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Conscription (also known as Compulsory Service, The Draft, the Call-up or National service) is a general term for involuntary labor demanded by an established authority. It is most often used in the specific sense of government policies that require citizens to serve in the armed forces. It is known by various names — for example, the most recent conscription program in the United States was known colloquially as "the draft". Many nations do not maintain conscription forces, instead relying on a volunteer or professional military most of the time, although many of these countries still reserve the possibility of conscription for wartime and during times of crises.

Referring to compulsory service in the armed forces, the term "conscription" has two main meanings:

  • compulsory service, usually of young men of a given age, e.g., 17 – 18, for a set period of time, commonly one-to-two years. In the United Kingdom and Singapore this was commonly known as "national service"; in New Zealand, at first compulsory military training and later national service; in Norway, Safeguard Duty/1st time service.
  • compulsory service, for an indefinite period of time, in the context of a widespread mobilisation of forces for fighting war, including on the home territory, usually imposed on men in a much wider age group (e.g., 18 – 55). (In the United Kingdom this was commonly known as "call-up").

The term "conscription" refers only to the mandatory service; thus, those undergoing conscription are known as "conscripts" or "selectee" in the United States (from the Selective Service System or the Selective Service Initiative announced in 2004).

In the U.S. the term "enlisted" is often used to refer only to those who have volunteered for service in roles other than as commissioned officers.

File:Conscription map of the world.svg

Invention of modern conscription

Modern conscription, the massed military enlistment of national citizens (today recognized as "the draft"), was devised during the French Revolution, allowing the Republic to defend itself from the attacks of other European monarchies. Deputy Jean-Baptiste Jourdan gave its name to the September 5, 1798 Act, whose first article stated: "Any Frenchman is a soldier and owes himself to the defense of the nation." It enabled the creation of the Grande Armée, what Napoleon Bonaparte called "the nation in arms," which successfully battled European professional armies. More than 2.6 million men were inducted into the French military in this way between the years 1800 and 1813.[1]

The defeat of the disorganized Prussian Army shocked the Prussian establishment, which had largely felt invincible after the Frederician victories. Scharnhorst advocated adopting the levée en masse, the military conscription used by France. Krümpersystem was the beginning of short-term compulsory service in Prussia, as opposed to the long-term conscription previously used.[2]

In Russian Empire, the service time was 25 years at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1834 it was decreased to 20 years. The recruits should have been not younger than 17 and not older than 35.[3] In 1874 universal conscription on the modern pattern was introduced, an innovation only made possible by the abolition of serfdom in 1861. New military law decreed that all male Russian subjects, when they reached the age of 20, were eligible to serve in the military for six years.[4]

Conscription was introduced in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The 1863 Enrollment Act permitted draftees to hire paid substitutes to fight in their place. This, and the bounty system, led to widespread dislike of conscription by the public at large; the New York Draft Riots were one symptom. In addition, draftees were viewed with disdain by volunteer soldiers and their officers. In the end, the draft provided only 6% of the Union Army's manpower. Conscription was not employed again in the U.S. until 1917.[5]

According to philosopher Michel Foucault, conscription is one of the forms taken by "disciplinary institutions", along with hospitals, schools and prisons. Louis Althusser has also underlined how Machiavelli was one of the first modern theorists to think the relationship between conscription and the creation of a nation, or successfully bolstering patriotism. Machiavelli despised the use of mercenaries and professional armies, which at that time were ravaging the divided Italian states.

Sending conscripts to foreign wars that do not directly affect the home nation's security has historically been very politically contentious in democracies. For instance, during World War I, bitter disputes broke out in Canada (see Conscription Crisis of 1917), Australia and New Zealand (see Compulsory Military Training) over conscription. Canada also had a political dispute over conscription during World War II (see Conscription Crisis of 1944). Similarly, mass protests against conscription to fight the Vietnam War occurred in several countries in the late 1960s. (See also: Conscription Crisis)

Currently, countries that draft women into military service are China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Israel, Libya, Malaysia, North Korea, Peru, and Taiwan [6][7]. In 2002, Sweden's government asked its army to consider mandatory military service for women. During World War II, women were drafted into the armed forces of the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. The United States came close to drafting women into the Nurse Corps in preparation for a planned invasion of Japan.[8][9]

