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Conscription (also known as "The Draft", the "Call-up" or "National service") is a general term for involuntary labor demanded by an established authority. It is most often used in the specific sense of requiring citizens to serve in the armed forces. It is known by various names—for example, the most recent conscription program in the United Statesmarker was known colloquially as "the draft". Many nations do not maintain conscription forces, instead relying on a volunteer or professional military most of the time, although many of these countries still reserve the possibility of conscription for wartime and during times of crises.

Referring to compulsory service in the armed forces, the term "conscription" has two main meanings:

  • compulsory service, usually of young men of a given age, e.g., 17–18, for a set period of time, commonly one-to-two years. In the United Kingdommarker and Singaporemarker this was commonly known as "national service"; in New Zealandmarker, at first compulsory military training and later national service.
  • compulsory service, for an indefinite period of time, in the context of a widespread mobilisation of forces for fighting war, including on the home territory, usually imposed on men in a much wider age group (e.g., 18–55). (In the United Kingdom this was commonly known as "call-up").

The term "conscription" refers only to the mandatory service; thus, those undergoing conscription are known as "conscripts" or "selectees" in the United States (from the Selective Service System or the Selective Service Initiative announced in 2004).

In the U.S.marker the term "enlisted" is often used to refer only to those who have volunteered for service in roles other than as commissioned officers.



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

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 practice both before and after the creation of the code. Later records show that Ilkum commitments could become regularly traded. In other places people simply left their towns to avoid their Ilkum service. 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..

Feudal 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, and those that refused became outlaws. The levies raised in this way fought as infantry under their own local superiors. This was essentially an early form of conscription. 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, and it was in every lord's interest to send the men home for harvest-time.

Military slavery

The system of military slaves was widely used by Turks in the Middle East, beginning with the Mamluks from the 9th century up until the Ottomans through to the 19th century.

In the middle of the 14th century, Ottoman Sultan Murad I built his own personal slave army called the Kapıkulu. The new force was built by kidnapping large numbers of children, especially from Europeans during large raids or as a form of tribute known as the devşirme (translated "blood tax" or "child collection"). The captive children, far from their families and cultures, were persuaded to convert to Islam.The Sultans put the young boys, into various levels of stress, endurance, and fighting levels over several years. Those that showed special promise in fighting skills were trained in advanced and arcane warrior skills, put into the sultan's personal service, and turned into the ultimate fighting weapons known as the Janissaries, the most famous branch of the Kapıkulu. This soldier class 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. As European Christian states increased in military power, they were able to stem and eventually repel most of the Islamic riazzas into the European heartland. Additionally, the raise in awareness by the common European to their national and religious identity through greater literacy and education also made it increasingly problematic for Turkish indoctrination to work effectively on the kidnapped children. The Sultan increasingly began turning to the Barbary Pirates whose depredations continued upon white travelers, thereby providing a continued supply of captured children for the Sultan's human slave system. Eventually the Sultan had to turn to foreign volunteers from the adept warrior clans of Circassians in southern Russia to fill his Janissary armies. As a whole the system began to break down, and the loyalty of the Jannissaries became increasingly suspect. Mahmud II forcibly disbanded Janissary corps in 1826.

Similar to the Janissaries in origin and means of development and probably the basis of the Janissaries, were the Mamluks. The Mamluks were also usually captured European or non-Muslim Iranian and Turkish children who had been kidnapped or bought as slaves from the Barbary coasts. Similar to the Turks, the Egyptians indoctrinated the children into becoming fanatical Islamic slave soldiers who served the Muslim caliphs and the Ayyubid sultans during the Middle Ages. The first mamluks served the Abbasid caliphs in 9th century Baghdadmarker. Over time they became a powerful military caste, and on more than one occasion they seized power for themselves, for example, ruling Egyptmarker from 1250-1517. From 1250 Egyptmarker 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 excellent fighting abilities, massed Islamic Jihadi armies, and overwhelming numbers succeeded in overcoming and genociding the grossly outnumbered Christian European Crusader fortresses in the Holy Land. They were mainly responsible for preventing the Mongol Ilkhanate of Persia and Iraq from entering Egypt.

On the western coast of Africa, Berber Muslims also attempted to put into practice the process of capturing non-Muslims and brainwashing them into fanatical Muslims. In Morocco, the Berber looked south rather than north. The Moroccan Sultan Moulay Ismail "the Bloodthirsty" (1672-1727) raised a corps of 150,000 black slaves, called his Black Guard, who coerced the country into submission.

