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Military conscription

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Military conscription

"Conscript" redirects here. For other uses, see Conscript (disambiguation).

Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service.[2] 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.

In China, the State of Qin instituted universal military service following the registration of every household.[3] This allowed huge armies to be levied, and was instrumental in the creation of the Qin Empire that conquered the whole of China in 221 BC.

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.[4] 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.[5]



Around the reign of Hammurabi (1791–1750 BC), the Babylonian Empire used a system of conscription called Ilkum. Under the system those eligible were required to serve in the royal army in time of war.[6] During times of peace they were instead required to provide labour for other activities of the state.[6] In return for this service, people subject to it gained the right to hold land.[6] It is possible that this right was not to hold land per se but specific land supplied by the state.[6]

Various forms of avoiding military service are recorded. While it was outlawed by the Code of Hammurabi, the hiring of substitutes appears to have been practiced both before and after the creation of the code.[7] Later records show that Ilkum commitments could become regularly traded.[7] In other places, people simply left their towns to avoid their Ilkum service.[7] Another option was to sell Ilkum lands and the commitments along with them. With the exception of a few exempted classes, this was forbidden by the Code of Hammurabi.[7]


Universal conscription in China dates back to the State of Qin, which eventually became the Qin Empire of 221 BC. Following unification, historical records show that a total of 300,000 conscript soldiers and 500,000 conscript labourers constructed the Great Wall of China[8]

In the following dynasties, universal conscription was abolished and reintroduced on numerous occasions.

As of 2011, universal military conscription is theoretically mandatory in the People's Republic of China, and reinforced by law. However, due to the large population of China and large pool of candidates available for recruitment, the People's Liberation Army has always had sufficient volunteers, so conscription has not been required in practice at all.

Medieval levies

Under the feudal conditions for holding land in the medieval period, most peasants and freemen were liable to provide one man of suitable age per family for military duty when required by either the king or the local lord. The levies raised in this way fought as infantry under local superiors. Although the exact laws varied greatly depending on the country and the period, generally these levies were only obliged to fight for one to three months. Most were subsistence farmers, and it was in everyone's interest to send the men home for harvest-time.

In medieval Scandinavia the 'leiðangr' (Old Norse), 'leidang' (Norwegian), 'leding', (Danish), 'ledung' (Swedish), 'lichting' (Dutch), 'expeditio' (Latin) or sometimes 'leþing' (Old English), was a levy of free farmers conscripted into coastal fleets for seasonal excursions and in defence of the realm.

The bulk of the Anglo-Saxon English army, called the fyrd, was composed of part-time English soldiers drawn from the landowning minor nobility. These thegns were the land-holding aristocracy of the time and were required to serve with their own armour and weapons for a certain number of days each year. The historian David Sturdy has cautioned about regarding the fyrd as a precursor to a modern national army composed of all ranks of society, describing it as a "ridiculous fantasy":
The persistent old belief that peasants and small farmers gathered to form a national army or fyrd is a strange delusion dreamt up by antiquarians in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries to justify universal military conscription.[9]

Medieval levy in Poland was known as the pospolite ruszenie.

Military slavery

The system of military slaves was widely used in the Middle East, beginning with the Egyptians training Mamluks from the 9th century, to the Turks and Ottoman Empire throughout the 19th century.

In the middle of the 14th century, Ottoman Sultan Murad I developed personal troops to be loyal to him, with a slave army called the Kapıkulu. The new force was built by taking Christian children from newly conquered lands, especially from the far areas of his empire, in a system known as the devşirme (translated "gathering" or "converting"). The captive children were forced to convert to Islam. The Sultans had the young boys trained over several years. Those who showed special promise in fighting skills were trained in advanced warrior skills, put into the sultan's personal service, and turned into the Janissaries, the elite branch of the Kapıkulu. A number of distinguished military commanders of the Ottomans, and most of the imperial administrators and upper-level officials of the Empire, such as Pargalı İbrahim Pasha and Sokollu Mehmet Paşa, were recruited in this way.[10] By 1609, the Sultan's Kapıkulu forces increased to about 100,000.[11]