In 1981 in the United States, several men filed lawsuit in the case Rostker v. Goldberg, alleging that the Military Selective Service Act violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment by requiring that men only and not also women register with the SSS. The Supreme Court eventually upheld the Act, stating that "the argument for registering women was based on considerations of equity, but Congress was entitled, in the exercise of its constitutional powers, to focus on the question of military need, rather than 'equity.'"[10]

On October 1, 1999 in the Taiwan Area, the Judicial Yuan of the Republic of China in its Interpretation 490 considered that the physical differences between males and females and the derived role differentiation in their respective social functions and lives would not make drafting males only violating the Constitution of the Republic of China.[11] However, transsexual persons are exempt from the Taiwanese conscription.[12]

Conscientious objection

Main article: Conscientious objection

A conscientious objector is an individual whose personal beliefs are incompatible with military service, or sometimes with any role in the armed forces. In some countries, conscientious objectors have special legal status, which augments their conscription duties. For example, Sweden allows conscientious objectors to choose a service in the "weapons-free" branch, such as an airport fireman, nurse or telecommunications technician. Some may also refuse such service as they feel that they still are a part of the military complex. The reasons for refusing to serve are varied. Some conscientious objectors are so for religious reasons — notably, the members of the historic peace churches are pacifist by doctrine, and Jehovah's Witnesses, while not strictly speaking pacifists, refuse to participate in the armed services on the grounds that they believe Christians should be neutral in worldly conflicts.

Draft evaders

  1. REDIRECT Template:Globalize/USA
Main article : Draft dodger

Not everyone who is conscripted is willing to go to war. In the United States, especially during the Vietnam Era, some used political connections to ensure that they were placed well away from any potential harm, serving in what was termed a Champagne unit.

Many would avoid military service altogether through college deferments, by becoming fathers, or serving in various exempt jobs (teaching was one possibility). Others used educational exemptions, became conscientious objectors or pretended to be conscientious objectors, although they might then be drafted for non-combat work, such as serving as a combat medic. It was also possible they could be asked to do similar civilian work, such as being a hospital orderly.

It was, in fact, quite easy for those with some knowledge of the system to avoid being drafted. A simple route, widely publicized, was to get a medical rejection. While a person could claim to have symptoms (or feign homosexuality), if enough physicians sent letters that a person had a problem, he might well be rejected. It often wasn't worth the Army's time to dispute this claim. Such an approach worked best in a larger city where there was no stigma to not serving, and the potential draftee was not known to those reviewing him.

For others, the most common method of avoiding the draft was to cross the border into another country. People who have been "called up" for military service and who attempted to avoid it in some way were known as "draft-dodgers". Particularly during the Vietnam War, U.S. draft-dodgers usually made their way to Canada, Mexico or Sweden.

Many people looked upon draft-dodgers with scorn as being "cowards", but some supported them in their efforts. In the late years of the Vietnam War, objections against it and support for draft-dodgers was much more outspoken, because of the casualties suffered by American troops, and the actual cause and purpose of the war being heavily questioned.

Toward the end of the U.S. draft, an attempt was made to make the system somewhat fairer by turning it into a lottery, with each of the year's calendar dates randomly assigned a number. Men born on lower numbered dates were called up for review. For the reasons given above, this did not make the system any fairer, and the entire system ended in 1973. Today, American men 18-25 are required to register with the government, but there has not been a callup since the Vietnam Era.

Draft resisters

Main article: Antimilitarism

Historically, there has been resistance to conscription in almost every country and situation where it has been imposed[How to reference and link to summary or text]. The New York Draft Riots (July 11 to July 16, 1863; known at the time as Draft Week), were violent disturbances in New York City that were the culmination of discontent with new laws passed by Congress to draft men to fight in the ongoing American Civil War. The Central Asian Revolt started in the summer of 1916, when the Russian Empire government ended its exemption of Muslims from military service.

In the USA and some other countries, the Vietnam War saw new levels of opposition to conscription and the Selective Service System. Many people opposed to and facing conscription chose to either apply for classification and assignment to civilian alternative service or noncombatant service within the military as conscientious objectors, or to evade the draft by fleeing to a neutral country. A small proportion, like Muhammad Ali, chose to resist the draft by publicly and politically fighting conscription. Some people resist at the point of registration for the draft. In the USA since 1980, for example, the draft resistance movement has focused on mandatory draft registration. Others resist at the point of induction, when they are ordered to put on a uniform, when they are ordered to carry or use a weapon, or when they are ordered into combat.