Invention of modern conscription

The Swedish allotment system of the 17th century predates most conscription policies. The official layout of the system differs from the French and modern but the effect was the same but on a lesser scale.Modern conscription, the massed military enlistment of national citizens (today recognized in the USA as "the draft"), was devised during the French Revolution, allowing the Republicmarker to defend itself from the attacks of European monarchies. Deputy Jean-Baptiste Jourdan gave its name to the September 5, 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 successfully battled European professional armies. More than 2.6 million men were inducted into the French military in this way between the years 1800 and 1813.

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 Empiremarker, 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.

Louis Althusser has also underlined how Machiavelli was one of the first modern theorists to consider 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 Canadamarker (see Conscription Crisis of 1917), Australia and New Zealandmarker (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)

, countries that were drafting women into military service included Chinamarker, Eritreamarker, Israelmarker, Libyamarker, Malaysiamarker, North Koreamarker, Perumarker, Taiwanmarker, Egyptmarker and Tunesiamarker. In 2002, Swedenmarker's government asked its army to consider mandatory military service for women. In the United Kingdommarker 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. 

^ . In the USSRmarker, though there was no systematic conscription of women for the armed forces, the severe disruption of normal life and the high proportion of civilians brought brutally into contact with the fighting that volunteers for what was termed "The Great Patriotic War" found a ready response. The United Statesmarker came close to drafting women into the Nurse Corps in preparation for a planned invasion of Japan.

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 Courtmarker 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. Though women are conscripted in Taiwan, transsexual persons are exempt.

Conscientious objection

A conscientious objector is an individual whose personal beliefs are incompatible with military service, or sometimes with any role in the armed forces. In some countries, conscientious objectors have special legal status, which augments their conscription duties. For example, Swedenmarker allows conscientious objectors to choose a service in the "weapons-free" branch, such as an airport fireman, nurse or telecommunications technician. Some may also refuse such service as they feel that they still 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 are pacifist by doctrine, and Jehovah's Witnesses, while not strictly speaking pacifists, refuse to participate in the armed services on the grounds that they believe Christians should be neutral in worldly conflicts, excluding Holy Wars involving Christianity.

Draft evaders

Not everyone who is conscripted is willing to go to war. In the United States, especially during the Vietnam Era, 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 Canadamarker, Mexicomarker or Swedenmarker.

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. Today, American men 18-25 are required to register with the government, but there has not been a callup since the Vietnam Era.

Draft resisters

Historically, there has been resistance to conscription in almost every country and situation where it has been imposed. The New York Draft Riots (July 11 to July 16, 1863; known at the time as Draft Week), were violent disturbances in New York Citymarker 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 Empiremarker government ended its exemption of Muslims from military service.

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 since 1980, 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.

There are those who are immune to the draft in certain countries; 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 Kingdommarker this is known as a reserved occupation which is deemed necessary to the survival of the nation.

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. Ultra-Orthodox Jews may apply for a deferment of draft to study in Yeshiva but once they are finished studying they are required to do national or army service. Druze and Circassian Israeli citizens are liable, by agreement with their community leaders. Members of the exempted groups can still volunteer, but very few do, except for the Bedouin where a relatively large number have tended to volunteer.

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." France salutes end of military service", BBC News, November 29, 2001. Retrieved September 29, 2006. Individual resentment may also be compounded by the typically low or no wages paid to conscripts, especially in countries such as Greecemarker, South Koreamarker, Finlandmarker, and Iranmarker. In Singapore, allowance, and not wages, is given to full-time national service personnel, since policies see National Service as a duty rendered to the country and its citizens. The Finnish army does not pay any wages to conscripts, but instead grants them a daily allowance of 3.60 to 8.25 euros, depending of length of tour of duty. The Greek Army pays a monthly allowance which at the moment stands at 8.62 euros (per month)for privates. Reserve Officers earn more but have to pay for their living expenses off-base themselves.