In later years, Sultans turned to the Barbary Pirates to supply their Jannissaries corps. Their attacks on ships off the coast of Africa or in the Mediterranean, and subsequent capture of able-bodied men for ransom or sale provided some captives for the Sultan's system. Starting in the 17th century, Christian families living under the Ottoman rule began to submit their sons into the Kapikulu system willingly, as they saw this as a potentially invaluable career opportunity for their children. Eventually the Sultan turned to foreign volunteers from the warrior clans of Circassians in southern Russia to fill his Janissary armies. As a whole the system began to break down, the loyalty of the Jannissaries became increasingly suspect. Mahmud II forcibly disbanded the Janissary corps in 1826.[12][13]

Similar to the Janissaries in origin and means of development were the Mamluks of Egypt in the Middle Ages. The Mamluks were usually captive non-Muslim Iranian and Turkish children who had been kidnapped or bought as slaves from the Barbary coasts. The Egyptians assimilated and trained the boys and young men to become Islamic soldiers who served the Muslim caliphs and the Ayyubid sultans during the Middle Ages. The first mamluks served the Abbasid caliphs in 9th century Baghdad. Over time they became a powerful military caste. On more than one occasion, they seized power, for example, ruling Egypt from 1250–1517.

From 1250 Egypt had been ruled by the Bahri dynasty of Kipchak origin. Slaves from the Caucasus served in the army and formed an elite corp of troops. They eventually revolted in Egypt to form the Burgi dynasty. The Mamluks' excellent fighting abilities, massed Islamic armies, and overwhelming numbers succeeded in overcoming the Christian Crusader fortresses in the Holy Land. The Mamluks were the most successful defense against the Mongol Ilkhanate of Persia and Iraq from entering Egypt.[14]

On the western coast of Africa, Berber Muslims captured non-Muslims to put to work as laborers. They generally converted the younger people to Islam and many became quite assimilated. In Morocco, the Berber looked south rather than north. The Moroccan Sultan Moulay Ismail, called "the Bloodthirsty" (1672–1727), employed a corps of 150,000 black slaves, called his Black Guard. He used them to coerce the country into submission.[15]

Invention of modern conscription

Modern conscription, the massed military enlistment of national citizens, was devised during the French Revolution, to enable the Republic to defend itself from the attacks of European monarchies. Deputy Jean-Baptiste Jourdan gave its name to the 5 September 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 overwhelmed European professional armies that often numbered only into the low tens of thousands. More than 2.6 million men were inducted into the French military in this way between the years 1800 and 1813.[16]

The defeat of the Prussian Army in particular shocked the Prussian establishment, which had believed it was invincible after the victories of Frederick the Great. The Prussians were used to relying on superior organization and tactical factors such as order of battle to focus superior troops against inferior ones. Given approximately equivalent forces, as was generally the case with professional armies, these factors showed considerable importance. However, they became considerably less important when the Prussian armies faced forces that outnumbered their own in some cases by more than ten to one. Scharnhorst advocated adopting the levée en masse, the military conscription used by France. The Krümpersystem was the beginning of short-term compulsory service in Prussia, as opposed to the long-term conscription previously used.[17]

In the Russian Empire, the military service time "owed" by serfs was 25 years at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1834 it was decreased to 20 years. The recruits were to be not younger than 17 and not older than 35.[18] In 1874 Russia introduced universal conscription in the modern pattern, 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.[19]

World Wars

The range of eligible ages for conscripting was expanded to meet national demand during the World Wars. In the United States, the Selective Service System drafted men for World War I initially in an age range from 21 to 30 but expanded its eligibility in 1918 to an age range of 18 to 45.[20] In the case of a widespread mobilization of forces where service includes homefront defense, ages of conscripts may range much higher, with the oldest conscripts serving in roles requiring lesser mobility. Expanded-age conscription was common during the Second World War: in Britain, it was commonly known as "call-up" and extended to age 51. Nazi Germany termed it Volkssturm ("People's Storm") and included men as young as 16 and as old as 60.[21] During the Second World War, both Britain and the Soviet Union conscripted women. The United States was on the verge of drafting women into the Nurse Corps because it anticipated it would need the extra personnel for its planned invasion of Japan. However, the Japanese surrendered and the idea was abandoned.[22]

The Netherlands

Conscription, which was called "Service Duty" (Dutch: dienstplicht) in the Netherlands, was first employed in 1810 by French occupying forces. Napoleon's brother Louis Bonaparte, who was King of Holland from 1806 to 1810, had tried to introduce conscription a few years earlier, unsuccessfully. Every man aged 20 years or older had to enlist. By means of drawing lots it was decided who had to undertake service in the French army. It was possible to arrange a substitute against payment.

