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UK Contemplates Mandatory National Service

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced that the Conservative Party will introduce mandatory national service if it wins the UK general election on July 4.

This was the first major policy announcement since Mr. Sunak called a snap election last week.

Here is what we know about the proposed policy and the history of national service.

What is the difference between national service and conscription?

Conscription means people are forced to join the armed forces for a certain period. Mr. Sunak’s national service proposal falls short of this, compelling British 18-year-olds to either volunteer in the community or enter a 12-month placement in the armed forces.

What would national service look like in the UK?

Under the proposed policy, teenagers would have two choices if the Conservatives win the general election. The first option would be community volunteering, requiring one weekend per month for a year. Placements could include assisting the NHS, police, fire services, and various charities.

The second option would be a full-time placement in the armed forces for 12 months. Participants would engage in logistics, cyber security, procurement, or civil response operations. This policy would apply to young people in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Would there be punishments for refusing?

The proposed scheme would not force military training on anyone, and teenagers would not be imprisoned for refusing to comply. However, participation would be required by law, and there would be non-criminal sanctions for refusal.

How much will it cost?

The estimated annual cost of the scheme is 2.5 billion British pounds ($4.8 billion). The Conservatives stated that 1.5 billion pounds of this would come from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which was established in 2022 to regenerate poor communities.

What has the reaction been?

Reactions to the announcement have been mixed. Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey labeled the plan a “distraction” from defence failures, while Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves called it a “gimmick.” Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey described the scheme as “nonsense,” asserting that the armed forces need professional soldiers, not short-term participants.

Scottish National Party deputy leader Keith Brown criticized the plan as an ineffective solution for both young people and the armed forces. Nigel Farage, honorary president of the right-wing Reform UK party, called the proposal a “joke.” Admiral Alan West, a former chief of naval staff, deemed the plan “bonkers,” arguing that it would divert necessary funds from defense.

Which countries have mandatory military service?

According to the World Population Review, 66 countries have mandatory military service, including:

  • Russia: Men aged 18 must complete 12 months of military service or equivalent training during higher education.
  • Denmark: Men must undergo a four-month military service period but can postpone it until after further education.
  • Norway: Selective service requiring 19 months for those aged 19-44, with less than 10,000 people accepted in 2023.
  • Israel: After high school, most Israelis must serve in the military, with men serving 32 months and women serving 24 months.

Attendance at the announcement

The announcement was made in the presence of several notable officials and members of the Conservative Party, reflecting the high importance placed on this proposed policy change.

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