Should National Service Return to the UK?

Updated: May 31


Time to reintroduce National Service?


A recent report commissioned by the Ministry of Defence has advised that the UK should bring back national service. The report held that the introduction of a compulsory national service would serve to positively demonstrate the values of the United Kingdom’s military and would lead to greater understanding of these values, and of the military’s many functions. Countries such as France re-introduced a similar scheme which President Macron argued in 2018 would inspire patriotism and social cohesion.


What approaches have other countries taken?


Norway:



  • Those aged between 19 to 44 are eligible to serve if asked to by the Forsvaret (Norwegian National Forces) after passing an initial assessment.


  • In 2016 women were included in the draft and are subject to the same assessments as men.


  • Only the most enthusiastic are actually required to join. Even those who are chosen but do not want to enlist for a number of wide-ranging reasons, including conscientious objection can opt for a citizen service programme in lieu.


  • National service is seen as a positive by many employers, which makes service a viable and productive step on the career ladder.

Singapore:


  • All male citizens since 1967 must serve for a minimum of 2 years in the Singapore National Forces (SNF) with a 2-month reduction offered if a fitness test is passed.


  • The majority of the conscripts serve in the Army due to its greater demand for personnel compared to the other branches of the military.


  • Exceptions are rare and are usually only allowed in cases of debilitating disability which is independently assessed by the SNF.


  • Those who attempt to evade the draft can face anywhere from 4 months to 5 years depending on the length of time they meant to serve.



  • ·Conscientious objection is not considered a valid reason to avoid service.



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France:


  • All citizens aged between 16 to 25 after 2021 will be required to join the General National Service (GNS) for a single month.


  • The service can be either performed in a civil or military manner and aims to strengthen social engagement and promote French values.


  • Whilst the service is not strictly a military programme, candidates are required to wear a uniform, live in bunkers, and cannot make use of their mobile phones or the internet.


  • Conscripts learn first aid, terrorism preparation, and driving skills.


Why should the UK reintroduce National Service?


National Service Poster, 1939
  • The UK has an issue with its weight and has done since the late 1990’s. The UK is the most obese nation in western Europe with over 26% of the population having a BMI of over 30, this being the official definition of obesity. By enforcing a certain level of fitness for a period of time every person would have a better chance at being able to curb an unhealthy relationship to food and to normalise routine exercise at an early age.


  • The UK has also had the highest number of terrorist related deaths in western Europe since the 1970’s.By utilising the dual civil-militaristic approach of France and Norway the UK could seek to repair the fractures within its countries youth by promoting a sense of national identity.



  • National Service could be used to help fix issues around the country that cash strapped councils are unable to do, such as fixing potholes and clearing roads. A voluntary force of around 5 million 16 to 25-year olds could well be more than enough to fix these kinds of municipal afflictions.


Why shouldn’t the UK bring back National Service?

  • The problems facing the youth of the UK are not inherent or indicative of ‘the youth gone bad’. Problems such as obesity and civil disorder originate from a lack of well-funded youth services, mental health issues, and a community-based police force. All things previous generations had that today’s younger generation simply do not. Using conscription as a remedy for the problems generated by austerity would be a mistake.


  • The act of compelling service could provoke discord, rather than unity. There are a number of reasons individuals may reject the idea and material reality of national service, from contentious objection, to scorn of British military history. These sentiments could threaten to spill over into civil unrest.


  • The economic cost of such a service was criticised in France being called the first one billion euro summer camp and a similar UK approach could garner the same response. Given the UK has so many areas that require the opening of the closely held public purse it may be hard for any government to justify the vast expense when money could be better spent at local council level rather than grand projects that sound good to an older generation.


Summary


There are many problems that national service aims to fix where traditional methods have not been successful. Bringing back such a service offers a solution and attaches the ambition of a reinvigorated national identity. However, this is only possible with funding which some argue could be better spent on existing programmes in the social and civic arena.


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