Later on, conscription was used for all men over the age of 18. Postponement was possible, due to study, for example. Conscientious objectors could perform an alternative civilian service instead of military service. For various reasons, this forced military service was criticized at the end of the twentieth century. Since the Cold War was over, so was the direct threat of a war. Instead, the Dutch army was employed in more and more peacekeeping operations. The complexity and danger of these missions made the use of conscripts controversial. Furthermore the conscription system was thought to be unfair as only men were drafted.

In the European part of Netherlands, compulsory attendance has been officially suspended since 1 May 1997. Between 1991 and 1996, the Dutch armed forces phased out their conscript personnel and converted to an all-volunteer force. The last conscript troops were inducted in 1995, and demobilized in 1996. The suspension means that citizens are no longer forced to serve in the armed forces, as long as it is not required for the safety of the country. Since then, the Dutch army is an all-volunteer force. However, to this day, every male citizen aged 17 gets a letter in which he is told that he has been registered but does not have to present himself for service. The Dutch army allowed its male soldiers to have long hair from the early 1970s to the end of conscription in the mid-1990s.

Even though it is generally thought that conscription has been abolished in the Netherlands, it is compulsory attendance that was abolished, not conscription. The laws and systems which provide for the conscription of armed forces personnel still remain in place.


Britain introduced conscription for the first time in 1916 (halfway through World War I) and abolished it in 1920, and reintroduced it again in 1939 on the outbreak of World War II. It remained in force until 1960.

In all, 8,000,000 men were drafted, as well as several hundred thousand women.[23] The introduction of conscription in May 1939, before the war began, was largely due to pressure from the French, who emphasized the need for a large British army to oppose the Germans.[24] Starting in early 1942 unmarried women age 19–30 were conscripted. Most were sent to the factories, but they could volunteer for the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and other women's services. None were assigned to combat roles unless they volunteered. By 1943 women were liable to some form of directed labour up to age 51. During the Second World War, 1.4 million British men volunteered for service and 3.2 million were conscripted. Volunteers comprised 20% of the Army, 40% of the Royal Navy, and 50% of the Royal Air Force.[25]

The abolition of conscription in Britain was announced on 4 April 1957, by recently elected prime minister Harold Macmillan, with the last conscripts being recruited three years later.[26]

United States

In the United States, conscription, also called "the draft", ended in 1973, but males between 18 and 25 are required to register with the Selective Service System to enable a reintroduction of conscription if necessary. President Gerald Ford suspended mandatory draft registration in 1975, but President Jimmy Carter reinstated that requirement when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Selective Service registration is still required of all young men although the draft has not been used since 1973.[27]

Colonial and Early National

In America before 1862, combat duty was always voluntary, but white men aged 18 to 45 were usually required to join local militia units. Colonial militia laws—and after 1776 those of the states—required able-bodied white men to enroll in the militia and to undergo a minimum of military training, all without pay. Colonial Pennsylvania (controlled by Quakers) did not have such laws. Members of pacifist religious denominations were exempt. When combat troops were needed some of the militiamen volunteered for short terms of service, for which they were paid. Following this system in its essentials, the Continental Congress in 1778 recommended that the states draft men from their militias for one year's service in the Continental army; this first national conscription was irregularly applied and failed to fill the Continental ranks.

