Conscription is shriveling the free world

Conscription is shriveling the free world

We talk about "free countries" and the "free world" they constitute. But we don't often talk about the exact criteria for a free country. What separates a free country from an un-free country, the good guys from the bad guys? Certainly one of the criteria is conscription. Historically practiced by despots and warlords, conscription is currently on the rise in Europe. It reduces the free world.

What is conscription?

Conscription is when a government forces people to serve in the military. When only practiced during wartime it often goes by euphemisms like "induction" or "the draft". In countries that practice it outside wartime, it tends to go by more honest names like "compulsory" or "mandatory" military service.

Conscripts are generally young, able-bodied, and male. However, in some circumstances the government may broaden conscription to include people who are older, less healthy, and female. For example, by the end of World War II most countries in Europe were forcing children and elderly to serve. In more recent times, the feminist movement in the West has prompted governments like Denmark and the United States to broaden conscription to include women.

Where does conscription exist?

In ancient times, it was common for both citizens and slaves to be indentured as soldiers. The rise of the feudal system in Europe did little to change this, with "all peasants, freemen commoners and noblemen aged 15 to 60 living in the countryside or in urban centers, were summoned for military duty when required by either the king or the local lord". Modern conscription was pioneered by the French and Russian empires of the 18th century.

Conscription expanded greatly during the World Wars. In both wars, the major powers conscripted soldiers. World War I even prompted the United States – the self-proclaimed "home of the free" – to start practicing conscription. It created the Selective Service System, which still exists today. Americans called this system "the draft" when it was used to force young men to fight in Vietnam.

However, conscription is not only a practice of the major powers. It is also regularly practiced by warlords in Africa, when they force guns into the hands of children. These children are often younger than the 18-year-old minimum of the United States. However, the basic practice of forcing youths to serve in front-line combat positions is the same.

What is changing with conscription?

In response to Russia's military aggression in Ukraine, Europe has decided to expand its practice of conscription. A recent BBC article explains:

As the Cold War ended, and relations with post-Soviet Russia warmed in the 1990s, conscription appeared consigned to history in many parts of Europe. ... now, following President Putin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, conscription is being rebooted and expanded across Europe, with those living on Russia's doorstep urging their Nato allies further afield, including the UK, to follow suit.

This week Norway announced it was increasing the number of conscripted soldiers after Denmark said last month it intends to extend conscription to women and increase the duration of service.

Latvia and Sweden recently restarted military service and Lithuania brought it back after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

At this point all 3 Baltic countries and all 4 Nordic countries are engaging in conscription. Further, Germany is actively debating reintroducing conscription.

Why is conscription bad?

It's easy to see conscription is evil. Forcing innocent people to perform services against their will is obviously evil. Forcing them into the military is worse, because it makes them legitimate targets for military attack. Forcing them into combat roles is even worse, because the risk of permanent harm – to them and others – is very high.

In World War II, all the Axis powers of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan relied on conscription to fuel their war efforts. So did the Soviet Union under Stalin. Currently, North Korea is one of the only countries with compulsory military service for both genders. Russia is conscripting a large percentage of its soldiers for its war in Ukraine. Conscription is a standard tool of violent, authoritarian regimes.

Ultimately, conscription represents an admission that a military does not have popular support. If a military needs recruits, it should ask. If it can't get them, it should offer better pay. If it still can't get them, it should question whether its aims are legitimate. No country has the right to make its citizens into slave soldiers. At least no free country.


When a free country starts practicing conscription, it becomes much less free. In fact, it's reasonable to say it stops being a free country. By this measure, the free world is shrinking rapidly in Europe.

Truly free countries oppose conscription. It is an obvious violation of people's rights, committed by the very institution organized to protect those rights. Although many people consider conscription to be practical, especially in wartime, it is unquestionably morally wrong. If we care about preserving and growing the free world, conscription must be ended.

  • A US Congressman recently acknowledged 18 year old brains are not fully formed but refused to co-sponsor a bill raising the draft age to 21 because, "if the country needs people, it needs people."
  • Wikipedia notes: "As of 2023, no countries have been identified as intending to abolish conscription in the near future."