Countries with and without mandatory military service

See: Military service

Conscription by country — Examples
Country Land area (km2) Nationmaster: Land area. SOURCE: All CIA World Factbooks 18 December 2003 to 18 December 2008. GDP nominal (US$M) Nationmaster: GDP. SOURCE: All CIA World Factbooks 18 December 2003 to 18 December 2008 Per capita
GDP (US$) Nationmaster: Per capita GDP. SOURCE: All CIA World Factbooks 18 December 2003 to 18 December 2008.
Population Nationmaster: Population. SOURCE: World Development Indicators database and CIA World Factbooks. Government Nationmaster: Government type. SOURCE: All CIA World Factbooks 18 December 2003 to 18 December 2008. Conscription Nationmaster: Conscription. SOURCE: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, Switzerland, 1997. Data collected from the nations concerned, unless otherwise indicated. Acronyms: Amnesty International (AI); European Council of Conscripts Organizations (ECCO); Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC); International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHFHR); National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors (NISBCO); Service, Peace and Justice in Latin America (SERPAJ); War Resisters International (WRI); World Council of Churches (WCC).
Albania 27,398 $10,620 $2,949.57 3,619,778 emerging democracy Yes
Algeria 2,381,740 $90,000 $2,700.01 33,333,216 republic Yes
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 (abolished by parliament in 1972)
Austria 82,444 $310,100 $37,818.07 8,233,300 federal republic Yes
Bahamas 10,070 $6,586, $21,547.17 307,451 constitutional parliamentary democracy No
Bangladesh 133,910 $72,420 $481.36 153,546,896 parliamentary democracy No
Belgium 30,528 $316,200 $31,400 10,584,534 federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy No (conscription suspended since 1994)
Belize 22,806 $1,274 $4,327.67 301,270 parliamentary democracy Military service is voluntary
Bhutan 47,000 $1,308 $561.89 682,321 in transition to constitutional monarchy; special treaty relationship with India Yes (selective)
Bolivia 1,084,390 $13,190 $1,446.41 9,247,816 republic Yes (when annual number of volunteers falls short of goal)
Bosnia and Herzegovina 51,197 $14,780 $3,246.78 4,590,310 emerging federal democratic republic Yes
Brazil 1,314,000 $967,000 $6,915.40 196,342,592 federal republic Yes
Bulgaria 110,550 $39,610 $5,409.09 7,262,675 parliamentary democracy No (abolished by law on January 1, 2008)
Burma 657,740 $13,530 $285.60 47,758,180 military junta No

Officially prohibited, de facto still practiced
China, People's Republic of 9,326,410 $3,251,000 $2,459.43 1,330,044,544 Communist state Yes (selective) (Legalized by law, but have not yet been practiced )
Croatia 56,414 $51,360 $11,430.32 4,491,543 presidential/parliamentary democracy No (abolished by law in 2008)
Cuba 110,860 $45,580 $4,000.34 11,423,952 Communist state Yes (both sexes )
Denmark 42,394 $311,900 $57,039.71 5,484,723 constitutional monarchy Yes
Djibouti 22,980 $841 $1,694.29 506,221 republic No
El Salvador 20,720 $20,370 $2,931.75 7,066,403 republic Legal, not practiced
Finland 304,473 $245,000 $46,769.47 5,244,749 republic Yes
France 640,053Includes the overseas regions of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Reunion. $2,560,000 $35,240.62 61,037,510 republic No (suspended in 2001)
Gambia, The 10,000 $653 $386.77 1,735,464 republic No
Germany 349,223 $3,322,000 $40,315.05 82,369,552 federal republic Yes (Alternative service available)
Greece 130,800 $314,600 $29,384.60 10,722,816 parliamentary republic Yes
Grenada 344 $590 $6,557.67 90,343 parliamentary democracy No (no military service)
Hungary 92,340 $138,400 $13,901.01 9,930,915 parliamentary democracy No (Peacetime conscription abolished in 2004)
Iran 1,636,000 $193,500 $2,958.83 68,251,090 theocratic republic Yes
India 2,973,190 $1,099,000 $972.68 1,147,995,904 federal republic No
Israel 20,330 $161,900 $25,191.86 7,112,359 parliamentary democracy Yes
Jamaica 10,831 $11,210 $4,032.18 2,804,332 constitutional parliamentary democracy No
Japan 374,744 $4,384,000 $34,402.26 127,288,416 constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government No
Jordan 91,971 $16,010 $2,644.89 6,198,677 constitutional monarchy Uncertain
Korea, North 120,410 $40,000 (2008 est.) $1,800 23,479,088 Communist state one-man dictatorship Yes
Korea, South 98,190 $957,100 $19,514.81 48,379,392 republic Yes
Kuwait 17,820 $60,720 $24,234.11 2,505,559 constitutional emirate Yes
Lebanon 10,230 $24,640 $6,276.90 3,971,941 republic No (abolished in 2007)
Libya 1,759,540 $57,060 $9,451.85 6,173,579 jamahiriya (a state of the masses) in theory, governed by the populace through local councils; in practice, an authoritarian state Yes
Luxembourg 2,586 $50,160 $104,451.69 486,006 constitutional monarchy No
Macedonia, Republic of 24,856 $7,497 $3,646.55 2,061,315 parliamentary democracy No (abolished in 2006)
Malaysia 328,550 $186,500 $7,513.71 25,274,132 constitutional elective monarchy No
Maldives 300 $1,049 $2,842.58 385,925 republic No
Malta 316 $7,419 $18,460.73 403,532 republic No
Mexico 1,972,550 $893,400 $8,218.88 109,955,400 republic Yes
Moldova 33,371 $4,227 $978.36 4,324,450 republic Yes
Netherlands 33,883 $768,700 $46,389.35 16,645,313 constitutional monarchy Legal, suspended since 1997