In 1814, President James Madison proposed conscription of 40,000 men for the army, but the War of 1812 ended before Congress took any action. An 1840 proposal for a standing army of 200,000 men included conscription, but it never passed and military service was voluntary before 1862.[28]

American Civil War

Although both North and South resorted to conscription during the Civil War, in neither region did the system work effectively. The Confederate Congress on April 16, 1862, passed an act requiring military service for three years from all males aged eighteen to thirty-five not legally exempt, and it later extended the obligation. The U.S. Congress followed on July 17, 1862, with an act authorizing a militia draft within a state when it could not meet its quota with volunteers. This state-administered system failed in practice and on March 3, 1863, Congress passed the first genuine national conscription law, setting up under the Union army an elaborate machinery for enrolling and drafting men between twenty and forty-five years of age.

Quotas were assigned in each state, the deficiencies in volunteers to be met by conscription. But men drafted could provide substitutes or, until mid-1864, avoid service by paying commutation money. Many eligibles pooled their money to cover the cost of anyone drafted. Families used the substitute provision to select which man should go into the army and which should stay home. There was much evasion and overt resistance to the draft, especially in Catholic areas. The great draft riot in New York City in July 1863 involved Irish immigrants who had been signed up as citizens to swell the machine vote, not realizing it made them liable for the draft. Of the 168,649 men procured for the Union through the draft, 117,986 were substitutes, leaving only 50,663 who had their personal services conscripted.

The problem of Confederate desertion was aggravated by the inequitable inclinations of conscription officers and local judges. The three conscription acts of the Confederacy exempted certain categories, most notably the planter class, and enrolling officers and local judges often practiced favoritism, sometimes accepting bribes. Attempts to effectively deal with the issue were frustrated by conflict between state and local governments on the one hand and the national government of the Confederacy.[29]

World War I

In 1917 the administration of Woodrow Wilson decided to rely primarily on conscription, rather than voluntary enlistment, to raise military manpower for World War I. The Selective Service Act of 1917 was carefully drawn to remedy the defects in the Civil War system and—by allowing exemptions for dependency, essential occupations, and religious scruples—to place each man in his proper niche in a national war effort. The act established a "liability for military service of all male citizens"; authorized a selective draft of all those between twenty-one and thirty-one years of age (later from eighteen to forty-five); and prohibited all forms of bounties, substitutions, or purchase of exemptions. Administration was entrusted to local boards composed of leading civilians in each community. These boards issued draft calls in order of numbers drawn in a national lottery and determined exemptions. In 1917 and 1918 some 24 million men were registered and nearly 3 million inducted into the military services, with little of the resistance that characterized the Civil War.[30]

World War II

In 1940 Congress passed the first peace-time draft legislation, which was led by Grenville Clark. It was renewed (by one vote) in summer 1941. It involved questions as to who should control the draft, the size of the army, and the need for deferments. The system worked through local draft boards comprising community leaders who were given quotas and then decided how to fill them. There was very little draft resistance.[31]

The nation went from a surplus manpower pool with high unemployment and relief in 1940 to a severe manpower shortage by 1943. Industry realized that the Army urgently desired production of essential war materials and foodstuffs more than soldiers. (Large numbers of soldiers were not used until the invasion of Europe in summer 1944.) In 1940 to 1943, the Army often transferred soldiers to civilian status in the Enlisted Reserve Corps in order to increase production. Those transferred would return to work in essential industry, although they could be called back to active duty if the Army needed them. Others were discharged if their civilian work was deemed absolutely essential. There were instances of mass releases of men to increase production in various industries. Blacks and Asians were drafted under the same terms as whites. Over ten million men were drafted for combat in World War Two, more than double the amount drafted for World War One, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined.

One contentious issue involved the drafting of fathers, which was avoided as much as possible. The drafting of 18-year olds was desired by the military but vetoed by public opinion. Farmers demanded and were generally given occupational deferments (many volunteered anyway, and those who stayed at home were not eligible for postwar veteran's benefits).

