german soldier military  Bundeswehr
© File image/AFPFILE: Guard soldiers of the German armed forces Bundeswehr (Wachbataillon). On the 75th anniversary of NATO, Germany's defence minister Boris Pistorius hinted at compulsory military service for the nation, citing the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. This is a growing trend in Europe; many countries such as Norway, Denmark and others have either implemented conscription or considering it.
Is Germany mulling a return to military conscription? The German defence minister Boris Pistorius has hinted at compulsory military service, as the Russia-Ukraine war drags on.

In fact, this isn't the first time that the German minister spoke about reintroducing compulsory military service. Last December too, Pistorius had said that the country was "looking at all options", adding that abolishing it had been a "mistake".

Comment: Meanwhile Germany is repeating previous 'mistakes' in earnest - despite 'never again': US, Germany supplied 99% of Israel weapons in 2023, US accelerated deliveries despite Gaza genocide

With this, it seems that Europe is looking at a rethink of military conscription, with an increasing number of countries mulling or implementing this measure.

Germany rethinks conscription

On Thursday (4 April), speaking in Berlin on the 75th anniversary of NATO , Germany's Boris Pistorius announced a revamp of the country's military as part of efforts to make the armed forces of NATO's most populous European member "war-capable."

"It is a landmark reform... Our goal is to restructure the Bundeswehr in such a way that it is best positioned in the event of defence, in the event of war," Pistorius was quoted as saying by the Financial Times. "Nobody should have the idea of attacking NATO territory โ€” this is what we [want to] convey."

Comment: The West are certainly doing everything within their power to provoke a war: Ukraine (ahem, the CIA and MI6) threatens another terrorist attack on Crimea's Kerch bridge

As part of its revamp, Pistorius is considering a compulsory national service to the Bundeswehr โ€” Germany's armed forces. "We have considered the reintroduction of compulsory military service," although that's not in the works as of now, the minister was quoted as saying. Notably, Germany stopped conscription in 2011.

However, in light of the situation unfolding in Europe โ€” namely the Russia-Ukraine war โ€” the minister is looking at putting forth a proposal of compulsory military service before German politicians in the weeks to come.

It is reported that Germany is looking at implementing a Swedish-type model of conscription.

Interestingly, this comes at a time when Germany's Bundeswehr has had difficulty in attracting recruits. It has 1,81,000 personnel and aims to get to 2,03,000 soldiers by 2031.

Comment: Most Western militaries have struggled with recruiting; in part because the candidates are mentally or physically unfit, but it also seems that, increasingly, those who would normally have felt compelled to serve, are questioning whether these wars are justified.

Earlier, in December too, Pistorius had hinted at introducing compulsory military service, telling Die Welt newspaper, "I am looking at alternative models, such as the Swedish model where all young men and women are conscripted and only a select few end up doing their basic military service.

However, not everyone in Germany is on board for such a move. In fact, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, himself, is not keen on conscription. In 1984, as a young adult, he had chosen to carry out his national service in a nursing home. In recent times too, he has said that conscription is "not a good idea".

European countries and conscription

But the debate on conscription in Germany isn't a lone case. Many other European nations have either implemented compulsory military service or are considering it.

For instance, as recently as early 2 April, Norway announced that it would be increasing the number of conscripted soldiers from the present 9,000 to 13,500. As of 2016, the Nordic country has mandated that all 18-year-olds โ€” men and women โ€” must present themselves for military service.

In March, Denmark, which mandates compulsory military service, extended this rule to women. Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen said the revised policy was designed to increase the number of young people doing military service. "We are not rearming because we want war, destruction, or suffering. We are rearming right now to avoid war and in a world where the international order is being challenged," Frederiksen had then told reporters.

Comment: If you have to say it...

The Netherlands, facing a shortage in troops, is also considering increasing the numbers through compulsory military service. Incidentally, all Dutch citizens between 17 and 35 are registered to be conscripted for military service in an emergency, but the obligation to report for duty was scrapped in 1997.

In Sweden too, conscription returned in 2018 after it was dropped in 2010. Since then, Sweden mandates that people aged 18 have to complete an enlistment form, but only some of them are called up to do basic training with military service.

Latvia, which borders Russia, has also reintroduced conscription as of last year. As per the rules, military service is mandatory for all 18 to 27-year-old males in Latvia whereas, women will be allowed to participate voluntarily. Latvia didn't have compulsory military service since 2007 when it was abolished. However, Russia's war in Ukraine was the impetus to bring it back. "Ukraine is a clear example of how important a morally resilient and well-prepared civilian population is to push back any aggressor," Latvian defence minister Inara Murniece had said on the government's decision.

Comment: Ukraine, going off conservative estimates, has lost 600,000 men in the West's proxy war; and, since then, it has been conscripting the disabled, age groups normally considered unsuitable, and women.

Russia's other neighbour, Lithuania, also reinstated compulsory military service after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. Males aged 18 to 23 can be called to serve for the duration of nine months. Interestingly, a computer system randomly generates a list of candidates that will be called up for mandatory military service.

Ukraine, which has been in a war with Russia, has also tweaked its conscription rules . As recently as 4 April, the Volodymyr Zelenskyy-led country lowered its draft-eligible age for men from 27 to 25.

Comment: Footage has shown Ukrainian males in fatigues that can't be much older than 20.

However, this has raised concerns with some Ukrainians worrying that by taking more young adults out of the workforce could further impact the shrunken economy of the war-ravaged nation.

Countries without conscription

The United Kingdom and France, apart from Germany, are the two big nations that don't have compulsory military service. However, in recent times, France has been debating a "light" form of compulsory military service. President Emmanuel Macron introduced the Universal National Service in 2019, which enables young people to volunteer for a month and serve their country. The government is now considering making this compulsory for all French nationals aged 15-17.

A similar debate is also raging in the UK with some military officials stating that it would be preferable in light of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. In fact, General Sir Patrick Sanders, the outgoing head of the British Army, had recently said such a conflict would need to be a "whole-of-nation undertaking".

While the UK government reiterated that there was no plan to introduce conscription, others have said that it might be time to have a rethink on this option. One such person is former UK defence secretary Michael Fallon. He told Sky News it was time to "think the unthinkable" and consider conscription.