2013.
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?”
Today India’s armed forces are in the same quandary as the chief engineer. The defence budget has more or less stagnated over the past 10 years. In fact, after allowing for inflation and the nosedive in the value of the Indian rupee it has declined steadily. On the other hand manpower and maintenance costs have been escalating. The Sixth Pay Commission has put an additional burden on the services. Today the Indian Army spends nearly 90 per cent of its budget on manpower and maintenance. It leaves less than Rs 10 billion each year for buying and updating equipment of a million plus strong force.
Fully 60 per cent of the army’s budget of about Rs 175 billion is spent on manpower related costs. Just 20 years ago, this figure was a more manageable 40 per cent.
To put it more graphically, if the army purchases a new field gun (no, not Bofors) it will require five years of its modernisation budget to pay for it.
In such a drastic situation, the army chief may have to carry out a force reduction of up to 80,000 men to make more money available for buying new equipment. These are only emergency measures. What is indeed required is a totally new approach if one wants to maintain a sizeable force of over a million.
The Indian Army was about 300,000-strong at the time of Independence and remained at that strength until the Chinese border war of 1962. The sudden expansion of the army after that setback saw the army grow steadily to about 800,000. Unfortunately the expansion did not stop there. During the past 20 years the army has continued to grow steadily and today stands at about one and a quarter million.
Add to that the nearly half-a-million-strong paramilitary forces and you have a sizeable chunk of manpower to pay, to feed, to clothe and to house. Fully 60 per cent of the army’s budget of about Rs 175 billion is spent on manpower related costs. Just 20 years ago, this figure was a more manageable 40 per cent. With the constant increase in the cost of paying and feeding this vast manpower, there is little chance of reducing the amount in future. The army has to look for other means to reduce manpower costs. It needs to look at limited conscription as a serious alternative.
Conscription of course is as old as the ages. Every country expects its young citizens to serve in the armed forces in the time of war or emergency. Most western countries including the United States and Britain required its young population to serve in the armed forces until recently. Of course, conscription, being a dirty word, is normally replaced by such euphemisms as ‘draft’ or ‘national service’ in these countries. These countries resorted to conscription not for cutting costs but to make up shortfall of manpower during the two World Wars, Korea and Vietnam wars. But the draft always remained unpopular and the United States managed to get rid of it after the Vietnam war by downsizing the army and increasing the pay and incentives. Today it is an all-volunteer force.
If India decides on limited conscription it can hardly follow the American way. It should look eastward for its role model. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had an army of over three million. China and Vietnam even today have large standing armies. How do these not-so-affluent countries manage to maintain such large forces? By the simple expedient of compulsory military service for its youth. In every socialist country it is drummed into every school child that he owes three years of his life to the nation. Each citizen is required to serve three years between the ages of 18 and 21 in one of the armed forces. This well-educated and surprisingly motivated manpower makes up the vast majority of the armed forces of these countries.
…former army chief said, “The Indian Army is proud to be an all-volunteer force. The esprit-de-corps, the elan and the fighting tradition all come from an all-volunteer, in-for-life force. We will never allow the fighting ability of the army to be diluted by conscription.”
During their three years in the forces, the soldiers are clothed and fed at government expense. In addition they are paid a petty stipend each month as ‘pocket money’. They stay in barracks and there is no question of leave. Yet a vast majority undergoes the three-year hardship quite willingly and is proud of their little contribution to the nation. On completion of the three-year stint, they happily resume their civilian life. Apart from the considerable saving on their pay, the state also saves on such items as housing, pension and welfare.
There are, of course, other benefits. A majority of the conscripts are high school graduates and bring to their job a higher educational level than the ordinary soldier. Those who have completed their military service not only provide the country with disciplined manpower but also a well-trained reserve in times of emergency.
The question of limited conscription in India has come up from time to time. In the past, the army leadership has shown extreme reluctance to go in for conscription. Asked about this alternative some ten years ago, an army chief said, “The Indian Army is proud to be an all-volunteer force. The esprit-de-corps, the elan and the fighting tradition all come from an all-volunteer, in-for-life force. We will never allow the fighting ability of the army to be diluted by conscription.”
He conveniently forgot to mention that conscripts, the 90-day wonders, whose gallantry, heroism and determination far outstripped the professionals, won both the World Wars. The all-conquering Red Army was mostly made up of conscripts. And so was a vast majority of American and British armies. These everyday school teachers, salesmen, truck drivers and businessmen served their time and then happily went back to their jobs after demobilisation.