New Zealand 268,021 $128,100 $31,124.18 4,173,460 parliamentary democracy No
Pakistan 778,720 $143,800 $872.88 172,800,048 federal republic No
Philippines 298,170 $144,100 $2,582.17 96,061,680 republic Legal. Practiced selectively and only rarely
Poland 304,459 $420,300 $10,911.71 38,500,696 republic No
Qatar 11,437 $67,760 $74,688.97 824,789 emirate No
Romania 230,340 $166,000 $7,451.95 22,246,862 republic No (ended in 2007)
Russia 16,995,800 $1,290,000 $9,124.49 140,702,096 federation Yes
Rwanda 24,948 $3,320 $335.10 10,186,063 republic; presidential, multiparty system No
Saudi Arabia 376,000 $276,900 $13,622.68 28,146,656 monarchy No
Seychelles 455 $710 $8,669.64 82,247 republic Yes
Singapore 682.7 $161,300 $35,427.12 4,608,167 parliamentary republic Yes
Slovenia 20,151 $46,080 $22,933.99 2,007,711 parliamentary republic No
South Africa 1,219,912 $282,600 $6,423.04 48,782,756 republic No
Spain 499,542 $1,439,000 $35,576.37 40,491,052 parliamentary monarchy No
Syria 184,050 $37,760 $1,954.98 19,747,586 republic under an authoritarian military-dominated regime Yes
Swaziland 17,203 $2,936 $2,591.20 1,128,814 monarchy No
Switzerland 39,770 $423,900 $56,111.06 7,581,520 formally a confederation but similar in structure to a federal republic Yes
Taiwan (estimates based on 2006 data)
(Republic of China)
32,260 $383,300 $16,768.11 22,920,946 multiparty democracy Yes (alternative service available)

An all-volunteer force is planned by the end of 2014.
Thailand 511,770 $245,700 $3,776.0 65,493,296 constitutional monarchy Yes
Tonga 718 $219 $1,873.06 119,009 constitutional monarchy No
Trinidad and Tobago 5,128 $20,700 $19,590.99 1,047,366 parliamentary democracy No
Turkey 770,760 $663,400 $9,322.83 71,892,808 republican parliamentary democracy Yes
Venezuela 882,050 $236,400 $9,084.09 26,414,816 federal republic Yes
United Kingdom 241,590 $2,773,000, $45,626.38 60,943,912 constitutional monarchy No (except Bermuda Regiment )
United States 9,161,923 $13,840,000 $45,958.70 303,824,640 Constitution-based federal republic No
Vanuatu 12,200 $455 $2,146.52 215,446 parliamentary republic No

Arguments against conscription

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Many arguments opposed to conscription, or opposed to gender-discriminated conscription, arise from its alleged violation of the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. In particular:
  • Art.2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as (…) sex (…)
  • Art.3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
  • Art.4: No one shall be held in (…) servitude (…)
  • Art.18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
  • Art.20: (…) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
  • Art.23: Everyone has the right (…) to free choice of employment (…)

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.