Later in the war, in light of the tremendous amount of manpower that would be necessary for the invasion of France, many earlier deferment categories became draft eligible.[32]

Drafting of women

Traditionally conscription has been limited to the male population. Women and handicapped males have been exempt from conscription. Many societies have traditionally considered military service as a test of manhood and a rite of passage from boyhood into manhood.[33][34]

As of 2013, countries that were drafting women into military service included Bolivia,[35] Chad,[36] Cuba,[37] Eritrea,[38][39][40] Israel,[38][39][41] Libya,[38][42] North Korea,[38][39][43] Sudan,[44] and Tunisia.[39] In the United Kingdom during World War II, beginning in 1941, women were brought into the scope of conscription but, as all women with dependent children were exempt and many women were informally left in occupations such as nursing or teaching, the number conscripted was relatively few.[45]

In 2002, Sweden considered female conscription on the grounds that excluding them goes against the ideology of equality.

In June 2013, the parliament of Norway made a principal resolution to introduce female conscription, being the first country in NATO and Europe to do so.[46] If further laws are passed, female consciption may be implemented in 2015.[47]

In the USSR, there was no systematic conscription of women for the armed forces, but the severe disruption of normal life and the high proportion of civilians affected by World War II after the German invasion attracted many volunteers for what was termed "The Great Patriotic War".[48] Medical doctors of both sexes could and would be conscripted (as officers). Also, the free Soviet university education system required Department of Chemistry students of both sexes to complete an ROTC course in NBC defense, and such female reservist officers could be conscripted in times of war. The United States came close to drafting women into the Nurse Corps in preparation for a planned invasion of Japan.[49][50]

In 1981 in the United States, several men filed lawsuit in the case Rostker v. Goldberg, alleging that the Selective Service Act of 1948 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment by only requiring that men register with the Selective Service System (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.'"[51]

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 only males a violation of the Constitution of the Republic of China.[52][(see discussion) verification needed] Though women are conscripted in Taiwan, transsexual persons are exempt.[53]

Conscientious objection

A conscientious objector is an individual whose personal beliefs are incompatible with military service, or, more often, with any role in the armed forces. In some countries, conscientious objectors have special legal status, which augments their conscription duties. For example, Sweden used to allow conscientious objectors to choose a service in the "weapons-free" branch, such as an airport fireman, nurse or telecommunications technician.

Most refuse such service, as they feel that such roles 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, pacifist by doctrine; Jehovah's Witnesses, while not strictly pacifists, refuse to participate in the armed forces on the ground that they believe Christians should be neutral in worldly conflicts.

Evading the draft

Main article: Draft dodger

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. The conscription also became unpopular in Grand Duchy of Finland during the reign of Nicholas II and was suspended; instead Finland paid a levy tax, "military millions" as compensation for abolition of conscription.

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 around 1970, 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.

In the United States, especially during the Vietnam War, 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, US 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 US 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. By 1975, the draft was no longer mandatory. Today, American men aged 18–25 are encouraged to sign up for the Military, but there has not been a call-up since the Vietnam Era.

In Israel, the Muslim and Christian Arab minority are exempt from mandatory service, as are permanent residents such as the Druze of the Golan Heights. Male Ultra-Orthodox Jews may apply for a deferment of draft to study in Yeshiva, and the deferment tends to become an exemption, while female religious Jews can be exempted after presenting "religious declaration" to the IDF authorities, and some (primarily National Religious or Modern Orthodox) choose to volunteer for national service instead. Male Druze and Circassian Israeli citizens are liable, by agreement with their community leaders (Female Druze and Circassian are exempt from service). Members of the exempted groups can still volunteer, but very few do, except that Bedouin have a relatively large number who tend to volunteer (usually for financial reasons).

