The idea of compulsory military service (conscription) is one that is growing in popularity amongst the political right in the UK. It seems to be a nostalgic, almost quixotic way of restoring pride in the nation, installing discipline and bolstering the ranks of those who defend our nation.
Sadly though, all of these sentiments are either wrong or outweighed by drawbacks. Compulsory military service is not beneficial, required or advisable. Here’s why….
1) Lack of resources and finances.
There is nothing less patriotic then sending soldiers to war with insufficent and inefficient equipment. That’s exactly what we have done to our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s an absolute crime, a crime that our government barely even acknowledges, let alone apologisies or seeks to amend for. Why on earth would we want to condemn more of our men to the same risks?
We could argue that a new government would take ore pride in our armed forces, but until they have assessed the state of play and ensured all equipment is both cutting edge and in plentiful supply (at a massive cost) then not only would it be wrong to deploy more soldiers at home or abroad, it would be downright evil.
2) Lack of precedent.
Not since the days of the Plantagenet kings have soldiers been drafted from the peasantry outside wartime. From then on, all military forces have always been composed, in bulk, of volunteers. During that time we have always remained a military power and, until recent times, have always had a sense of identity and duty amongst the masses, at least to a point far stronger than it is now.
3) Teaching the unteachable
I’ve lived or worked in several countries with compulsory service. The idea being that it installs a sense of national pride in the servicemen. The problem with this is that pride cannot be enforced, it must come naturally. Forcing nationalism upon people results only in lip service, fake ceremonies and hidden resentment.
4) Lack of pragmatism
Nations that use compulsory service such as Switzerland use the programme almost as a technical scholarship. Servicemen are simply deployed on standing guard duty within a peaceful city. This has the sideways bonus of keeping young males – the demographic most prone to crime and other problematic behaviour – in order, but what other benefits does it bring? Instead of using compulsory service as a form of training, any UK government would be far more productive in repairing the utter destruction Labour has inflicted on our education system. A return of grammar schools and a real curriculum would be time and money far better spent by our rulers, and in the long run it would reap far greater benefits for, and by, our young men.
This is where I stand. The UK has a great, great Armed Forces network – fulled by great people – that has served us brilliantly for centuries. We must be careful not to damage or weaken it by making quixotic or false sentimental decisions. Compulsory service is not the way to go.