Conscription debate is picking up speed again in Europe

After the end of the Cold War, many countries in Europe abolished general conscription. The reintroduction has been discussed in some countries not only since the Ukraine war. An overview.

After the fall of the Wall, general defensiveness seemed to be a thing of the past. In the past 20 years, the obligation to train for military service has been abolished in most European countries.

Germany, for example, suspended compulsory military service in 2011. It can only be activated if the Bundestag determines that there is a state of tension or a state of defense regulated in the Basic Law.

It’s the same or something similar in many other European countries. Of today’s 29 European NATO countries, including Turkey, only six have maintained conscription since 1993 to date. The UK, US and Canada have had purely professional armies for 50 years or more.

In the light of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, a certain rethink has now begun. Many countries have not only increased their defense budgets, but are also discussing reintroducing conscription. So far, the debates have only gone particularly far in a few countries. An overview.

Ukraine and Lithuania

Shortly after the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine (2014) and Lithuania (2015) reintroduced conscription for men aged 18 to 26 and 25 respectively. After Russia’s major attack on Ukraine on February 20, 2022, the government passed a law allowing all men between the ages of 18 and 60 to be drafted into the army.


The Baltic country is one of three NATO countries bordering Russia. The other two are Estonia and new NATO member Finland, which have never abolished conscription. Now Latvia also wants to reintroduce it. From 2024, all 18- to 27-year-old men will have to complete an eleven-month military training course. From 2028 onwards, 7,500 Latvians are to be called up every year – according to NATO, this is how many professional soldiers the country had in 2022.


The first attempt to reintroduce conscription after the fall of the Berlin Wall failed in 2015. In the spring, Prime Minister and former General Nicolae-Ionel Ciuca spoke out in favor of it again. A specific requirement of the Ministry of Defense is that in the event of a general mobilization, all young Romanians living abroad must report for military examination within 15 days.

Netherlands and Sweden

The Dutch armed forces are short of about 9,000 recruits. That’s why the government is considering expanding the army through compulsory service, as Sweden has been doing since 2018. The largest country in Scandinavia had abolished conscription in 2010. It was reintroduced in 2018 because there were not enough volunteers for military service. Since then, all 18-year-olds have had to register for the examination. However, as in Norway, only a small proportion of them are recruited.

Norway and Denmark

In the home country of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, since 2016 not only all men but also all women over the age of 18 have had to be examined. However, only around 9,000 of the 60,000 candidates who take the medical exam each year are called up for 19 months of military service. Because of the rigorous selection, official sources say military service in Norway is associated with similar prestige to other higher education degrees. Conscription is compulsory in Denmark, but there are enough volunteers to meet the demand.


France is debating a “conscription light”. President Emmanuel Macron introduced the “universal national service” in 2019. Within this framework, young people can voluntarily serve the well-being of their country for a month. The government is now considering making this compulsory for all French people between the ages of 15 and 17. Two weeks of this are to be completed in military-structured facilities.


Chancellor Scholz has rejected the proposal by his Defense Minister Boris Pistorius to introduce compulsory military service. However, calls for a debate on this come from across the political spectrum in Germany.

Recently, the German Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces, Eva Högl – like Scholz and Pistorius from the Social Democratic ruling party SPD – suggested discussing a mandatory “year of service” in the military or in civilian institutions. Military personnel should report on their work in schools.

Jean Harris

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