Countries with and without mandatory military service

Main article: Military service
Conscription by country — Examples
Country Land area (km2)[54] GDP nominal (US$M)[55] Per capita
GDP (US$)[56]
Population[57] Government[58] Conscription[59]
 Albania 27,398 $11,800 $3,693.27 2,994,667 Emerging Democracy No (abolished in 2010[60])
 Algeria 2,381,740 $159,000 $3,948.01 34,994,937 Republic Yes
 Angola 1,246,700 $85,810 $5,003.43 13,338,541 Republic; Multi-party Presidential Regime Yes
 Argentina 2,736,690 $351,000 $8,662.99[61] 41,769,726 Republic No. Voluntary; conscription may be ordered for specified reasons; per Public Law No.24.429 promulgated on 5 January 1995.
 Australia 7,617,930 $1,220,000 $44,474.51 21,766,711 Constitutional Monarchy that is also a Parliamentary Democracy and a Federation No (abolished by parliament in 1972[62])
 Austria 82,444 $366,300 $45,598.77 8,404,252 Federal Republic Yes (alternative service available)[63]
 Bahamas 10,070 $7,538 $21,547.17 313,312 Constitutional Monarchy with a Parliamentary system of government No
 Bangladesh 133,910 $100,100 $481.36 158,570,535 Parliamentary Democracy No
 Barbados 431 $3,693 $14,516.48 286,705 Parliamentary democracy No
 Belgium 30,278 $461,300 $43,648.01 10,431,477 Federal Parliamentary Democracy under Constitutional Monarchy No (Conscription was abolished as of 1 January 1994 under the so-called Delacroix Bill of 6 July 1993)
 Belize 22,806 $1,431 $4,327.67 321,115 Parliamentary Democracy No. Military service is voluntary.
 Bhutan 47,000 $1,397 $561.89 708,427 Constitutional Monarchy No[64]
 Bolivia 1,084,390 $19,180 $1,839.61 10,118,683 Republic Yes (when annual number of volunteers falls short of goal[65])
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 51,197 $16,320 $4,246.54 4,622,163 Emerging Federal Democratic Republic No (Abolished on January 1, 2006.[66])
 Brazil 8,456,510 $2,024,000 $10,611.71 203,429,773 Federal Republic Yes.
 Bulgaria 110,550 $44,840 $5,409.09 7,093,635 Parliamentary Democracy No (abolished by law on January 1, 2008[67])
 Canada 9,093,507 $1,564,000 $42,886.91 34,030,589 Constitutional Monarchy that is also a Parliamentary Democracy and a Federation No
 Chile 748,800 $199,200 $10,058.50 16,888,760 Republic Yes
 China 9,326,410 $5,745,000 $4,288.19 1,336,718,015 Communist State Yes[68]
 Croatia 56,414 $59,920 $11,430.32 4,290,612 Presidential-Parliamentary Democracy No (abolished by law in 2008[69])
 Cuba 110,860 $57,490 $5,114.24 11,087,330 Communist State Yes
 Cyprus 9,240 $22,750 $27,014.79 1,120,489 Republic[70] Yes
 Czech Republic 77,276 $195,200 $17,137.98 10,190,213 Parliamentary Democracy No (abolished in 2005[71])
 Denmark 42,394 $311,900 $57,039.71 5,529,888 Constitutional Monarchy Yes (alternative service available[72][73][74])
 Djibouti 22,980 $1,139 $1,281.22 757,074 Republic No
 Ecuador 276,840 $56,500 $3,949.15 15,007,343 Republic Yes
 Egypt 995,450 $216,800 $1,592.08 80,492,000 Republic Yes
 El Salvador 20,720 $21,800 $3,520.10 6,071,774 Republic No. Legal, not practiced.
 Estonia 43,211 $18,800 $16,171.29 1,282,963 Parliamentary Republic Yes (alternative service available)
 Finland 304,473 $238,000 $46,769.47 5,259,250 Republic Yes (alternative service available)
 France 640,053[75] $2,555,000 $35,240.62 65,102,719 Republic No (suspended for peacetime in 2001[76])
 Gambia 10,000 $1,040 $601.85 1,797,860 Republic No
 Germany 349,223 $3,306,000 $40,315.05 81,471,834 Federal Parliamentary Republic No (suspended for peacetime by federal legislature effective from 1 July 2011[77])
 Greece 130,800 $302,000 $29,384.60 10,760,136 Parliamentary Republic Yes
 Grenada 344 $645 $6,201.92 108,419 Parliamentary Democracy No (no military service)
 Hungary 92,340 $132,300 $13,901.01 9,976,062 Parliamentary Democracy No (Peacetime conscription abolished in 2004[78])
 India 2,973,190 $1,430,000 $972.68 1,189,172,906 Federal Republic No
 Indonesia 1,826,440 $695,100 $2,926.04 245,613,043 Republic
sources differ
Yes, selective conscription (FWCC[79])
 Iran 1,636,000 $337,900 $4,497.11 75,448,000 Theocratic Republic Yes