There are those who are immune to the draft in certain countries; These people include anyone who works for the government (Teachers, police officers, lawmakers, etc), People who work for government contractors, and those who work in jobs essential to the operation of the country (waste management, power plants, etc). In the United Kingdom this is known as a Reserved occupation as it is deemed necessary to the survival of the nation.

In Israel, the Muslim and Christian Arab minority, as well as many ultra-Orthodox Jews are also exempt from mandatory service. This exemption, however, does not cover Druze Israeli citizens and several Bedouin Muslim villages. Permanent residents such as the Druzes of the Golan Heights are also excused. Exemption does not prevent members of the exempted groups from volunteering although such behavior is marginal.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Though some conscripts feel that they benefited from their experience in the military, others feel that their time could have been spent more productively pursuing their chosen studies or career paths.[13] Individual resentment may also be compounded by the typically low or no wages paid to conscripts, especially in countries such as Greece, South Korea, Finland, Singapore and Iran. The Finnish army does not pay any wages to conscripts, but instead grants them a daily allowance of 3.60 to 8.25 euros, depending of length of tour of duty.

Countries with and without mandatory military service

See: Military service
Conscription by country — Examples
Country Land area[14] GDP nominal (US$M)[15] Per capita
GDP (US$)[16]
Population[17] Government[18] Conscription[19]
Albania 27,398 $9,306 $2,584.63 3,600,523 emerging democracy Yes
Algeria 2,381,740 $90,000 $2,700.01 33,333,216 republic Yes
Angola 1,246,700 $28,610 $2,332.92 12,263,596 republic; multiparty presidential regime Yes
Argentina 2,736,690 $210,000 $5,210.67 40,301,927 republic Legal, not practiced
Australia 7,617,930 $644,700 $31,550.09 20,434,176 federal parliamentary democracy No (banned as enshrined by parliament in 1972[20]
Austria 82,444 $310,100 $37,818.07 8,233,300 federal republic Yes
Bahamas 10,070 $6,159 $20,150.17 305,655 constitutional parliamentary democracy No
Bangladesh 133,910 $69,340 $460.89 150,448,339 parliamentary democracy No
Belgium 30,528 $316,200 $31,400 10,584,534 democracy No (conscription suspended since 1994)
Belize 22,806 $1,141 $3,875.88 294,385 parliamentary democracy Legal, not practiced
Bhutan 47,000 $840.5 $361.06 2,327,849 (possibly outdated) absolute monarchy; special treaty relationship with India; note - transition to a constitutional monarchy is expected in 2008
constitutional monarchy; special treaty relationship with India[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Yes (selective)
Bolivia 1,084,390 $10,330 $1,132.78 9,119,152 republic Yes (only when there are few volunteers[How to reference and link to summary or text])
Bosnia and Herzegovina 51,129 $9,217 $2,024.74 4,552,198 emerging federal democratic republic No
Brazil 8,456,510 $967,000 $5,089.19 190,010,647 federal republic Yes
Burma 657,740 $9,600 $202.64 47,373,958 military junta Officially prohibited, de facto still practiced[How to reference and link to summary or text]
China 9,326,410 $2,518,000 $1,904.90 1,321,851,888 socialist republic Yes (selective)
Croatia 56,414 $37,420 $7,863.44 4,443,350 presidential/parliamentary democracy No (abolished by law in 2008)[21]
Cuba 110,860 $40,000 $3,510.61 11,394,043 socialist republic Yes (both sexes[How to reference and link to summary or text])
Denmark 42,394 $257,300 $44,941 5,415,978 constitutional monarchy Yes
Djibouti 22,980 $702 $1,414.26 496,374 republic No
El Salvador 20,720 $15,160 $2,181.90 6,948,073 republic Legal, not practiced
Finland 304,473 $199,000,$35,111.805,246,100 republic Yes
France 640,053<includeonly>[[Category:Pages with broken references]]</includeonly><span class="citeerror">Cite error: Invalid <code><ref></code> tag. Tag has more than one name associated with reference.</span> $2,149,000 $33,758.81 60,873,000 republicNo (conscription suspended since 2001)[13]
Gambia 10,000 $462.5 $273.94 1,688,359 republic No
Germany 349,223 $2,872,000 $34,853.95 82,400,996 federal republic Yes
Greece 130,800 $256,300 $24,000 10,706,290 parliamentary republic Yes