Conscription subjects individual personalities to militarism.
It is a form of servitude.
That nations routinely tolerate it, is just one more proof of its debilitating influence.
Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and Thomas Mann in Against Conscription and the Military Training of Youth — 1930'

Conscription is slavery, and I don't think that any people or nation has a right to save itself at the price of slavery for anyone, no matter what name it is called.
We have had the draft for twenty years now; I think this is shameful.
If a country can't save itself through the volunteer service of its own free people, then I say : Let the damned thing go down the drain!
Robert A. Heinlein, Guest of Honor Speech at the 29th World Science Fiction Convention, Seattle, Washington (1961)

Some groups, such as libertarians[554], say that the draft constitutes slavery, since it involves the State taking ownership of the subject's life and labor. Conscription can in some cases involve non military work which contributes to this argument. Historical examples include the Ilkum system. More recently 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 as zero-cost work force was readily available. At worst, conscription can lead into outright chattel slavery and abuse of the conscripts. Perhaps the ugliest aspect of this is using the conscripts as sex slaves and prostitutes: this has been reported to occur frequently in the Russian army. [555]

Age Discrimination

Conscription is usually limited to young people, and the burden of conscription is almost never spread equally across all age groups. The youngest people considered qualified are usually conscripted first. Opponents of ageism, and advocates of youth liberation, argue that age-based military conscription is the most severe disparity on the basis of age of any government mandate on individuals. This argument is epitomized by the Phil Ochs song, "I Ain't Marching Anymore": "It's always the old who lead us to the war; it's always the young who fall." Even in countries with elected governments, conscripts are often too young to be allowed to vote or participate in decisions on whether to go to war or to impose or set policies for conscription. The Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which lowered the voting age to 18, was proposed and approved largely in response to criticism of conscription based on the unfairness of drafting men too young to be allowed to vote. But draft-age voters in the USA are still overwhelmingly outnumbered by voters considered to be too old to be conscripted.


Traditionally conscription has been limited to the male population. Women and non-able-bodied males have been exempted from conscription. Many societies have traditionally considered conscription as a test of manhood and a rite of passage from boyhood into manhood . Pacifist feminists oppose conscription of women as well as men, arguing that it would have women become their own enemy by taking part in a patriarchal oppressive construct of the military (Some feminists may be pacifists as much for religious reasons as opposition to patriarchy).

Discipline problems

No military can operate effectively without discipline. Discipline can either be taught from esprit de corps, already-acquired motivation of the personnel or be fundamentally embedded into the troops through guidance from leadership. One can speculate that volunteers manifest less undisciplined behavior, however citizens conscripted might have little motivation to serve. As motivation is based on coercion, the corrective action imposed upon undisciplined conscriptees is often harsh. Capital punishment, usually by firing squad, was used almost universally to maintain discipline in conscript militaries during wartime. Antony Beevor has estimated the executions covered some 1% to 5% of all conscript losses in World War II. This can be best summarized by a statement from Leon Trotsky:

"An army cannot be built without reprisals. Masses of men cannot be led to death unless the command has the death penalty in its arsenal. So long as those malicious tailless apes that are so proud of their technical achievements — the animals that we call men — will build armies and wage wars, the command will always be obliged to place the soldiers between the possible death in the front and the inevitable one in the rear."

Consequently, conscript armies are more likely to commit mutiny than all-volunteer forces, and can in extreme cases turn against their own (see fragging). The Vlasov Army is an extreme example of a conscript army turning against their own.

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.

Nationalism and promoting militarism

The military draft is predicated on the assumption that nations have rights that supersede those of the individual. In the words of Einstein and Gandhi's Anti-Conscription Manifesto, "The State which thinks itself entitled to force its citizens to go to war will never pay proper regard to the value and happiness of their lives in peace." The building of large conscript armies coincided with the rise of virulent nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, culminating in World War II.

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 Austriamarker, Germanymarker and Swedenmarker, or where conditions are brutal.

Conscription may create an atmosphere of chauvinism, sexism and discrimination against those men who haven't served in the armed forces.

Justification for attacks on civilians

Conscription is a component of total war, and can also be used as an example of established policy to justify a government's demand that other sacrifices be required of civilians. Once a draft is allowed, Justice Louis Brandeis argued, "all bets are off". Arguably this results in a blurring of the moral distinction between civilians and the military as legitimate military targets, leading to attacks on civilians, although this view runs counter to the laws and customs of war: young people who could be conscripted, but are not in the armed forces (or otherwise bearing arms in a conflict) are still legally considered civilians.