 Israel 20,330 $201,300 $25,191.86 7,740,900 Parliamentary Democracy Yes
 Italy 294,020 $2,037,000 $33,599.20 61,016,804 Unitary Parliamentary Constitutional Republic No (suspended for peacetime in 2005[83])
 Jamaica 10,831 $13,740 $5,077.93 2,868,380 Constitutional Parliamentary Democracy No
 Japan 374,744 $5,391,000 $34,402.26 126,475,664 Constitutional Monarchy with a Parliamentary government No
 Jordan 91,971 $27,130 $4,385.00 6,508,271 Constitutional Monarchy
Yes. The government decided in 2007 to reintroduce conscription, which had been suspended in 1999.[84]
 North Korea 120,538[85] $28,000[85] $1,800.00[85] 24,720,407[85] Communist state one-man dictatorship[85] Yes[85][86]
 South Korea 98,190 $986,300 $19,514.82 48,754,657 Republic Yes
 Kuwait 17,820 $117,300 $42,857.14 2,595,628 Constitutional Emirate Yes
 Lebanon 10,230 $39,150 $9,259.70 4,143,101 Sources differ[89] No (abolished in 2007)[88])
 Libya 1,759,540 $77,910 $12,259.64 6,597,960 Provisional Parliamentary Republic[90] Yes
 Lithuania 65,300[91] $35,730 $10,725.96 3,221,200 Parliamentary Democracy No (Suspended on September 15, 2008[92])
 Luxembourg 2,586 $52,430 $104,421.43 503,302 Constitutional Monarchy No
 Macedonia 24,856 $9,170 $3,646.55 2,077,328 Parliamentary Democracy No (abolished in 2006)[93]
 Malaysia 328,550 $219,000 $7,944.62 28,728,607 Constitutional Monarchy No
 Maldives 300 $1,433 $4,516.52 394,999 Republic No
 Malta 316 $7,801 $18,460.74 408,333 Republic No
 Mexico 1,923,040 $1,004,000 $8,218.88 112,336,538 Federal Republic Yes
 Moldova 33,371 $5,357 $1,503.17 4,314,377 Republic Yes
 Burma 657,740 $35,650 $285.60 53,999,804 Unitary Presidential Constitutional Republic
sources differ
Yes but not enforced as of January 2011.[94][95][96][97][98]
No (FWCC[79])
   Nepal 143,181 $15,110 $333.09 28,584,975 Democratic Republic No
 Netherlands 33,883 $770,300 $46,389.35 16,680,500 Constitutional Monarchy No. Suspended since 1997 (except for Curaçao and Aruba).[99]
 New Zealand 268,021 $138,000 $31,124.18 4,290,347 Parliamentary Democracy No, Conscription Abolished in December 1972.
 Norway 307,442 $413,500 $84,595.13 4,691,849 Constitutional Monarchy Yes
 Pakistan 778,720 $174,800 $872.88 176,554,000 Federal Republic No
 Philippines 298,170 $188,700 $2,007.17 101,833,938 Republic Yes. Legal.[79][101]
 Poland 304,459 $470,000 $12,307.90 38,441,588 Republic No (ended in 2009)[102]
 Portugal 91,951 $223,700 $20,981.25 10,636,979 Parliamentary Republic
No (abolished in 2004 but there remains a symbolic military obligation to all 18-year-old people, from both sexes. It is called National Defense Day, (Dia da Defesa Nacional in Portuguese)).[103]
 Qatar 11,437 $126,500 $74,562.51 848,016 Emirate No
 Romania 230,340 $158,400 $7,451.95 21,413,815 Republic No (ended in 2007[104])
 Russia 16,995,800 $1,477,000 $9,124.49 138,739,892 Federation Yes (alternative service available)
 Rwanda 24,948 $5,693 $546.73 11,370,425 Republic; Presidential No
 Saudi Arabia 2,149,690 $434,400 $16,007.68 26,131,703 Monarchy No
 Seychelles 455 $919 $10,621.21 89,188 Republic Yes
 Singapore 682.7 $233,900 $46,073.24 4,740,737 Parliamentary Republic Yes
 Slovenia 20,151 $46,440 $22,933.99 2,000,092 Parliamentary Republic No[105]
 Sweden 410,934 $444,600 $50,414.75 9,088,728 Constitutional Monarchy, Unitary Parliamentary Representative Democracy No (ended in 2010)[106]
 South Africa 1,219,912 $354,400 $7,089.23 49,004,031 Republic No (ended in 1994, formalized in 2002)[107]
 Spain 499,542 $1,375,000 $35,576.38 46,148,605 Parliamentary Monarchy No (abolished by law on December 31, 2001[108])
 Swaziland 17,203 $3,165 $2,668.63 1,370,424 Monarchy No
  Switzerland 39,770 $522,400 $66,408.19 7,639,961 A Confederation only in name, legally and structurally a Federal Republic Yes (Alternative service available[109])
 Syria 184,050 $59,630 $1,954.98 21,125,000 Republic under an authoritarian military-dominated regime Yes
 Taiwan[110] 32,260 $427,000 $16,768.11 23,071,779 Multi-party Democracy Yes (alternative service available[111])

