Referring to compulsory service in the armed forces, the term "conscription" has two main meanings:
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 middle of the 14th century, Ottoman Sultan Murad I built his own personal slave army called the Kapıkulu. The new force was based on the sultan's right to a fifth of the war booty, which he interpreted to include captives taken in battle. The captive slaves were converted to Islam and trained in the sultan's personal service. In the devşirme (translated "blood tax" or "child collection"), young Christian boys from the Balkans were taken away from their homes and families, converted to Islam and enlisted into special soldier classes of the Ottoman army. These soldier classes were named Janissaries, the most famous branch of the Kapıkulu. The Janissaries eventually became a decisive factor in the Ottoman invasions of Europe. Most of the military commanders of the Ottoman forces, imperial administrators and de facto rulers of the Ottoman Empire, such as Pargalı İbrahim Pasha and Sokollu Mehmet Paşa, were recruited in this way. By 1609 the Sultan's Kapıkulu forces increased to about 100,000. Mahmud II forcibly disbanded Janissary corps in 1826.
Mamluks were slave soldiers who converted to Islam and 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, and on more than one occasion they seized power for themselves, 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 eventually revolting in Egypt to form the Burgi dynasty. Mamluks were mainly responsible for the expulsion of the Crusaders from Palestine and preventing the Mongol Ilkhanate of Persia and Iraq from entering Egypt.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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)
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.'
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. However, transsexual persons are exempt from the Taiwanese conscription.
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 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.
There are those who are immune to the draft. 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.
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. Individual resentment may also be compounded by the typically low wages paid to conscripts, especially in countries such as Greece, South Korea, Finland and Singapore.
|Country||Land area||GDP nominal (US$M)||Per capita|
|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|
|Bahamas||10,070||$6,159||$20,150.17||305,655||constitutional parliamentary democracy||No|
|Belgium||30,528||$316,200||$31,400||10,584,534||democracy||No (abolished in 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
|Bolivia||1,084,390||$10,330||$1,132.78||9,119,152||republic||Yes (only when there are few volunteers)|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||51,129||$9,217||$2,024.74||4,552,198||emerging federal democratic republic||No|
|Burma||657,740||$9,600||$202.64||47,373,958||military junta||Officially prohibited, de facto still practiced|
|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)|
|Cuba||110,860||$40,000||$3,510.61||11,394,043||socialist republic||Yes (both sexes)|
|El Salvador||20,720||$15,160||$2,181.90||6,948,073||republic||Legal, not practiced|
|France||640,053||$2,149,000||$33,758.81||60,873,000||republic||No (conscription suspended since 2001)|
|Grenada||344||$454||$5,046.07||89,971||parliamentary democracy||No (no military service)|
|Israel||20,330||$140,300||$21,830.87||6,426,679||parliamentary democracy||Yes (both sexes)|
|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|
|Korea, North||120,410||$40,000||$1,800||23,301,725||juche socialist republic||Yes|
|Lebanon||10,230||$19,890||$5,066.87||3,925,502||republic||No (abolished in 2007)|
|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|
|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)|
|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|
|Romania||238,392||$256,900||$10,661||22,276,056||democracy||No (ended in 2007)|
|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|
|Syria||184,050||$24,260,||$1,356.90||19,043,380||republic under an authoritarian military-dominated regime||Yes|
|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|
|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 republic||No|
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.
Some groups, such as libertarians, say that the draft constitutes slavery, since it is mandatory work. 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, ). 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:
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. 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.
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.
Consequently, conscript armies are more likely to mutiny than all-volunteer forces, and can in extreme cases turn against their own (see fragging).
Discipline problems become much worse when the ablest of the youth are forced to serve against their will under the authority of people they consider less intelligent, untalented, or simply because of unquestioned authority. This was seldom a problem in the period of Industrialism when only the upper classes had access to higher education, but proved problematic in the Vietnam War, when college students were conscripted to fight under non-commissioned officers, many of whom had not finished high school and few of whom had any higher education.
