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Some countries require by law that their citizens serve a term in their armed forces. This process is generally known as conscription, or colloquially in the US as "the draft". Except in wartime, the United States (and many other nations) has a strictly volunteer, or professional, military force, rather than relying on conscription.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Women draftees
3 Conscientious objectors
4 Countries with mandatory military service
5 Historical information
6 See also
7 External links


Conscription allowed the French Republic to form the Grande Armee, what Napoleon Bonaparte called "the nation in arms", which successfully battled European professional armies.

Conscription, particularly when the conscripts are being sent to foreign wars that do not directly affect the security of the nation, has historically been highly politically contentious in democracies. For instance, during World War I, bitter political disputes broke out in Canada (see Conscription Crisis of 1917), Australia and New Zealand over conscription. Canada also had a political dispute over conscription during World War II (see Conscription Crisis of 1944). Similarly, mass protests about conscription to fight in the Vietnam War occurred in several countries in the late 1960s.

In developed nations, the increasing emphasis on technological firepower and better-trained fighting forces, the sheer unlikelihood of a conventional military assault on most developed nations, as well as memories of the contentiousness of the Vietnam War experience, make mass conscription unlikely in the forseeable future.

Russia and China, as well as many smaller nations, retain mainly conscript armies.

Women draftees

Most countries only draft men, although some (e.g., Israel) also draft women. During World War II women were drafted into the armed forces of the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. The United States came close to drafting women into the Nurse Corps in preparation for a planned invasion of Japan; the atomic bomb and the Japanese surrender made this unecessary.

Conscientious objectors

A "conscientious objector" is an individual whose personal beliefs are incompatible with military service, or sometimes with any role in the armed forces. The reasons for refusing to serve are varied. Many conscientious objectors are so for religious reasons -- notably, the Quakers are pacifist by doctrine and Jehovah's Witnesses, who, 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. Other objections can stem from a deep sense of responsibility toward humanity as a whole, or from simple denial that any government should have that kind of moral authority.

The legal status of conscientious objectors has varied over the years and from nation to nation. Currently, conscientious objector status is recognized in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Many conscientious objectors have been imprisoned for refusing to participate in wars. In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled in 1970 that it is not necessary for a conscientious objector to have a religious basis for their beliefs.

Because of their conscientious objection to participation in military service, whether armed or unarmed, Jehovah's Witnesses have often faced imprisonment or other penalties. In Greece, for example, before the introduction of alternative civilian service in 1997, hundreds of Witnesses were imprisoned, some for three years or even more for their refusal. More recently, in Armenia, young Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned (and remain in prison) because of their conscientious objection to military service. [1]

Some conscientious objectors are unwilling to serve the military in any capacity, while others are willing to serve in non-combatant roles; in World War I, many conscientious objectors drove ambulances, often under fire. In World War II, some conscientious objectors volunteered for hazardous scientific experiments.

Conscientious objection in Britain

Britain recognized the right not to fight in the 17th century following problems with attempting to force Quakers into military service. The Militia Ballot Act allowed Quakers to be excluded from military service. A more general right to refuse was not introduced until during WW I, with the introduction of universal male conscription by the Military Service Act of May 1916.

The Act allowed for objectors to serve their country in non-combatant roles (alternate service) if they could convince a tribunal of the quality of their objection. Around 16,000 men were recorded as conscientious objectors. 7,000 were granted non-combatant duties, but 3,000 were sent to special labour camps. Around 1,000 men refused any form of service, they were forced into the army and forty-one of them were sentenced to death and only reprieved by government intervention.

In World War II following the National Service (Armed Forces) Act of 1939 there were around 61,000 conscientious objectors in Britain. As in World War I individuals had to face a tribunal, the tribunal could grant full exemption, conditional exemption on alternate service, exemption from combatant duties, or dismiss the objection. An individual could appeal to special appeal tribunals which where headed by a judge.

Of the 61,000 only 3,000 were given complete exemption and 18,000 were dismissed as false claimants. Of those that undertook military service almost 7,000 joined the Non-Combatant Corps, set up in mid-1940 its companies worked in the medical services or any military project not requiring the handling of "material of an aggressive nature". Around 450 NCC members worked in bomb disposal. About 5,500 objectors were imprisoned, charged with offences relating to their unrecognized objection. A further 1,000 were court-martialled and sent to military prisons.

