Should we bring back conscription?

28 November 2017

Should we bring back conscription?

Is your country under threat? Is your youth unemployment rate getting too high? Does your economy need a pick-me-up? Wouldn’t it be good if I could tell you one way to achieve a highly skilled, experienced and employable workforce with a strong work ethic, while also being able to protect your nation and boost its economy?

You probably guessed where I’m going with this: conscription.

Right now you’re likely thinking “shock and horror”, but you need not worry — this article is merely taking a look at the practicalities of conscription, not advocating it.

Believe it or not, there is a case for conscription. It does cut down youth unemployment, which in turn tends to reduce crime rates. The economy often gets a kick out of it — lower unemployment results in a greater number of people spending more money. The military offers a range of professional skills and opportunities from mechanics and engineers to musicians and doctors. Better yet, a larger military force allows a country to defend itself more effectively, and respond to natural disasters with greater swiftness.

However, it means increased military spending (which could cause taxes to rise), reduced numbers of students in the tertiary education system (which may create voids in certain industries), and then there’s the issue of forcing citizens to take up arms.

It is no mystery why conscription is a controversial topic. Tens of thousands of Australian men were sent into some of mankind’s most devastating wars because of it, many of whom would never be seen by their loved ones again. Those who refused to serve were imprisoned and socially shunned.

For me, the implications conscription has on personal liberty is enough to oppose it, at least in the form Australia has experienced in the past.

Norway made history in 2016 when it became the first NATO member in history to introduce universal conscription. Able-bodied men and women between the ages of 19 and 44 are eligible to be conscripted and are required to serve for 19 months. What makes it different to the conscription Australia has known is there is a selection process whereby only the cream of the crop are admitted.

We would never allow inferior soldiers to serve, the risks to the individual, unit or equipment would simply be too high. — Statement by Norway on Gender Equality in the Military: Universal Conscription

So far it seems to be working well for the Scandinavian country. It has helped gender equality in the Norwegian military, fostered national unity, and does not appear to be economically disadvantageous. It is also important to add that Norway is 2017’s happiest nation on Earth, according to World Happiness Report 2017.

So, can conscription work for the better?

For Norway, it seems to function well. That is not to say the results would necessarily be replicated in other countries. But it is a start; and given the times we live in, a conversation about a conscription 2.0 that works for Australia, like it works for Norway, may be worth having. As the global power paradigm shifts away from the West and traditional alliances are tested, a more militarily-independent Australia could only do us good.

It is with that that I say “go forth and discuss!”