The Gryphon asks: should a country ever introduce conscription?
Yes – Kane Emmerson
Last week it was announced that Sweden has reintroduced conscription amidst rising tensions in the Baltic and a fall in recruitment numbers. It joins Estonia, Finland, Norway and Austria in requiring some military service from young people. Whilst Sweden’s choice was decided by a perceived threat from Russia, the draft also has a plethora of non-military benefits, with its ability to integrate young people into society, endow them with skills and create a society that is much more politically involved. It begs the question – should the United Kingdom join them?
Rising inequality in the United Kingdom and rising anti-immigrant rhetoric are complex issues, but military service might be the answer. The shock of Brexit highlighted the fractures within Britain with a rural/urban divide and an education divide. By getting a whole generation of the country to work together in an environment in which class, region and ethnicity hasn’t determined entrance then the whole country can benefit from greater unity. Large swathes of the population can not segregate themselves to certain neighbourhoods or schools when they know there is much more outside of their communities. Politics would not be as divisive when individuals understand the variety of experiences in this single country. On an individual level, conscription would give a young, white, working-class school-leaver from Dundee the opportunity to live and work alongside a young Indian middle-class student from London. The personal benefits gained from creating a network of friends from a variety of backgrounds are immense, providing a whole new outlook on the world and indeed, on our own country.
Military conscription in the UK would be a boon to our economy too, with service giving young people leadership skills, problem-solving skills and resilience. The effect of conscription in Israel is telling with the country being second only to the USA in the number of NASDAQ (a technology stock listing) companies that it is home to. Conscription prepares young Israelis with the skills, maturity and aspiration to go on and lead in business. Indeed, it is a model that has worked for the Church of the Latter-Day Saints; Mormons have gained a reputation as business leaders with compulsory missionary work for young Mormons giving them an edge in their professional lives. For a small religious minority in the USA this “religious conscription” has produced Mitt Romney, the CEO of Credit Suisse and the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as well as the Dean of Harvard Business School. Military conscription would be a good start to adult life for many of us through developing the courage to take risks, strategic thinking and self-discipline.
I realise that this article for conscription may flag me as a military hawk in the eyes of many, but what I regard as one of the most important qualities of a society that maintains conscription is the level of political engagement that it promotes. We see that most with the Vietnam War in the United States. The conflict was primarily a salient issue because of opposition to the draft being used to select troops for the war. When the draft ended, much of the opposition to the war ended despite the unjust war carrying on for another two years. If every young man and woman in the UK had to undertake military service, would politicians advocate for pointless wars that the voting public oppose?
It is perhaps not a vote-winner to advocate reinstating military conscription, but increased national unity, increased confidence amongst young people and increased democracy all make for an interesting proposition. Military service has the potential to transform the lives of young people that lack confidence, our economy and, ultimately, transform a society that lacks cohesion.
No – Martha Wood
Not seven years after voting against conscription, with the threat of Russia looming and what they describe as a ‘security change in our neighbourhood’, Sweden has announced the reintroduction of conscription. However, the return to conscription has sent out a dangerous message: Sweden is preparing for war.
This direct threat emphasises the tensions we face today, but conscription is a shift backwards for a progressive society. It contradicts the very essence of freedom – forcing people to join the army for nine months to a year (not a short amount of time) with the hope of converting them to become recruits is wrong. There are many pacifists who would never consider joining such armies and many who may be afraid to oppose the system, but they could be forced to join. Conscription adds pressure to people as it will become an expectation that one must do their duty, as if doing jury service, they must carry out their military service. But this is a longer commitment and with potentially very serious implications for the conscripts. 4,000 eighteen-year-olds a year is not insignificant. I can scarcely imagine the effects military service has on a young person. While they may not face any real violence, they are forced to join and live life in a strict military fashion. For some this may be a positive, but for others it may not.
While they argue conscription is necessary to build a more successful and efficient army, it may be that their systems of training and other structural issues are the problems, in which case forcing those who are unwilling to join the army is not the way forward. Isn’t it better to have enthusiastic personnel rather than those simply joining because they have to? Even though they argue only those who are most keen and enthusiastic will be picked, is it really plausible in a random conscript system to vet people and work out who is most enthusiastic? Moreover, if this is the case, would it be necessary to have conscription at all? Surely if people were enthusiastic enough they would join on their own accord.
There may even become a division between those who volunteer and those who are conscripted. It could cause tension and may make joining the army less appealing as it becomes a chore rather than a respectable choice of career. Normalising the military career may even deter people from joining the army in the long run, and thus cause increasing reliance on conscription.
Furthermore, writing it into the legislation seems to justify war. By standardising the life of the military, we are only encouraging violence and tension and at times of increased hostilities when we should surely be looking for peaceful alternatives, rather than creating a militarily driven society.
Defence is key, however the size of an army, unless preparing for an invasion, does not need to be enormous. While I recognise that Russia appears to be a threat, there are alternatives. Even though Sweden is not part of NATO they are a part of other military partnerships, and I do not doubt that an attack from Russia would cause worldwide support for Sweden. However conscription is damaging and far from progressive or encouraging to the nation. It is both threatening and worrying for the young people of Sweden and this may only be the beginning of a wider conscription scheme. Can they not rally support in other ways, rather than threatening everyone with this? Conscription goes against freedom, the right to dictate your own life, and the right to say no.
(Image courtesy of Reddit)