Grenada 344 $454 $5,046.07 89,971 parliamentary democracy No (no military service)
Hungary 93,030 $207,000 $11,369.91 10,064,000 parliamentary democracy No
Iran 1,636,000 $193,500 $2,958.83 68,251,090 theocratic republic Yes
India 2,973,190 $804,000 $657.60 1,094,583,000 federal republic No
Israel 20,330 $140,300 $21,830.87 6,426,679 parliamentary democracy Yes (both sexes[How to reference and link to summary or text])
Jamaica 10,831 $9,230 $3,319.99 2,780,132 constitutional parliamentary democracy No
Japan 374,744 $4,883,000 $38,318.03 127,433,494 constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government No
Jordan 92,300 $300,000 $2,068.33 6,053,193 constitutional monarchy No
Korea, North 120,410 $40,000[22] $1,800[22] 23,301,725 juche socialist republic Yes[23]
Korea, South 98,190 $897,400 $18,297.56 49,044,790 republic Yes
Kuwait 17,820 $60,720 $24,234.11 2,505,559 constitutional emirate Yes
Lebanon 10,230 $19,890 $5,066.87 3,925,502 republic No (abolished in 2007)[24]
Libya 1,759,540 $34,200 $5,665.15 6,036,914 jamahiriya (a state of the masses) in theory, governed by the populace through local councils; in practice, an authoritarian state Yes
Luxembourg 2,586 $34,530 $71,904.24 480,222 constitutional monarchy No
Macedonia, Republic of 24,856 $6,225 $3,027.85 2,055,915 parliamentary democracy No
Malaysia 328,550 $132,300, $5,330.10 24,821,286 constitutional monarchy Yes (selective)
Maldives 300 $906 $2,455.08 369,031 republic No
Malta 316 $5,447 $13,553.80 401,880 republic No
Moldova 33,371 $2,574 $595.77 4,320,490 republic Yes
Netherlands 33,883 $612,700 $36,975.10 16,570,613 constitutional monarchy Legal, not practiced
New Zealand 268,021 $98,390 $23,079.36 4,098,900 parliamentary democracy No
Qatar 11,437 $30,760 $33,905.44 907,229 emirate No
Romania 238,392 $256,900 $10,661 22,276,056 democracy No (ended in 2007)[25]
Russia 16,995,800 $733,600 $5,188.94 141,377,752 federation Yes
Rwanda 24,948 $1,968 $198.64 9,907,509 republic; presidential, multiparty system No
Saudi Arabia 2,149,690 $276,900 $10,032.23 27,601,038 absolute monarchy No
Seychelles 455 $712 $8,694.06 81,895 republic Yes
Singapore 692 $137,762 $30,723.61 4,553,009 parliamentary republic Yes (longest in Asia)
Slovenia 20,151 $37,920 $18,872.76 2,009,245 parliamentary republic No
South Africa 1,219,912 $201,400 $3,994.61 46,888,200 republic No
Spain 499,542 $1,084,000 $23,480.26 43,398,150 parliamentary monarchy No
Syria 184,050 $24,260, $1,356.90 19,043,380 republic under an authoritarian military-dominated regime Yes
Swaziland 17,203 $2,195 $1,937.22 1,131,000 monarchy No
Switzerland 41,285 $386,100 $51,107.52 7,508,700 formally a confederation but similar in structure to a federal republic Yes
(Republic of China)
32,260 $681,800 $29,600 22,858,872 multiparty democracy Yes (alternative service available[27]
Thailand 511,770 $197,700 $3,038.35 64,232,760 constitutional monarchy Yes
Tonga 718 $244 $2,086.88 116,921 constitutional monarchy No
Trinidad and Tobago 5,128 $14,900 $14,101.73 1,056,608 parliamentary democracy No
Turkey 780,580 $635,600 $9,000 71,158,647 republican parliamentary democracy Yes
United Kingdom 241,590 $2,346,000 $38,600.61 60,776,238 constitutional monarchy No (except Bermuda Regiment )
United States 9,161,923 $13,210,000 $42,137.52 296,410,400 federal democratic republic No[28]
Vanuatu 12,200 $341 $1,608.71 211,971 parliamentary republic No

Arguments against conscription

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Many arguments opposed to conscription, or opposed to gender-discriminated conscription, arise from its violation of the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. In particular:

  • Art.2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as (…) sex (…)
  • Art.3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
  • Art.4: No one shall be held in (…) servitude (…)
  • Art.18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
  • Art.20: (…) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
  • Art.23: Everyone has the right (…) to free choice of employment (…)

In addition, many constitutions do provide similar rights in countries where there is or has been some form of conscription after World War II or that maintain a possibility of conscription in time of war.


