Return of Military Service Across Europe: Germany Reinstating Conscription?

Amid growing concerns about security challenges, Germany is taking a significant step by reintroducing conscription, reflecting a broader trend of returning to conscription across Europe. We present the countries that have reinstated military service

by Sededin Dedovic
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Return of Military Service Across Europe: Germany Reinstating Conscription?
© Alexander Koerner / Getty Images

After long debates, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) voted at its party convention earlier this week to advocate for a gradual return of mandatory military service in Germany. Young people would thus have to go back to the army for a certain period of time or serve that time in civilian service.

This obligation was abolished in 2011. "We will gradually withdraw the suspension of military service and convert mandatory military service into a mandatory year of service to society," the CDU resolution states. The so-called "social year" could be carried out both in the Bundeswehr and in social institutions.

And until this decision is finally implemented, the CDU proposes to introduce "conditional military service obligation" that will be based on the personnel needs of the German army. The reason for this shift by the CDU, the party that was in power when military service was abolished, is concern about an increasingly aggressive Russia and a shortage of personnel in the Bundeswehr.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius is expected to make a decision on reintroducing some form of military service by summer. How have other European countries addressed this issue? Sweden – a model for Germany? Minister Pistorius is currently testing various models, including the Swedish one.

Sweden suspended mandatory military service in 2010 but reintroduced it seven years later after the Russian annexation of Crimea. Since then, all 18-year-olds must apply and fill out an appropriate online form. Some of them are then called for a medical examination.

However, in the end, only about five to ten percent of men and women annually actually accept the service. Only those willing to serve voluntarily are recruited. There is, therefore, registration, but the military service itself is practically voluntary.

In late 2023, Sweden also decided to reintroduce mandatory work for the common good, for example, in emergency services. German Defense Minister Pistorius considers the Swedish model "particularly suitable" for German needs.

Denmark and Norway – women in the future also in the military Denmark also has mandatory military service from the age of 18, but for now, only for men. Women are expected to be recruited from 2026 onwards. In addition, the basic military service is extended from four to eleven months.

Similarly to Sweden, only a portion of each cohort is now called up, as there are enough volunteers. In Norway, since 2016, both men and women have to register, where their fitness for the military is assessed medically. However, in this Scandinavian country as well, only a portion of those who apply are ultimately called into the military.

Due to rigorous selection, military service is considered as valuable as other higher education qualifications.

Bundeswehr soldiers move along a dirt road as Czech, Norwegian and German soldiers take part in an urban combat training scenari© Omer Messinger / Getty Images

Austria – a brief episode Despite numerous debates, Austria has never abandoned military service.

Men between 18 and 35 years old are called up for armed forces for only six months of basic training, provided they are deemed fit beforehand. Those who express conscientious objection and therefore do not want to go to the army can do nine months of socially beneficial work instead.

Women can volunteer for the army. Ukraine and Lithuania – recruitment after the annexation of Crimea Ukraine reintroduced mandatory military service shortly after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. This applies to all men aged 18 to 26.

In addition, after the Russian attack in February 2022, the Ukrainian government passed a law allowing all men aged 18 to 60 to be mobilized. Lithuania also reacted quickly and reintroduced military service in 2015 after it had been abolished a few years earlier.

Around 3,500 citizens will be mobilized annually. Greece – civilian service lasts twice as long In Greece, all men between the ages of 18 and 45 are required to serve in the military. Service in all branches of the armed forces lasts for twelve months.

There are exceptions depending on location and unit. Shorter service applies, for example, to operations on the border or with special units such as paratroopers or divers. Those from larger families also serve a shorter term.

The alternative is community service, but that form of service lasts twice as long. In the future, there will also be voluntary military service for women. Basic armed service was extended only in 2021, due to the long-standing conflict with Turkey, as well as low birth rates.

Turkey – if you have money, you serve for a shorter period Turkey has one peculiarity: conscripts can shorten their military service by four weeks for a fee of around 5,000 euros. Longer terms that were canceled with payment were once possible.

Generally, mandatory military service applies to all men between 20 and 41 years old and lasts at least six months. Those who evade service receive a fine or go to jail. There is no right to refuse military service, as reported by DW.

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