Examples would include the indiscriminate bombing of cities conducted by both sides during World War II, the My Lai Massacremarker. Hamas guerrillas also claim their deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians is justified by the existence of conscription in Israel.


"In almost every infantry platoon in most conscript armies there were seldom more than a handful of men prepared to take risks and attack. At the other end of the scale, there were usually a similar number who would do everything possible to avoid danger. The majority in the middle just followed the brave ones, but, faced with sudden disaster, they could equally run with the shirkers."

This weakness was due to a number of factors. First, short periods of service do not allow for much skill building. Second, there is a possibility of a morale drop in units with conscripts, leading to a reduction in quality as officers and NCOs work to alleviate those problems.

The biggest problem is that the pace of training has to be adjusted to the level of the lowest quality candidate. Combined with the apparent lack of motivation and short tour of duty, this renders the skills of the conscripts very low compared to volunteer professionals. Therefore the elite units of all armies which have conscription, are composed entirely of selected volunteers, such as the Spetsnaz of the Russian 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. The Argentiniansmarker referred to conscription as la colimba from words correr (run), limpiar (cleanse) and barrer (march), with allusion of conscription being merely irrelevant tasks at barracks instead of real combat skills training. Likewise, many nations have used conscripts simply as indentured, low-cost work force, organized as "work battalions" for agriculture and building infrastructure instead of decent military service.


It can be argued that in a cost-to-benefit ratio, conscription during peace time is not worthwhile. Months or years of service amongst the most fit 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 in any case there is little threat of a war in most countries with conscription. In the United States, every healthy and able male resident on their 18th birthday must register with Selective Service so he is available for a draft if it were ever actived.

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 other work, such as that of policeman. 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.

Draft as a tool to subjugate society

Another argument sees conscription as a tool for dictatorships to control and re-educate a population instead of being a means for an oppressed people to infiltrate the military as the power base for every dictatorship. Especially since the military is inherently based on giving and obeying orders, instead of democracy, it is argued that a draft is a far more effective tool to instill obedience and unconditional following into society than giving a democratic populace the opportunity to control the military.

Supporting that argument is the fact, that Nazi Germany changed the Reichswehr from an all-volunteer army in 1934 into the conscription-based Wehrmacht.

Also almost all contemporary dictatorships have a military draft (Syriamarker, North Koreamarker, as well as Iraqmarker under Saddam Hussein).Virtually all former military dictatorships relied heavily on conscribing their entire adolescent male populations (with the military dictatorship of Burmamarker being a notable exception). The former military dictatorships of Turkeymarker, Greecemarker, Spainmarker, Chilemarker, Argentinamarker, Brazilmarker, Indonesiamarker and Libyamarker maintained draft systems throughout their reigns as well as all formerly communist dictatorships and the Soviet Unionmarker itself.

Arguments for conscription

Valuable training

Some communitarians argue that peacetime conscription is an ideal tool for teaching a population basic, important skills such as first aid, swimming, and wilderness survival. They also argue that conscription makes for a more disciplined and skilled workforce, as men and women leave the military and take the skills which they honed there back to their civilian jobs.

Rite of passage

In many countries, conscription serves as a rite of passage. The prospective man is tested, to see whether or not he can endure the hardships of military training and earn the right to be called a man. Military service, in countries that have it, may then be seen as the test of manhood. Conscription may inspire camaraderie, unifying a people: all able-bodied males together as a union have had the same experience and are soldiers, and that may create unity and a national spirit.

Draft as protection against military coups

Some argue that conscription should be connected to democracy. A professional army can become a dangerous state-within-a-state. Military virtues such as obedience to orders and respect for the chain of command can be abused by aspiring dictators. Armed forces can attract — consciously or unconsciously — people who prefer authoritarian systems. The army can even become the only chance for a job and decent life in times of unemployment (this was crucial in the rise of Japanese militarism, ) or for despised minorities. Such people may come to regard the army as their home and elevate it above the state.

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.

One should also note the 1980 Turkish coup d'état and many other coup d'états because the military was dissatisfied with the democratic election, despite the fact that Turkey had a military based on conscripts.


