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2023; Militaries Across the World

As an American, mandatory military service feels like something of the past. However, as a student currently in Singapore, many of my peers have had to serve in the military, and thus many of my classmates are two to three years older than me and yet still in the same year at university. This new environment and new social norm have brought up many questions for me about mandatory conscription, so I wanted to share what I have learned by analyzing some different countries that use conscription in 2023; South Korea, Israel, Singapore, Switzerland, Turkey, and Greece.

But first, here is some quick history on mandated military service. Conscription was very common during the 19th and 20th centuries across the world. This system was the main way that countries recruited their militaries, especially in Europe. In Germany during the 1930s, there was a “universal military service” where every boy over the age of eighteen had to join some form of corps for six months. Then, at nineteen, they were expected to serve for two years in the military. In the United States, a draft was instituted during the Civil War, and the First and Second World Wars. After World War II, it became very common for countries to institute mandatory military service as the world witnessed how easily war could erupt. Britain and the United States were the only Western countries not to institute conscription. Nonetheless, across the world, men and women still face “compulsory enrollment for service” in their country’s armed forces. 

Korea flag


South Korea

All South Korean men are expected and required to serve in the military. Their enlistment is for a total of eighteen months. At nineteen, men must take a “draft physical examination” to determine what they are eligible to do for their service. Once deemed healthy enough, there are a lot of choices for which sector of the military they want to serve in. Some of which include auxiliary police officers, firefighters, social work personnel, etc

Israel flag



Israel’s conscription system stands out as it requires both men and women to serve. All Jewish, Druze, or Circassian Israeli citizens are expected to serve in the military once they are eighteen. The website for the Israel Defense Forces explains that “other Israeli Arabs, religious women, married individuals, and those deemed unfit medically or mentally are exempt from compulsory military service.” After officially enlisted, men serve at least thirty-two months, and women serve around two years

Singapore flag



In Singapore, every male who is either a citizen or considered a permanent resident of Singapore is expected to serve in the military after turning eighteen. They are allowed to serve in the Armed Forces, Civil Defense Force, or Police Force. Enlistment is for two years, including basic training, vocational training, and actual service. Singapore, in general, has a small population in relation to surrounding countries and especially in comparison to world superpowers, so they are dependent on military conscription to fill spots in public service. Today, some new things those enlisted might do is help with natural disaster impacts, health epidemics, etc. After two years of service, Singaporean men are considered a “serviceman” until they are forty years old. 

Switzerland flag



Switzerland implemented universal conscription for only the men in the country. All “able-bodied” men over the age of eighteen are expected to be a part of the military. They go into basic training for eighteen weeks, and then they are a member of the armed forces for the next nine years. These nine years are not what many would think of as military service. Rather, men are on call if a crisis were to arise.

Turkey flag



All men in Turkey are expected to serve in the military for one year. However, there are a few loopholes in terms of length. University graduates in Turkey who obtained a four-year degree are allowed to serve for six months. Similarly, men who are trying to obtain a degree are allowed to postpone their service until after schooling. Turkish men living abroad are allowed to complete their service in twenty-one days as long as they have lived abroad for at least three years. On top of all of these exceptions, the government even instituted some paid exceptions, including those who had a brother die in service, the sons of a man who was killed by terrorism during his service, and immigrants to Turkey who have already served in their previous country’s military.

Greece flag



In Greece, much like in other countries, all male citizens are expected to serve. Those between the ages of nineteen and forty-five are required to be a part of the Armed Forces. Similarly to Turkey, Greek citizens living abroad can postpone their service as long as they are permanently living outside the country before they age out at forty-five. The forms of alternative service in Greece are very limited. First, the length of service goes up to seventeen months. These options only get around two-hundred Euros as financial support


Compulsory Military Service Pros:


The benefits of mandated military service include that it can promote patriotism, build character in young adults, and provide them with tangible job training and education. As mentioned in Japan in the 20th century, military service can help foster a national identity by bringing people from different backgrounds together to have a shared experience. For example, in Switzerland, there are four official languages, and many ethnic groups. So by mandating some form of national service, the government works to connect all the differences.

In terms of building character, much like a gap year between secondary school and university or a job, military service can allow young adults to have an extra year or two to develop as a person before entering a more professional setting. In other words, compulsory military service allows for personal development before professional development

Some of the transferable skills gained from military service are leadership, self-sufficiency, technology skills, and adaptability. A retired U.S. Army Reserve Special Forces officer explains that “when [he] returned to the workplace following [his] Iraq deployment, leadership by example appeared to be a vital necessity to engage people in the workplace for reasons of personal development, product quality, customer service, productivity, and employee morale.”  

In terms of self-sufficiency, the military teaches members to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. In the professional world, employers want workers who can take responsibility and charge. Similarly, many jobs soldiers get during conscription are technology related. Whether that be through data entry, event organization, etc., these are useful skills for the professional world. “Software developer” is a profession with one of the highest demands in 2023, so the technical writing, data entry, and debugging skills that many develop in the military are greatly applicable outside the military. With regard to adaptability, many in the military learn to perform under pressure, adapt quickly and develop great problem-solving skills. Those with military experience have experience in situations that are ripe with pressure, allowing them to learn how to make rapid decisions and change the plan based on the current situation. 


Compulsory Military Service Cons:


Many across the world, especially in the United States, view compulsory military service as an infringement on the rights and freedoms of an individual. Typically, this idea stems from the fact that by signing up for the military, one forfeits their freedom to choose what they do with their days, what they wear, haircuts, etc. For a military to work, there needs to be unity and order. To achieve these, the individuals must become a unit. 

Another issue with a compulsory or universal system is that it typically only applies to those without the proper resources to get out of it. Basically, there is an uneven distribution of the burden of who has to serve. Those with enough money can manipulate the systems in place to benefit them and avoid having to serve. As was seen in the United States during the Vietnam and Korean War, families with influence and money would buy their sons into prestigious universities so that they could avoid being drafted. Conor Friedersdorf explains in his article “The Case Against Universal National Service” in the Atlantic that mandated military service “will be gamed by the wealthy, the well-connected, the folks with the social capital to figure out how things work — and national service will be set up in a way that serves their ends and reflects their values and preferences.” 

The biggest critique of a mandated military system is that it is expensive and typically inefficient. Putting a bunch of 18 to 24-year-old boys into uniforms and expecting them to help run the country is only so effective because they are barely adults. These are years when they are learning how to navigate the real world and cannot contribute very much to the systems, especially if they are there unwillingly. Berck, Peter, and Lipow researched how to create a truly successful and effective military. They found that a military that requires a draft, nine times out of ten, will not be the “best solution.” They explain that “systems relying exclusively on volunteers, governments will seek out ways to pay higher wages to higher quality recruits, while systems that depend on conscripts will seek out ways to ‘weed out’ and eliminate draftees of excessive quality.”


In conclusion, mandated military service has been a part of many nations’ history over the past few centuries, and many still require their citizens to serve, whether it be for six months or closer to three years. Ultimately, whether conscription is a way to man a military is a decision that each country must make based on its own unique circumstances and needs.

Edited by: Liz Coffman

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