UK

Which countries have already implemented National Service and how does it work elsewhere?

The UK will “compel” young people to partake in National Service if the Conservatives win the general election, after seeing “enthusiasm” from other countries with similar schemes, the home secretary has said.

Speaking to Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, James Cleverly supported Rishi Sunak’s plan to introduce a new form of mandatory National Service if he is voted in to stay on as the UK’s prime minister after the election on 4 July.

The plan would see 18-year-olds given the choice of a full-time military placement for 12 months or a scheme to volunteer for one weekend a month for a year.

When asked to go into more detail about the plan, Mr Cleverly brought in other countries that already have National Service laws in place.

Read more:
Nobody would be jailed for refusing – home secretary

He said: “What we have seen from the other countries that have got similar schemes to this, particularly the Baltic and Scandinavian countries… There is actually very, very wide scale take up, acceptance and enthusiasm for this.

“So, we want to make this compelling.”

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Military service: ‘No one is going to jail’

Approximately 80 countries currently have some form of National Service or conscription in place, according to the World Population Review.

Some – like Russia – implement mandatory service, while others offer a form of conscription, under which people are required to serve for a minimum amount of time but may not be drafted into active service.

The least demanding form of compulsory service is known as de jure service, in which countries like the US still have mandatory military service written in law, but it is hardly ever enforced.

Here, Sky News looks at a handful of countries that have implemented National Service and what their laws say.

Russia

All men in Russia are currently required to complete 12 months of military service, or equivalent training during higher education, from the age of 18.

The Russian ministry of defence describe military service as a “good way to gain lots of experience and discipline” but conscription has long been a sensitive issue. Many men try to avoid being handed conscription papers during the bi-annual call-up periods in spring and autumn.

Conscripts cannot legally be deployed to fight outside Russia and were exempted from a limited mobilisation in 2022 that gathered at least 300,000 men with previous military training to fight in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin talks to military pilots at the 344th State Centre for combat use and retraining of flight crews of the Russian Defence Ministry in the town of Torzhok in the Tver Region, Russia.
Pic: Sputnik/Russia
Image:
Even Vladimir Putin has limits on National Service in Russia. Pic: Sputnik/Russia

Sweden

Everyone between the ages of 16 and 70 living in Sweden is part of the country’s total defence – to help the country prepare for war if necessary, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency website says.

There are three types of total defence service in Sweden – conscription, civilian service and general compulsory national service. The last of these is only used in the event of a heightened state of alert.

Those aged 18-47 are required to enlist for military service, with those called up required to complete basic military training.

Swedish conscript soldiers take part in the Aurora 23 military exercise at the Rinkaby firing range outside Kristianstad, Sweden May 6, 2023. Swedish, Polish, American, Finnish and Danish troops were on site to beat back the enemy who had taken over the harbor area around the harbor in Ahus. TT News Agency/ Johan Nilsson via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. SWEDEN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SWEDEN.
Image:
Swedish conscripts in 2023. Pic: Reuters

Norway

Those aged 19-44 (or 18-55 during times of war) are obliged to complete 19 months of military service.

Those who are not medically fit and conscientious objectors are exempt.

The country became the first NATO member to introduce gender-neutral conscription, with female conscripts first being called up in 2015.

Denmark

Conscription in Denmark is mandatory for all physically fit men over the age of 18. The country has 4,700 conscripts undergoing basic training per year, according to official figures.

However, the government wants to increase the number of conscripts by 300 to reach a total of 5,000 every year.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in March this year that to reach this figure, conscription could potentially be extended to include women and the time of service could be increased from four months to 11 months.

France

French President Emmanuel Macron implemented Universal National Service in 2021.

It is aimed at all 15 to 17-year-olds and seeks to encourage young French citizens to “develop their role in society” and promote social cohesion.

It involves a 12-day residential stay and 84 hours of volunteer work at a local authority, state service or public establishment.

France's President Emmanuel Macron greets members of the Universal National Service (Service national Universel, SNU) at the Arc de Triomphe as part of the ceremonies marking the victory against the Nazis and the end of the World War II in Europe (VE Day), in Paris, France, May 8, 2022. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
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France’s President Emmanuel Macron greets members of the Universal National Service. Pic: Reuters

Estonia

Those aged 18-27 are required to partake in mandatory National Service, the Republic of Estonia Defence Forces website explains.

It says the duration of the conscript service is eight to 11 months, depending on a person’s education and rank.

After completing their conscription service, reservists are called up for military training courses every five years.


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Lithuania

In 2015 the Lithuanian Armed Forces reintroduced compulsory military service for men aged 18-26.

People are required to serve for a minimum of nine months.

Male and female citizens of Lithuania aged 18-38 are also invited to enlist for the service on a voluntary basis.

China

Mandatory military service is legally recognised in China but is not practised – an example of a de jure system – according to the World Population Review.

The law states that all males aged 18-22 are required to complete 24 months in the armed forces, but this has never been enforced.

In 2023 President Xi Jinping revised the country’s conscription laws, allowing retired service people to re-enlist and increasing recruitment focused on expertise in space and cyberwarfare.

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