Limited conscription will have a number of beneficial fallouts in India. To start with, India is blessed with an embarrassment of manpower and thus can afford to be selective. A three-year tenure in the armed services can be made a prerequisite not only for college entry but even for entry into the civil service. The services will gain from a rich and educated crop of national servicemen each year. Nearly a million men can be inducted each year for a three-year tenure. It will also meet the cherished army goal of keeping the service young.
The nation too will benefit from a million disciplined and well-trained men each year, proud of having served their country, bringing with them in their civilian life ample self-confidence and maturity. The army will take youth and give the country men.
Selection boards will no doubt find easy ways to manipulate the selection process to make an easy buck.
Make no mistake. Conscription is no peaches and cream solution. It is bound to be an unpopular move. In most western countries, it is a solution of last resort to be resorted to only in dire emergency such a war. In India, where the people in power look at the army as a public sector enterprise, open to patronage, nepotism and corruption, conscription is bound to be severely opposed by all political parties. India’s populist politicians, unable to take hard or unpopular decisions, are unlikely to support such a move.
There are bound to be other problems too. Where selection is involved, corruption cannot be far behind. Selection boards will no doubt find easy ways to manipulate the selection process to make an easy buck. But compared to the enormous savings that the process will bring these are pinpricks to be suffered for the overall good. Eventually all the teething troubles will be overcome and the processes streamlined.
The army leadership, used to an all-volunteer force for so many years, is unlikely to support any such idea, at least for the present. But then minds can change, especially with a little political pressure. Only eight years ago both the Army and the Air Force opposed vehemently the Indian Navy’s proposal of inducting women in the armed forces. Today they are showing off their women recruits with considerable pride.
India’s armed forces are fully aware that manpower costs are bleeding them to oblivion. A number of remedial measures in the past, such as reduction in colour service, have in no way reduced the annual bill on manpower. The day is not far away when the Indian Army will find itself in the most ridiculous situation of spending its entire budget on maintaining its manpower. However unpalatable or unpopular the measure may seem, limited conscription appears to be the only solution to the army’s manpower problems.
Benefits of compulsory military service have on the society.
Literacy: Modern army relies on tactical superiority more than numbers. Hence in order to make any productive use of any recruit, a lot of time, energy and efforts have to be spent to educate and train them. A boom in disguise for the country whose 1/3 of the population still cannot read/write.
Many of these objectives will be better served by making participation in NCC compulsory at the school level, and having NCC performance count in college admissions.
Discipline: Every army takes great pride in the discipline it creates. Countries like Israel, Singapore, South Korea enforce this training in the late teens/early twenties. This is the time when the maturity kicks in and army creates the best environment to control it and channelize it for the good of the society. This makes them more dedicated, better in organizing themselves, following order without creating chaos even under little/no supervision.
Vocational training: Indian educational system (esp. college) is often criticized for draining the prime years of a youth’s life without imparting much which will make him/her employable. Armed forces on the other hand teaches you skills to operate/maintain machinery/electronics and encourage troops making modifications to make them better.
Issues likely to crop up should India consider conscription?
Would it be practical considering the size of our population?
Would it help foster a sense of national pride?
Would it help strengthen our national identity?
Would it help bring down the walls between rural/urban India, the states, the regions and the communities?
Would it help manage the worrying shortage of officers in the Indian Army (almost 25%)? Should it be limited to certain groups of people (e.g. civil servants)?
Would it lower the standards and quality of recruits in the army?
Many of these objectives will be better served by making participation in NCC compulsory at the school level, and having NCC performance count in college admissions.
What are the modifications? What if it’s institutionally encouraged, just like Voluteerism/community work is encouraged in US academics resulting in students getting credits which affects their grades/future. That would actually do wonders in India as more bodies will get involved in all sorts of Volunteering.
This Compulsory Enrollment might result in a few complications.
- The bribe-taking might increase or decrease.
- The present NCC needs a lot of modifications, lets take USA or Russia where they have Scout badges and levels. Change the name of NCC to something much more pompous or posh
- This modified NCC should be a part of the school/college curriculum where it can start at an early age like 5th or 6th Std. And the “Conscription” should be a 1yr draft as the Russians have it. Mandatory for all the Males in between 18-27.:
A lot of countries have conscription. Israel, Sweden, Norway an US also had during World war II. Some of those Generals who served in World war II like Eisenhower went on to become presidents of US. Joe Biden’s son served in Iraq/Afg.