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Conscription returns


XTHERE IS AN ARM and his leg wrapped in bandages, Artyom Uimanen was standing near St. Petersburg military enlistment office, or military conscription center, in 2019 in protest against compulsory conscription into the Russian army. The bandages symbolized the fact that young Russian men were going to exaggerate medical illnesses that could give them relief from the “conscript,” as Artyom calls it. Now, two years later, at age 20, he is looking forward to the results of visits to psychiatric facilities. He hopes to be diagnosed with depressive disorder, a surefire way to evade military service.

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Yoni, an 18-year-old student from Jerusalem, is also awaiting conscription into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He shows no signs of anxiety. “I look forward to serving my country,” he said. “It’s something special that our age group can do.” Yoni has joined clubs that help Israeli teenagers prepare for military physical and intellectual trials. He and his friends volunteer to go to the beach to practice running on the sand.

In Norway, consultant Oscar Federl fondly remembers his own military service ten years ago. “It was a great experience,” he says. Time in uniform did not turn him into a simple soldier – as a radio operator, as he recalls, he used the technology of the 1950s – but it helped him grow into the person he is. “I’m very mature,” he says, “although I hated a lot of things we did, especially in the cold.”

Artyom, Yoni and Oscar are in the global minority. The conscription of young men is now relatively rare. (Conscription of young women for military service has never been common.) Most forms of military service declined after the Cold War. Research by ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, notes that 24 countries withdrew from conscription between 1990 and 2013, when it seemed to many that serious wars were a thing of the past. France, whose mass conscription in 1793, Art levée massiverevolutionized the modern European war, stopped this practice in 1996. Spain deprived its teenagers of barracks in 2000, Italy in 2004 and Germany in 2011. The International Opponents of War, an anti-war organization that supports conscientious objectors, had to reconsider its purpose.

Yet the call for military service seems to be modestly returning. After Russia invaded and annexed parts of its territory in 2014, Ukraine hastily lifted its own waiver of conscription the previous year. In 2015, she was followed by neighboring Lithuania and Sweden, which is engaged outside NATO Union — in 2017. In the Persian Gulf, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) introduced conscription in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Kuwait reintroduced the practice in 2017 after a 16-year hiatus. Meanwhile, other countries that have never stopped recruiting young people have started recording more and more of them. In 2013, Norway continued military service for women; In Estonia, the number of annual recruits increases by a quarter. And in Germany, among other countries, the debate over whether to renew some form of conscription or expand it has intensified.

This recovery of interest has many reasons. One is the return of a darker world in which brutal force, not diplomacy, can shape national destiny: witness the devastating defeat of Armenia at the hands of Azerbaijan last year and the subsequent loss of much of Nagorno-Karabakh, the disputed territory. For countries that want to have large armies, conscription is often the only available way to join the ranks; volunteers who pay at market rates will bring in a huge payroll. Alexander Goltz, a researcher on the Russian armed forces, says his country’s call-up exists because of the irrational notion … that the number of Russian armed forces should reach one million. “

But there are often less military explanations. In America, modern advocates of resumption of conscription often argue that forced service can actually reduce a country’s desire to go to war by forcing people to personally reckon with its consequences. Max Margulis of the Institute of Modern Warfare at West Point, American Military Academy, is skeptical. He shows that the war in Vietnam was unpopular until the end of 1967, but the war raged for another six years, killing thousands of recruits. “It doesn’t really seem like a strong deterrent effect.”

Many politicians also see this as a way to instill discipline in rebellious young people who might otherwise cause problems, or instill values ​​that the government deems desirable. Last year, the German parliament’s commissioner for the armed forces suggested that the return of conscription would inoculate the armed forces from far-right extremism. Qatar, st UAE and Turkey are all forcing recruits to give lectures on national history, security and citizenship. But there is little evidence that the call contributes to better citizens. Randy Jalmarson and Matthew Lindqvist’s study of Sweden Economic Journal published in Oxford, found that conscription “significantly” increased post-service crime rates between the ages of 23 and 30.

As a dormitory, with weapons

What does the life of a modern recruit look like? In most countries, conscription is either tedious or pathetic. “You are stuck in this place with other 18- and 19-year-olds, and you have to stay there,” said Victor Naziris, a 33-year-old boy who served in the Cyprus National Guard. for decades did not feel a real battle. His conscript experience was marked by a combination of exhaustion, boredom, and a general sense of futility. “It’s like a vegan working at McDonald’s,” says Mr. Naziris, who is now an accountant.

