Conscription and European Security
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Editor's Desk

Mitchell Belfer

Conscription and European Security

In the 25 year process of European reintegration, military conscription – as a feature of the European political scene – has largely vanished. The evaporation of sizeable, conscripted militaries reflects the widespread belief that conscription is a political, economic and military anachronism reminiscent of times of great continental insecurity and international militarism which are no longer considered valid sources of European identity. Instead, security identities in post-Cold War Europe are increasingly forged by cosmopolitan values such as democratic internationalism, human rights protection, legal-secularism, political transparency (including the democratisation of foreign policy) and the social market economic system.

It seems that Europe is ready to bury and forget Cold War reminders as the EU boldly (if cautiously) extends and deepens its regional and international commitments. However, as this work argues, some Cold War conceptions are better served public and polished. Conscription is one such conception. EU interests – its ability to fulfil its new-found international responsibilities – would be greatly enhanced by recycling and reshaping, rather than abandoning conscription to suit the changing international political environment.

In popular historical and political discourses, conscription and war are intractably connected. This is because, with few exceptions, conscription was based on war-fighting, often enacted to prepare a population for military service on an active front. Commonly, narratives of conscription have been subordinated to narratives of war. This work abandons such a causal view of conscription and offers normative insights into the developing linkages between extensive peace-time conscription efforts and the emergence of international society with responsible international citizens. This work argues that conscription – in democratic states – must be extended and deepened (reintroduced where it has been abolished) to prepare democratic societies for dealing with the 21st century international security agenda through a mixture of moral, legal and technical education, specialised training and experience. Two main hypotheses are explored at length.

Hypothesis 1:

Peace-time conscription extended to include moral, legal and technical education decreases state level aggression and helps to ‘humanitise’ soldiering.

Hypothesis 2:

Mature democratic states extending mandatory education are better prepared socially, economically, militarily and morally to deal with changing international security conditions of the 21st century.

This work is meant to add to the growing literature focussing on developing responsible international society. By providing an alternative view of conscription and how it may be utilised for inducing the emergence of an international society characterised by cosmopolitan values and governed by a reasonably agreed upon morality which places the sanctity of human life above all else, it is hoped that this work inspires other academics, students of politics and those interested in the future of international society to join the increasingly public demands that democratic states, which pride themselves as the vanguard defenders and proliferators of democratic values, make international contributions to those ends.

As non-conventional, asymmetrical security threats increase in frequency and ferocity, there is growing concern within democratic societies that traditional military provisions are not adequate to defend the rights and values inherent to democratic citizens. To allay such concerns, democratic states must drastically reassess their policy measures regarding poverty, unemployment, crime and violence prevention and failed states within regional and international contexts. Further education and advanced, widened and deepened peace-time conscription is an appropriate vehicle towards the achievement of two key goals:

1 Advancing a cosmopolitan perspective in the political landscape of a state’s citizenry and increase his/her attachment to wider international society.

2 Promoting democratic responsibility – among citizens – to lead by example, through the utilisation of citizens’ educational period towards realising a more prepared and humane international society

This work concludes by making specific recommendations – directed at democratic governments – regarding the actualisation of the varieties and direction of progressive peace-time conscription programmes. These are intended to contribute to continuing debates over the future of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) which depends on normative regional defence to ensure that Europe’s democratic values are not bartered away for intangible security against intangible threats. It is my firm belief that an extensive programme of peace-time conscription, widened to include many nonmilitary programmes, and deepened to give substance to such programmes, will invariably contribute to the long-term safety, security and international influence of the EU.

Please read the full article in the electronic version.

2021 - Volume 15 Issue 1