Conscription subjects individual personalities to militarism. It is a form of servitude. That nations routinely tolerate it, is just one more proof of its debilitating influence.
Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and Thomas Mann in Against Conscription and the Military Training of Youth — 1930

Some groups, such as libertarians, say that the draft constitutes slavery, since it is mandatory work[29]. Under the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, slavery or other involuntary servitude is not allowed unless it is part of punishment for a crime. They therefore see the draft as unconstitutional (at least in the U.S.) and immoral. In 1918, the Supreme Court ruled that the World War I draft did not violate the United States Constitution. Arver v. United States, 245 U.S. 366 (1918) ). The Court detailed its conclusion that the limited powers of the federal government included conscription. Its only statement on the Thirteenth Amendment issue reads thus:

Finally, as we are unable to conceive upon what theory the exaction by government from the citizen of the performance of his supreme and noble duty of contributing to the defense of the rights and honor of the nation as the result of a war declared by the great representative body of the people can be said to be the imposition of involuntary servitude in violation of the prohibitions of the Thirteenth Amendment, we are constrained to the conclusion that the contention to that effect is refuted by its mere statement.

In the USSR, most of the conscripts received only very basic training and were used for forced labor unrelated to actual military service — such as building Dachas (second homes) for officers or digging up potatoes in the field with zero wage cost[30]. This contributed to the lack of incentives for the Soviet-planned economy system to produce better combined harvesting machines and Soviet agriculture remained low-tech[How to reference and link to summary or text].

In Soviet-bloc Hungary, more than half of pre-1989 conscripts received a mere few weeks of rifle training and were swiftly assigned to "working squadrons," which usually hand-built rail tracks "for free", and in very poor quality. At the same time, railway tracks in Western Europe were being built to high-quality standards by semi-automatic, rail-rolling factories operated by a professional workforce[How to reference and link to summary or text].


Conscription is usually limited to young people, and the burden of conscription is almost never spread equally across all age groups[How to reference and link to summary or text]. The youngest people considered qualified are usually conscripted first[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Opponents of ageism, and advocates of youth liberation, argue that age-based military conscription is the most severe disparity on the basis of age of any government mandate on individuals[How to reference and link to summary or text]. This argument is epitomized by the Phil Ochs song, "I Ain't Marching Anymore": "It's always the old who lead us to the war; it's always the young who fall." Even in countries with elected governments, conscripts are often too young to be allowed to vote or participate in decisions on whether to go to war or to impose or set policies for conscription[How to reference and link to summary or text]. The Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which lowered the voting age to 18, was proposed and approved largely in response to criticism of conscription based on the unfairness of drafting men too young to be allowed to vote. But draft-age voters in the USA are still overwhelmingly outnumbered by voters considered to be too old to be conscripted[How to reference and link to summary or text].


Traditionally conscription has been limited to the male population. Women and non-able-bodied males have been exempted from conscription. Many societies have traditionally considered conscription as a test of manhood and a rite of passage from boyhood into manhood[How to reference and link to summary or text].

Nationalism and promoting militarism

The military draft is predicated on the assumption that nations have rights that supersede those of the individual. In the words of Einstein and Gandhi's Anti-Conscription Manifesto, "The State which thinks itself entitled to force its citizens to go to war will never pay proper regard to the value and happiness of their lives in peace." The building of large conscript armies coincided with the rise of virulent nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, culminating in World War II.

In peacetime, conscription can create an atmosphere of militarism and bigotry in society. Many young men in countries with compulsory conscription develop a cynical stance about militarism because the mandatory nature of conscription creates low morale among soldiers.[How to reference and link to summary or text] This is especially true in countries where nationalist feelings are weak to begin with, such as Austria, Germany and Sweden, or where conditions are brutal.

Men who have had military training can also be more ready to use violence to solve conflicts than those who have not.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Conscription also may create an atmosphere of chauvinism, sexism and discrimination against those men who haven't served in the armed forces.

