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Debate: Mandatory military service

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Is compulsory national service a good idea?

Background and context

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.
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Character: Does national service help build individual character?

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Yes

  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[2]
  • 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."


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No

  • 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."[3] 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.[4]
  • 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.


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Security: Is national conscription important to national security?

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Yes

  • 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.[5]
  • 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.[6]
  • 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."[7]
  • 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."[8]


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No

  • 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.”[9]
  • 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.[10]
  • 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."[11]


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Society: Does mandatory service help solve social ills?

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Pro

  • 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."[12]


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Con

  • 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."
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Fairness: Is mandatory service more fair overall?

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Pro

  • 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."
  • 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."


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Con

  • 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."
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Patriotism: Does national service help build patriotism?

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Yes

  • National service promotes patriotism. National pride is at an all-time low in New Zealand at the moment, for example, and national service might give them a chance to rally around a shared cause, no matter what race culture or religion you come from. Nationhood develops respect for people belongings and property.[13]


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No

  • Patriotism should not be based on military service. This can produce extreme nationalism and xenophobia which we do not want to encourage. National Pride should be engendered in other ways.
  • Mandatory military service will not increase patriotism. Suhail Al-Enizi, aged 28, responded in 2010 to idea of implementing mandatory military service in Kuwait: "People's sense of patriotism, their attachment to this country, is not something that can be increased by putting them into military programs."[14]
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Duty? Does a citizen have a duty to serve their country?

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Yes

  • Individual has duty to give back to society through service. Whether it be through protecting the country or helping with social or environmental projects, this encourages the idea of working as a community instead of merely for selfish ends.[16]
  • Taxes are not enough; national service is a good idea. Richard Stengel. "A time to serve." Time. August 30th, 2007: "Today the two central acts of democratic citizenship are voting and paying taxes. That's basically it. The last time we demanded anything else from people was when the draft ended in 1973. And yes, there are libertarians who believe that government asks too much of us — and that the principal right in a democracy is the right to be left alone — but most everyone else bemoans the fact that only about half of us vote and don't do much more than send in our returns on April 15. The truth is, even the archetype of the model citizen is mostly a myth. Except for times of war and the colonial days, we haven't been all that energetic about keeping the Republic."


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No

  • A citizen only has a "duty" to obey the law. Beyond that any service to the community should be voluntary. This way people will be committed to doing a good job, which they would not be if they were working under force.[17]
  • Firemen are not drafted; why draft soldiers? Alan Reynolds. "We Don't Draft Firemen." Washington Times, CATO. May 2nd, 2004: "There were 343 firefighters killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Nobody then suggested the fact that these men were paid professionals detracted from their heroism. Nobody worried whether the relative numbers of whites, blacks or Asian firefighters was fair and balanced. Nationwide, another 106 firefighters died in 2003 -- a typical yearly loss. From 1991 to 2001, an average of 163 law enforcement officers also were killed each year in the line of duty. If compulsory service is such a fair and reasonable idea, why don't Mr. Hagel, Mr. Rangel and others of their ilk favor drafting people to be firemen and cops?"


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Education: Is compulsory service good for education?

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Pro

  • Military placement exams would encourage school-work. P Hedt. "Mandatory Military service and the effects it would have on society." Nolan Chart. December 15, 2008: "The men and women that leave high school will have to get an assessment test on their knowledge and intelligence levels. Naturally, they studied hard in school so that they could place high and choose what job they would have; so they could choose where they would be on the battlefield. Of Course, they (and their parents) would take school more seriously they do now, their futures would depend on it. These days a high school diploma is just a pretty decoration you get after twelve years of being babysat. People would become more serious about how their children were taught. How much money and supplies would schools receive in order to teach their children? A lot more then they do now. How much respect would teachers finally receive? A lot more then they do now. Hoe many children would get lost in the shuffle educationally? A lot less then they do now."
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Con

  • Military service diverts young from university. Time spent doing military service is time taken away from the transition between high school and university education.
  • 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."
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Public opinion: Where does public opinion stand?

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Pro

  • Mandatory military service popular where it exists. Sweden's mandatory military service, which was phased out in 2009, received significant support among young men, 74 percent of whom wanted to maintain it. The corresponding figure for the entire population was 63 percent, according to the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.[18] This is but one example of the popularity of mandatory military service where it exists. The French, for example, have been shown to regret having ended mandatory military service in the 1990s.[19]
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Con

  • Mandatory service supported due to belief in alternative Bruce Chapman. "A bad idea whose time is past: the case against universal service." Brookings Institute. 2002: "The study shows strong support among youth for universal service. But these advocates usually neglect to mention that this support is based on a stated assumption in the survey question that such service would be 'an alternative to (compulsory) military service should one be instituted.' A truer reflection of youthful opinion is found in the survey's largely unreported question on community service as a requirement for high school graduation. That program is overwhelmingly opposed—by a 35 percent margin among current high school students. Interestingly, the same survey shows that 'instituting civics and government course requirements in schools is favored by a 15-point margin by current high school students.'"
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Pro/con sources

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