National Service or otherwise known as conscription, or military draft, was first affiliated to the British government. Conscription in the United Kingdom existed for two periods in modern times. The first was from 1916 to 1920, and the second from 1939 to 1960, with the last conscripted soldiers leaving the service in 1963.
Known as Military Service from 1916 to 1920, the system of conscription from 1939 to 1960 was called National Service, but between 1939 and 1948, it was often referred to as “war service”, in documents relating to national insurance and pension provision.
Likewise, a lot of countries have resorted to mandatory conscription with slightly differing timespan and requirements. While some countries mandated it, in order to expand military power, others resorted to it for safety and protection, in anticipation of war-emergent scenarios.
The 112th National Day Royal Address by His Majesty The King for National Service (Gyalsung) for youth 18 years and above, will begin by 2022.
National Service in Bhutan will be unlike most countries in the world, as the military component of the draft is three months, and out of the 12-month mandate, 9 months will be towards shaping up and familiarizing the youth with necessary life and vocational skills (see main story on pg 1).
In countries, like Russia, South Korea and Israel, involved in violent conflicts with their neighbors, having a large army at their disposal becomes a necessity during an emergency. Israel, due to its isolated position in a hostile territory, has one of the longest conscription periods in the developed world. Men and women are asked to serve for 3 years and many see active service along the west bank and other flashpoints.
In the past, there have been divisions among Israeli Jews and the other citizens, as the Haredi part of the Israeli population saw studying Torah as more critical to the defense of the Jewish people than serving in the army.
North Korea and Eritrea have almost indefinite conscription mandate. In North Korea, men reportedly serve for 10 years and women for 7 years, and sometimes even longer.
Human rights watch groups claim that the widespread repression and forced labor during conscription are common in these countries. However, in most countries, chances of conscription citizens seeing combat are slim.
According to sources, in Norway, although about 60,000 eligible people may be called in for preliminary screening, only about 9,000 end up being drafted, as per reports from few years back.
In many countries, men and women eligible for draft are usually able to choose between community service and national defense, which in terms of Bhutan, the majority of the draft time will be spent on upskilling, community bonding and familiarizing with the country’s wholesome wisdom in changing times, as emphasized by His Majesty’s Address on the 112th National Day.
More than half of the world’s countries, with active militaries, do not maintain the draft.
Conscription, as a practice, was much more popular in early history, but as wars have changed, the draft slowly lost its purpose. Still, for smaller countries, like Bhutan and others, it is reportedly the best strategy to have the strongest armed force possible.
For instance, Lithuania being a small country, located closely to the massive Soviet nation might have to withstand, at full strength, in the face of Russian aggression. Many countries use conscription to amplify military strength.
Norway is among the few countries that has mandate for both men and women to go for the national service. One of Norway’s first woman to take part in it, Sandra Moradi, stated, “Women in uniform are highly respected in Norway. My mom’s very proud, my friends and everyone is proud of me, it is good to be here.”
Military service in Norway does not mean everyone will end up in the barracks, but all youth of 18 years have to undergo the military exams. Men and women share confined rooms for sleeping with beds next to each other. Reportedly, there aren’t many cases of gender-based harassments, and some men and women stated that it’s like living with siblings. However, 1 out of 5 women had reported of verbal abuse and a few of physical abuse.
One of the commanding officers stated, “Sometimes, we couldn’t use male officers, like in the case of Afghanistan, where the female soldiers proved best in apprehending the female population.”
In Switzerland, it is mandatory to serve the Swiss Army for able-bodied male citizens to be conscripted when they reach the age of majority. Though women may volunteer for any position. Conscripts make up majority of manpower in Swiss Armed Forces.
On September 22, 2013, a referendum that aimed to abolish conscription was held in Switzerland. However, the referendum failed as over 73 percent of the electorate voted against it, showing strong support for conscription.
It is also possible to postpone service up to four years given adequate reasons, for instance to study abroad. Other exemptions include, young people who fail to meet the qualification test requirements who would have to pay 3 percent extra annual income tax until 30 years of age unless they are disabled or have other exemptions.
There is also an alternate service to military service, which comprise of civilian services that are removed from the military connotations.
Singapore launched a 2-year compulsory military service for permanent resident upon enlistment soon after its independence in 1967 and has since expanded to other areas involving the police and civil defense forces.