Justification for attacks on civilians

Conscription is a component of total war, and can also be used as an example of established policy to justify a government's demand that other sacrifices be required of civilians. Once a draft is allowed, Justice Louis Brandeis argued, "all bets are off".[31] Arguably this results in a blurring of the moral distinction between civilians and the military as legitimate military targets, leading to attacks on civilians.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Examples would include the indiscriminate bombing of cities conducted by both sides during World War II, the My Lai Massacre. It has been popular recently to call civilian deaths "collateral damage" although their deaths are highly predictable. In fact, during the last century, civilian deaths have grown compared to military deaths in conflict[How to reference and link to summary or text].


It can be argued that in a cost-to-benefit ratio, conscription during peace time is not worthwhile.[32] Months or years of service amongst the most fit subtracts from the productivity of the economy; add to this the cost of training them, and in some countries paying them. Compared to these extensive costs, some would argue there is very little benefit, if there ever were war conscription and basic training could be completed quickly, and in most countries where conscription is compulsory there is little threat of war in any case.

The cost to particularly in times of military duress, such as the current U.S. conflict in Iraq, conscription serves as an instrument through which fresh soldiers may be readied when reserves and voluntary troops have been over utilized. These new troops ultimately provide more efficient use of U.S. economic resources since individuals plan for military involvement as a normal activity. Draft assignments, in contrast, disrupt everyday activity and lead to possibly greater economic shock.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The cost of conscription can be related to the parable of the broken window. Military service can be related to any work[How to reference and link to summary or text]. The costs of work do not disappear anywhere even if no salary is paid. The work effort of the conscripts is effectively wasted; unwilling work force is extremely inefficient and the conscripts also lose their the costs of all-volunteer paid force. 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 is lost, but professionally-skilled conscripts are also difficult to replace in the civilian work force. 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 work force 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.[33]

Draft as a tool to subjugate society

Another argument[attribution needed] sees conscription as a tool for dictatorships to control and re-educate a population instead of being a means for an oppressed people to infiltrate the military as the power base for every dictatorship. Especially since the military is inherently based on giving and obeying orders, instead of democracy, it is argued that a draft is a far more effective tool to instill obedience and unconditional following into society than giving a democratic populace the opportunity to control the military. Supporting that argument is the fact, that Nazi Germany changed the Reichswehr from an all-volunteer army in 1934 into the conscription-based Wehrmacht.

Also almost all contemporary dictatorships have a military draft (Syria, North Korea, as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein). Virtually all former military dictatorships relied heavily on conscribing their entire adolescent male populations[How to reference and link to summary or text] (with the military dictatorship of Burma being a notable exception). The former military dictatorships of Turkey, Greece, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia and Libya maintained draft systems throughout their reigns as well as all formerly communist dictatorships and the Soviet Union itself.

Arguments for conscription

Valuable training

Some communitarians argue that peacetime conscription is an ideal tool for teaching a population basic, important skills such as first aid, swimming, and wilderness survival. They also argue that conscription makes for a more disciplined and skilled workforce, as men and women leave the military and take the skills which they honed there back to their civilian jobs.

Rite of passage

In many countries, conscription serves as a rite of passage. The prospective man is tested, to see whether or not he can endure the hardships of military training and earn the right to be called a man. Military service, in countries that have it, may then be seen as the test of manhood. Conscription may inspire camaraderie, unifying a people: all able-bodied males together as a union have had the same experience and are soldiers, and that may create unity and a national spirit.

Draft as protection against democracy-destroying military coups

Some argue that conscription should be connected to democracy. A professional army can possibly become a dangerous state-within-a-state. Military virtues such as obedience to orders and respect for the chain of command can possibly be abused by aspiring dictators. Armed forces can attract — consciously or unconsciously — people who prefer authoritarian systems. The army can even become the only chance for a job and decent life in times of unemployment (this was crucial in the rise of Japanese militarism[How to reference and link to summary or text]), or for despised minorities. Such people may come to regard the army as their home and elevate it above the state.

On the other hand, once in power dictators such as Napoléon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, and Saddam Hussein have used conscription. The most significant attempt on Hitler's life was from the professional component of his military.