An all-volunteer force is planned by the end of 2014, but conscription will remain in practice thereafter.[112]

 Thailand 511,770 $312,600 $4,662.82 66,720,153 Constitutional Monarchy Yes
 Tonga 718 $301 $2,894.23 105,916 Constitutional Monarchy No
 Trinidad and Tobago 5,128 $21,200 $16,088.47 1,227,505 Parliamentary Democracy No
 Turkey 770,760 $729,100 $9,889.72 78,785,548 Republican Parliamentary Democracy Yes
 Ukraine 603,700 $136,600 $3,034.57 45,134,707 Republic No (abolished in 2013[113])
 United Kingdom 241,590 $2,259,000 $45,626.38 62,435,709 Constitutional Monarchy and Commonwealth Realm No (abolished December 31, 1960, except Bermuda Regiment[114])
 United States 9,161,923 $14,620,000 $45,958.70 311,705,000 Constitution-based federal republic No[115] Draft abolished in 1975 by President Gerald Ford; however males between 18–25 need to register with the U.S. Selective Service System.
 Vanuatu 12,200 $721 $3,004.17 224,564 Parliamentary Republic No
 Venezuela 882,050 $285,200 $9,084.09 27,635,743 Federal Republic Yes[116][117]

Conscription by jurisdiction

Arguments against conscription


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.

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 impressment of individuals into the armed forces is involuntary servitude.[118] 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."[119] 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."[120]

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.".[121]


It can be argued that in a cost-to-benefit ratio, conscription during peace time is not worthwhile.[122] 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 in some countries 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.

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 no 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.[123]

Arguments for conscription

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.[124] Similarly, Aristotle linked the division of armed service among the populace intimately with the political order of the state.[125] 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.[126] 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.[127][128][129]

Economic & resource efficiency

Further information: Industrial warfare, Total war and War effort

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.[130]

Related concepts

See also


  1. "republic"[58]
  2. "republic"[88]

Further reading

  • Burk, James (April 1989). "Debating the Draft in America," Armed Forces and Society p. vol. 15: pp. 431–448.
  • Challener, Richard D. The French theory of the nation in arms, 1866–1939 (1955)
  • Chambers, John Whiteclay. To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America (1987)
  • Flynn, George Q. (1998 33(1): 5–20). "Conscription and Equity in Western Democracies, 1940–75," Journal of Contemporary History in JSTOR
  • Looks at citizens' responses to military conscription in several democracies since the French Revolution.
  • Krueger, Christine, and Sonja Levsen, eds. War Volunteering in Modern Times: From the French Revolution to the Second World War (Palgrave Macmillan 2011)
  • Pfaffenzeller, Stephan. 2010. “Conscription and Democracy: The Mythology of Civil-Military Relations.”

es:Servicio militar

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