Small countries have several options to raise a sizeable army. One is to put every able-bodied man under arms. This is how Switzerlandmarker managed to stay independent despite repeated attacks throughout history. The Swiss militias were so successful that their fighting style and weapons (especially the halberd) were quickly adopted by their enemies. This in turn made the Swiss very popular as mercenaries; many rulers even raised Swiss Guards. The rich Flemish trade cities of the early 14th century raised huge militias that could even defeat armies of knights. The famous Battle of the Golden Spurs (1302) is a good example.

Other options for national defense include membership in a military alliance like NATOmarker, as is the case for countries like Belgiummarker and Luxembourgmarker. 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 Florencemarker 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.

Conscript quality

The manpower quality of a conscript force is considered poor in many countries and conversely, governments are reluctant to invest in professional-quality training of conscripts, giving poor-quality forces. However, in some countries with conscription, the personnel diversity of the conscript force is considered its greatest strength. Admittedly, there are persons who would not be employed by a professional force, but these are a minority and can be discharged for medical reasons in extreme cases.

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 lengthy wars such as World War II, the differences between conscripts and professionals may disappear over time. During war commanders look to the combat experience of soldiers and units as an indication of quality, and conscripts who have seen action will be far more valuable to their superiors than green professionals.

The heterogeneity of the manpower is also the Achilles heel of conscription armies. 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.The more heterogeneous the manpower is, the more likely it is also to experience internal conflicts eroding the cohesion of the troops. In many cases, the conscript servicemates may have social or societal problems, they may be criminal, 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.

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. Similarly, Aristotle linked the division of armed service among the populace intimately with the political order of the state. Niccolò Machiavelli argued strongly for conscription, seeing the professional armies as the cause of the failure of societal unity in Italy.

Some ideologies and cultures, and those based on collectivism or statism, such as Fascism, 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, such as in all Communist countries, conscription is seen as the natural way of raising the army. Other proponents such as the late William James consider both mandatory military and national service as ways of instilling maturity in young adults as well a way to entail a sense of "sacrifice" and "self-denial".

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 in the United Kingdom is often eulogised for its potential as a beneficial harsh or life-changing treatment, with views expressed including that the military is better placed than the justice system to deal with miscreants, that it would improve youth in general to be brought into line by military training and service, or simply that the suggestion that criminals should be “sent to Iraq”. This view, which was the subject of the song “Call up the Groups” by The Barron Knights soon after the end of National Service, underpinned the Bad Lads’ Army TV series, which aimed to “recreate” National Service with first ordinary and later “bad” young men, who necessarily were volunteers who had chosen to attempt to change their lives through the program. The idea is not seriously considered politically on the basis that standards of troops recruited voluntarily will be higher.

Economic & resource efficiency

In a very large war, (such as World War II) raising a large enough volunteer military would require dramatic increases in taxes or budget deficits. In such cases conscription can have lower negative impact than the impact of these higher taxes and possibly be more equitable (higher taxes would penalize those out of service much more than those in service). Research into fiscal impacts of conscription in World War II suggest a volunteer army raised to the same size would have had worse economic impact in terms of economic growth.

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. In contrast, volunteers from a trained reserve are in their civilian jobs when they are not deployed.

