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Research Report

What if We Gave Up Conscription?

Henrik Jedig Jørgensen
Henrik Ø. Breitenbauch
Copyright Date: Feb. 1, 2009
Pages: 81
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 5-14)

    Conscription is a subject of debate – with the public, academics, and politicians. This became clear during the preparations of the Danish Defence Agreement for 2005-2009, and over the years, conscription has been a subject of interest to both politicians and the press.

    ¹ Views in the political world range from the Social Democrats' wish to discontinue conscription to the Danish People's Party's wish that it should be expanded. ²

    In a debate characterised by such strong views, it would probably come as a surprise to most people in Denmark to learn that we know very little about what happens...

  2. (pp. 15-17)

    An attempt is made in the report to illustrate the experience gained in the four countries in connection with discontinuing conscription in selected areas. These areas can be described in summary as follows:

    1. Conscription, economy and recruitment.

    2. Conscription, international operations and national defence.

    3. Conscription, transparency and social cohesion.

    4. Conscription, justice and rights.

    In order to create the best conditions for evaluating the consequences of discontinuing conscription, we decided to investigate two countries that have recently discontinued conscription, and two countries that have had more experience of the consequences of changing to purely professional armed forces. This means that two of...

  3. (pp. 18-22)

    Of the four countries selected, only France had a form of compulsory military service that included both men and women. The number of women in the armed forces, however, was limited, and in practice most women served in other branches of the compulsory system, "Service Nationale". In Slovakia and the Netherlands, women were not allowed to do national service, and in Latvia, where it was possible for women to do national service in accordance with their wishes, it was an extremely rare occurrence – due, among other things, to rigorous physical requirements.

    All of the countries had a selection system...

  4. (pp. 23-29)

    A common point of departure for the four countries in this report is that the change from conscription to professional armed forces coincided with a general wish to carry out a military reform.

    The underlying motives for this wish were many and various – but there are four common (and mutually connected) traits for the four countries. First, the ambition in all of them was to strengthen the ability of the military to take part in international operations without appreciably increasing military appropriations. Second, there was general recognition of the fact that technological developments in warfare and the consequent increase...

  5. (pp. 30-32)

    One feature common to all four countries was that conscription was not abolished – it was merely suspended. According to the countries' constitutions it is therefore still possible to reintroduce conscription, even though legislation in all of them makes various demands on the terms of this. According to the people interviewed, choosing to suspend rather than abolish conscription was connected with the fact that there had been debates regarding the consequences of this for the ability to mobilise reservists for national defence. In these debates, opponents of discontinuing conscription maintained that it was a tried and tested, well-functioning system that...

  6. (pp. 33-39)

    A gradual reorganisation from conscription to professional armed forces was chosen in all of the countries studied and, during the transition periods, a decreasing number of conscripts were called up, while the recruitment and training of professionals was increased. The transition periods were of different lengths, with three years (in Latvia) as the shortest and six years (in the Netherlands) as the longest. The people interviewed generally stated that the transition periods – between three and six years – were of suitable length. In Latvia, however, it was difficult to amend existing legislation and provisions within the time allotted and...

  7. (pp. 40-49)

    It is noted in all of the countries that capacity and ability to perform international operations has improved and that the main purpose of changing from conscripted to professional armed forces has thereby been fulfilled.

    The generally declining physical standard among young people, known respectively in Latvia and the Netherlands as the "computer generation" and the "beer generation", was noted in all of the countries studied. This has been of particular importance as the number of applicants has decreased because it meant either rejecting a larger percentage of them or lowering enrolment requirements and increasing the duration of training to...

  8. (pp. 50-54)

    This section is a summary of the observations regarding the four assumptions examined in the report:

    Conscription, economy and recruitment.

    It is quite possible to recruit the necessary number of professional soldiers if conscription is discontinued – but market fluctuations, the number of young people from a particular year, and terms of employment are decisive factors.

    All countries had difficulties in recruiting specialists such as mechanics – but the same applies to countries where conscription has not been discontinued (e.g. Denmark). The ability to find recruits for the classic military functions varies from country to country – and the people...

  9. (pp. 55-62)

    Deciding whether there should be conscription in Denmark is a political issue. As can be seen from the introductory sections of this report, conscription is an institution which, over and above its purely military function, serves a number of other practical and symbolic purposes. The debate on conscription should therefore also include elements other than those regarding how it would be possible to procure and organise military forces after having suspended conscription. Otherwise, there is a risk of overlooking the potential for developing conscription and the functions it fulfils. As Pertti Joenniemi writes: "There is, of course, no denying that...

  10. (pp. 63-66)

    The question as to whether conscription in Denmark should be suspended, modified, or retained is outside the perspectives of this report. The recommendations therefore fall into three categories: recommendations that should be given consideration if conscription is discontinued; recommendations that are relevant if it is maintained in some form or other; and finally, recommendations that are relevant irrespective of whether conscription is discontinued or maintained.

    Prepare a national security strategy.

    A national security strategy would help politicians to organise professional armed forces that are well balanced in relation to visions and goals, as well as threats and opportunities. The future...