One should also note the 1980 Turkish coup d'état and many other coup d'états because the military was dissatisfied with the democratic election, despite the fact that Turkey had a military based on conscripts.[How to reference and link to summary or text]


Small countries have several options to raise a sizeable army. One is to put every able-bodied man under arms. This is how Switzerland managed to stay independent despite repeated attacks throughout history.[34] The Swiss militias were so successful that their fighting style and weapons (especially the halberd) were quickly adopted by their enemies.[35] This in turn made the Swiss very popular as mercenaries; many rulers even raised Swiss Guards. The rich Flemish trade cities of the early 14th century raised huge militias that could even defeat armies of knights. The famous Battle of the Golden Spurs (1302) is a good example.

Other options for national defense include membership in a military alliance like NATO, as is the case for countries like Belgium and Luxembourg. Switzerland started out as a military alliance between independent cantons. However, the membership in such alliance decreases the independence of a country, making it dependent on its stronger allies. Several NATO members maintain conscription, so an alliance is not mutually exclusive with conscription.

Also, a wealthy small country could hire a professional mercenary army. This approach does, however, require wealth and men who are willing to hire on. Moreover, it requires some means to control the mercenaries if they became unruly.

Due to the attrition inherent in warfare, it is difficult to maintain the numbers needed for a wholly professional military, especially in a lengthy war. Complicating matters is the fact that military service in such times becomes more and more unattractive, even if the war has broad support. It is for this reason that the previously all-volunteer Union Army and the World War I British Army switched to conscription after a few years of combat and its associated losses.

However, conscription creates numbers but not quality. Niccolò Machiavelli's attempts to raise a conscript army in Florence ended in catastrophe; the conscripts did not have adequate training or experience, and were awkward to perform drill and maneuver. If the conscript army is trained only during the crisis, the limits on time and resources on training enable only rudimentary training; anything else is to be learnt on the battlefield. However, this can be avoided by peace-time conscription to train a large reserve usable in a crisis. The quality of the reserve must be maintained by steady refresher exercises. In several countries where conscription is in use, the length (and quality) of the training is virtually similar to that of professional armies.

The losses to conscript armies on the battlefield are often large, but waste of manpower is limited by the fact that the supply of able-bodied males in a nation is not inexhaustible. In addition, any government waging a prolonged war with conscripts will risk losing popular support and following loss of power[How to reference and link to summary or text]. For a democratic government, this limits the use of conscript forces for wars that are fights for existence. Pursuing national interests or expeditionary wars may still necessitate a large professional army.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Conscripts can also be used away from combat roles, in such duties as garrisoning important areas, internal security, protection of supply routes, thus relieving the professionals for the front.

Political and moral motives

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.[36] Similarly, Aristotle linked the division of armed service among the populace intimately with the political order of the state.[37]

Some ideologies and cultures, and those based on collectivism or statism, value the society and common good above the life of an individual.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Those ideologies and world-views justify the state to force its members to protect itself and risk their lives for the common good. In states based on society-centered ideologies, world-views and religions, conscription is the natural way of raising the army.[original research?]

Other proponents such as the late William James consider both military and national service as ways of instilling maturity in young adults as well a way to entail a sense of "sacrifice" and "self-denial".[1][2]

In the era of total war, the conscription is the only alternative for a small nation to build an army of credible strength without depending on alliances. This is particularly the case when the opposing state is significantly larger. In such a case, a voluntary force often can not, regardless of its quality, stand against the sheer numbers of the opposing force.

The right of the state to conscript its citizens can be founded on utilitarianist principles.[How to reference and link to summary or text] If a greater good would achieved, every thing considered, by sacrificing some soldiers a state should be willing to make this sacrifice.[original research?]

This assumes that state have right to use its citizens for achieving greater good for the humankind.


In a very large war, (such as World War II) raising a large enough volunteer military would require dramatic increases in taxes or budget deficits.[How to reference and link to summary or text] In such cases conscription can have lower negative impact than the impact of these higher taxes and possibly be more equitable (higher taxes would penalize those out of service much more than those in service).[How to reference and link to summary or text] Research into fiscal impacts of conscription in World War II suggest a volunteer army raised to the same size would have had worse economic impact in terms of economic growth.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

It is estimated by the British military that in a professional military, one company deployed for active duty in peacekeeping corresponds to three inactive companies at home. Salaries for each are paid from the military budget. The draft is still used in many countries, notably in Asia, as a way to enlist their military.[38] In contrast, volunteers from a trained reserve are in their civilian jobs when they are not deployed.

See also

External links

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