Russian recruits have a particularly grim experience. They receive a meager monthly stipend of only 2,000 rubles ($ 30), for which they suffer not only from exhaustion but also from endemic hazing, or hazing. In November 2019, a Russian conscript shot dead eight other servicemen after allegations of prolonged harassment by superiors, including threats of rape. Like Mr. Uimanen, a young Russian protester, many young people are trying to evade conscription through medical exceptions. Others turn to PhD programs, preferring to humiliate graduate school over military service. Some parents bribe military enlistment office to provide the military IDs for their sons.

Russia’s Defense Ministry says hazing has fallen sharply in recent years. But the government did little to dispel the idea that conscription was tantamount to punishment when it used conscription to silence Ruslan Shevyadinov, an anti-corruption activist and protege of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s main opposition leader (who was later poisoned and imprisoned). ). In December 2019, Mr. Shevyadinov was sent to military service and immediately sent to a base in the New Earth, the Arctic archipelago, and sent to work on black jobs.

But military service does not always have to be an exercise in sadism. In a few small countries there is a less pathetic kind of recruits. In Norway, large cohorts are eligible for conscription, but only a small number of young people are selected. While Russian parents are pressuring officials to release their children, Norwegians are lobbying for their adoption, said Elizabeth Brow of the American Institute of Entrepreneurship (AEI), think tank in Washington. Alex Alberg, a former Norwegian conscript who served in Afghanistan, says that when he entered medical school, his military experience dominated the conversation. “I believe without [service] my path to medicine would be much longer, ”he says.

Just as American schools boast a share of their students who entered Ivy League universities, Israeli ones showcase the number of those who got into combat units. Yoni, a teenager from Jerusalem, heads to an elite combat unit. Traditionally, such units, along with the Air Force, have been seen as incubators of political and professional talent, says Richard Patter, director of the British-Israeli Center for Communications and Research in Jerusalem (BICOM), research and advocacy group. Naftali Bennett, the Prime Minister of Israel, and Benjamin Netanyahu, his longtime predecessor, made a successful career in Sayeret Matkala prestigious team of commandos.

A special mythology has developed around Unit 8200, a intelligence signal unit whose alumni have joined the ranks of Israeli technology companies. While many forces are struggling to recruit technically literate soldiers who can earn higher salaries elsewhere, Israel has become a magnet for such talent. “Today, there is growing competition for admission to technology departments that give you a lucrative profession as soon as you are released,” said Johanan Plesner, a former politician and now president of the Institute for Democracy of Israel, a think tank. He served in Sayer Matkalwhere he remains a reserve officer.

Copies in khaki

But if conscription is to change society, more often than not it reflects that. Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, Russia’s leading independent poll, says some families in the poorest regions still view the military as a means of social mobility. But they are also less able to dodge it. “In poorer areas, there will be no money in the family to get a bribe,” says Mr. Gudkov. Oksana Paramonova, director of the non-profit Soldiers’ Mothers in St. Petersburg, says young Russian men from rural areas are less aware of legal tricks to avoid conscription.

Even in Israel, where the experience of conscripts is so different, conscription is still shaped by social divisions. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up 12% of the population, and Israeli Arabs, who make up another fifth, are usually exempt from military service. In practice, this means that only half of Israel’s 18-year-olds are serving in the military. Unequal treatment of the ultra-Orthodox has long provoked outrage and political debate. In August, the country’s coalition government approved a plan to enlist more of them in the army, albeit for shorter periods. Middle-class Israelis are best able to transfer their children to elite units; people from poor backgrounds often fall into less glamorous industries such as transportation and logistics. The military, not the unification of the Israelis … emphasizes and articulates the differences between different social structures, ”Mr Plesner said.

Modern conscription was invented for the era of mass armies. For Napoleon it turned out spectacularly, but after that often failed. The Red Army killed 158,000 of its soldiers for desertion during World War II. During the Iraq war in 2003, tens of thousands of Iraqi recruits fled the field. Even where conscripts have the will to fight, the growing reliance of the armed forces on high-precision munitions and other advanced technologies makes them less useful on the battlefield. However, several small democracies have shown that an institution associated with hardship and coercion can be turned into a popular and effective tool for recruitment.


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