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. 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, such as in Russia.
Men who have had military training can also be more ready to use violence to solve conflicts than those who have not. Conscription also may create an atmosphere of chauvinism, sexism and discrimination against those men who haven't served in the armed forces.
The biggest problem is that the pace of training has to be adjusted to the level of the lowest quality candidate. Combined with the short tour of duty, this renders the skills of the conscripts very low. Therefore the elite units of all armies which have conscription, are composed entirely of selected volunteers, such as Parachute Rangers in the Finnish army.
Likewise, the military training of the conscripts is almost universally very rudimentary. It seldom goes beyond drill, shooting practice, rudimentary specialization on one's service branch and weapons and basic battlefield training. have used conscripts simply as indentured, low-cost work force, organized as "work battalions" for agriculture and building infrastructure instead of decent military service.
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.
The cost of conscription can be related to the parable of the broken window. Military service can be related to any work. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
However, the conscript force may also receive the best of the youth, who would never join a professional army. Many conscripts are from such social strata that they would have much more lucrative employment or would be studying, were they not obliged to serve. These persons provide talented manpower that can easily be trained for technical and leadership duties. As junior NCO and commissioned officer positions are filled with leadership-trained conscripts, the size and cost of the professional cadre is much smaller. As these ex-conscripts, as reservists, mature and lose their fighting fitness, they can be subsequently retrained and given emergency positions corresponding their civilian expertise. For example, a transport manager who is a reserve officer might serve as a battalion logistics chief during wartime. The leadership-trained conscripts can also be recruited to the regular forces. The vast improvement of the Egyptian Army in between the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War has been attributed to the decision to conscript college graduates who were previously exempt.
In wartime especially in a lengthy war like World War II, the differences between conscripts and professionals may disappear over time, during war, commanders look the combat experience of to a soldiers and units as an indication of quality, and a conscript who has seen action will be far more valuable to his/its superiors than a green professional.
The worst problem is that the training must be designed by the physical fitness and the learning ability of the least able of the youth. However, this can be at least partly avoided by differentiating the conscript training. Even the least able can usually fulfill important roles in relatively easy logistics duties, while the most able can be trained quite well as specialists. In many cases, the conscript servicemates may have social or societal problems, they may be criminals, bullies or drug abusers, or they may even be sociopaths. Allowing such persons to serve is problematic. They may corrode the capability of the unit, even endangering the safety of the others. Some countries have recognized this problem, and attempt to exclude the potential troublemakers even before they get to serve, using medical discharges, for example. On the other hand, in some countries (like in Russia) the problems with this issue are extremely dire (see dedovschina). There is also the argument that if the problem can be classified as juvenile delinquency, then the military functions as a "men's school". By giving responsibility, youth development is induced, and adolescent-typical criminal behavior ceases. The problem is that the coercion type environment of conscription armies encourage avoidance of responsibility, rather than accepting it, being more likely to promote such antisocial behaviour than to discourage it.
Some ideologies and cultures, and those based on collectivism or statism, value the society and common good above the life of an individual. 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.
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. If a greater good would achieved, every thing considered, by sacrificing some soldiers a state should be willing to make this sacrifice. This assumes that state have right to use its citizens for achieving greater good for the humankind.
Conscription can give the conscripts a lasting patriotic view and readiness to die for the good of the whole. Such readiness should, according to many world-views, be present in a virtuous citizen at all times, but through training, the readiness becomes a grim reality, not rhetoric. This may decrease the admiration of the military, but may also promote militarism and lead into readiness to use violence in everyday life to solve marital problems. On the other hand, the fact that every person understands that a war — any war — means that they themselves, friends, and relatives will be dying or at the least, facing mortal danger, decreases the willingness to enter an armed conflict. In practice, engaging a conscript force in an aggressive war for a prolonged period results in morale degradation both at home and on the front, testified by Afghanistan and Vietnam Wars.
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. In contrast, volunteers from a trained reserve are in their civilian jobs when they are not deployed.