Related concepts

See also


  1. Janissary on
  2. Lewis. Race and Slavery in the Middle East
  3. The Turks: History and Culture
  4. In the Service of the State and Military Class
  5. Janissary corps, or Janizary, or Yeniçeri (Turkish military), Encyclopædia Britannica
  6. Janissaries
  7. The Mamluk (Slave) Dynasty (Timeline)
  8. Lewis. Race and Slavery in the Middle East. Oxford Univ Press 1994.
  9. Dierk Walter. Preussische Heeresreformen 1807-1870: Militärische Innovation und der Mythos der "Roonschen Reform". 2003, in Citino, p. 130
  10. Military service in Russia Empire
  11. Conscription and Resistance: The Historical Context
  12. CBC News Indepth: International military
  13. The Economic Costs and the Political Allure of Conscription (see footnote 3)
  14. Rostker v. Goldberg, Cornell Law School, retrieved 26 December 2006.
  15. Judicial Yuan Interpretation 490 translated by Jiunn-rong Yeh
  16. Attachment of the standard of the class of physical condition of a draftee, Conscription Agency, Ministry of the Interior
  17. Conscription was abolished by law in 1973. But the Defence Act 1903 as amended retained a provision that it could be reintroduced by proclamation of the Governor-General. Potentially all Australian residents between the ages of 18 and 60 could be called up in this way. However, the Defence Legislation Amendment Act 1992 further provided that any such proclamation is of no effect until it is approved by both Houses of Parliament. Though actual legislation is not required, the effect of this provision is to make the introduction of conscription impossible without the approval of both the Senate and the House of Representatives,
  18. Country report and updates: France, War Resisters' International, October 23, 2008.
  19. §§ 14 ff. ZDG
  20. Data from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, Switzerland, 1997 indicates that Conscript Service was suspended indefinitely in 1992 and all members of the armed forces are regular volunteers. The CIA World Factbook entry for Jordan indicates based on 2004 data that conscription at age 18 was suspended in 1999, although all males under age 37 are required to register. The Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 indicates, citing "Mustafa al-Riyalat, Representatives agree flag and reserve la, ad-Dustour, April 2007", that compulsory Military Service Act No. 23 of 1986 put the minimum age limit at 18 and that this would be retained in the 2007 amendments.
  21. .
  22. Conscription still exists, but the compulsory attendance was held in abeyance per January 1, 1997 (effective per August 22, 1996),
  23. Article II Section 4 of The Philippine Constitution reads, "The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people. The Government may call upon the people to defend the State and, in the fulfillment thereof, all citizens may be required, under conditions provided by law, to render personal, military or civil service."
  24. "Poland's defence minister, Bogdan Klich, said the country will move towards a professional army and that from January, only volunteers will join the armed forces.",
  25. .
  26. The United States abandoned the draft in 1973 under President Richard Nixon, ended the Selective Service registration requirement in 1975 under President Gerald Ford, and then re-instated the Selective Service registration requirement in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter. Today the U.S. Selective Service System remains as a contingency, should a military draft be re-introduced. For more information see the U.S. Selective Service System website.
  27. Against Conscription and the Military Training of Youth — 1930
  28. Conscription, is it Slavery?, (archived from the original on 2007-09-07).
  29. Viktor Suvorov, The Liberators ISBN 0-241-10675-3; Hamish Hamilton, 1981.
  30. , citing
  31. Beevor, Antony (2009), D-Day, Penguin, p. 205, ISBN 978-0-670-88703-3. In a footnote to this statement Beevor cites David Rowland's The Stress of Battle (2006) and the "best-known work" Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command (1947) by S.L.A. Marshall.
  32. Henderson, David R. " The Role of Economists in Ending the Draft" (August 2005).
  33. "Conscription is alive and well in Switzerland. When a male Swiss reaches the age of 20, he must undergo 15 weeks of military training. Over the next 22 to 32 years, he'll attend a succession of two- to three-week training camps during until he's accrued 300 to 1,300 days of active service. (Service requirements depend on rank: the higher the rank, the more years and accrued days are required.)",
  34. "The Swiss were emulated and pikemen or other shock infantry were developed elsewhere. Other shock infantry used halberds, bills, poleaxes and two handed swords, such as the German landsknechts.",
  35. Kaskeala, J. Suomalaisten turvallisuutta kohennetaan koetuin konstein 24-1-2005. Retrieved 12-5-2007.
  36. Puolustusvoimat: Varusmieheksi 2006. Retrieved 2/8/2007. In Finnish
  37. Kaskeala, J. (2006) Vaikka puolustusvoimat supistuu, tarvitsemme yleisen asevelvollisuuden. Retrieved 2/9/2007. In Finnish
  38. Tykistöprikaati: Erikoispalvelutehtävät Retrieved 2/8/2007. In Finnish
  39. Rousseau, J-J. Social Contract. Chapter "The Roman Comitia"
  40. Aristotle, Politics, Book 6 Chapter VII and Book 4 Chapter XIII.
  41. The State and War - Chapter 9, Libertarianism
  42. The Moral Equivalent of War - William James, 1906
  43. Crime is real enemy within - Published: 05 Jul 2008 (The Sun (UK)
  44. 'Bring back National Service to cure yobs' - Telegraph (By Anil Dawar) Last Updated: 1:03AM BST 10 Jul 2006
  45. Yes, National service does work - Daily Express | Express Yourself (Tuesday July 15, 2008) By Jane Warren
  46. Five held over teenager's death - BBC NEWS England,London (Page last updated at 14:11 GMT, Sunday, 6 July 2008 15:11 UK)
  47. » stopyobs - epetition response - 13 March 2008

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