Britain retained conscription as National Service until 1960. The use of only volunteer soldiers was hoped to remove the need to consider conscientious objectors. The concept was returned into active law in 1998 when Britain accepted the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Conscientious objection in Spain

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 acknowledged conscientious objectors. The Spanish parliament established a longer service (Prestación Social Sustitoria) as an alternative to the Army. In spite of this, a strong movement appeared that refused both services. The Red Cross was the only important organization employing objectors. Because of this, the waiting lists for the PSS were long, especially in areas like Navarre, where pacifism, Basque nationalism and a low unemployment rate discouraged young males from the army. Tens of insumisos (non-submittants) publicly refused the PSS or deserted the Army. Several civilians denounced themselves as encouraging non-submission. The government feared popular reaction, reduced the service time and substituted jail punishments by administrative ones like inadmittability to public service.

Fronting the decreasing birth rate and the popular opposition to the army, the Spanish government tried to modernize the model carried from the Franco era, professionalizing it. The new army tried to provide an education for civilian life and participated in peace operations in Bosnia.

In spite of this, the number of professional recruits is not covering the expectations of the Ministry of Defence, and there are plans to recruit foreigners from Spanish America.

Draft evaders

Not everyone who was conscripted was willing to give up their lives figuratively (and often literally) in the service of their country. Many young people with families with political connections used those connections to ensure that they were placed well away from any potential harm. Others used educational exemptions, or became conscientious objectors. For others, the commonest 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". American draft-dodgers made their way to Canada or Mexico. Australian draft-dodgers had a harder time leaving the country due to the ocean, but "going bush" worked just as well in the short term for many of them.

Many people looked upon draft-dodgers with scorn as being "cowards", but some supported them in their efforts. Other people like Muhammad Ali have openly refused to comply to conscription and fought in court to enforce his rights.

Countries with mandatory military service

A number of countries have mandatory military service:

China (PRC)

China (People's Republic of China, PRC) has mandatory military service both for men and women. Women go to the army for 2 months and learn to fire guns. Information updated: as of 2003 with some information not updated since 1990s, unofficial source.


Finland also has mandatory military service. Information updated: as of 2004.


Germany has a mandatory military service of 9 months for men. Women can volunteer and are allowed to do the same jobs as men do. Optionally, a conscientous objector can write a petition to do civil service, which is usually accepted, but then has to serve 10 months. Factually, fewer and fewer men are drafted.


Greece (Hellenic Republic) has a mandatory military service of 18 months. Recently certain ranks served for only 16 or 14 months. Greece is building a professional army system and it is widely expected that the mandatory military service will be abolished soon. Greek soldiers fire with a gun during the first two months of their service. Women are accepted in the Greek army, but they are not obliged as men to go to the army. Soldiers have free health insurance and medical support during their army service, including hospitalization costs. Information updated: as of 2002.


Israel has mandatory military service for both men and women who hold Israeli citizenship.


Lebanon has a mandatory military service of 1 year for men. Information updated: as of 2004. See Official Information from Lebanese Army.



Russia (Russian Federation) has a mandatory two-year draft but most Russians avoid it. Information updated: as of 2002. See Only 11 percent of Russian men enter mandatory military service.


Singapore has one of the longest mandatory military service for males, at over two years. It also has special policies for ethnic Malays, because of possible conflicts in allegiances with neighbor and rival, Malaysia.



Sweden's government asked the army to consider mandatory army service for women. Information updated: as of 2002. See Sweden considers mandatory military service for women.


Switzerland has the large standing civilian army in the world.

South Korea

South Korea has a mandatory military service of 26 months. Information updated: as of 2002. See: [1].

Taiwan (ROC)

Taiwan (Republic of China, ROC) has mandatory military service since 1949. Beginning January 2004, the mandatory service has been shortened by two months. See Information from Information updated: as of January 2004.

Historical information


Slovenia's Prime Minister Anton Rop abolished mandatory military service on September 9 2003. Read the Official Press Release.

Russian Empire

Russian Empire introduced a law in 1873 regarding mandatory military service. The first draft took place in 1874. See: Military service in Russia Empire.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom had conscription during the First World War and the Second World War. After the Second World War, it introduced National Service, which was abolished in 1960.

United States of America

The United States has instituted mandatory military service at various times, usually during wars such as the American Civil War, World War II and Vietnam War. Registration for selective service (for possible future drafts) is required of all males at their 18th birthday. Registrants remain in the pool until January 1 of the year they turn 25.

See also

External links