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From conscription to professional armies: recruitment strategies and "social integration"

The ways of recruitment to the military vary greatly from country to country (see Refusing to Bear Arms). Mass armies based on some sort of conscription and professional armies based on "voluntary" service are the main two types. Accordingly, recruitment needs different strategies and different means of legitimisation. A wide range of people and skills is needed for the military, from highly educated officers to foot soldiers with basic education. Recruitment strategies need to address the contradictory interests of all the different target groups: careers for the highly educated, the chance of a secure livelihood and social integration for the marginalised people of society: ethnic minorities, lower class people, people of colour, women.

As an introduction, the workshop looked at forces to get and keep people in the armed forces:

  • legal force: conscription and military penal codes
  • physical force: threats, kidnapping
  • psychological force
  • economic force
  • 'educational' force
  • social exclusion

They partly overlap and are not exhaustive.

Recruitment strategies in some countries

  • Angola has conscription as legal force, and uses physical force in recruiting. A change of law before the war restarted, made it possible to draft women. There's a campaign for a fixed quota of recruits. If the quota is not achieved, forced recruitment by kidnapping of youngsters, but also older men. 3 to 5000 children are recruited to the military. The number UNITA recruits is unknown. They also use mercenaries. To avoid recruitment of their sons, the father allow their daughters to be raped. The consequences are a distorted society. Freedom of expression is hugely violated. 15 journalists were tried for writing about CO. 5 COs were expelled from Portugal, are now imprisoned.
  • In Hungary there is a choice between civil and mililiary service until military oath has been taken. Strong bureaucratic forces are used against substitute service.
  • Israel has conscription. Educational force by using army terms and emblems are normal from early age.There are also family forces as cases of making sons disinherited unless joining the army. Women are conscripted to the army as well.
  • In Spain there have been lots of changes in the past 20 years. Conscription has been the legal force after the dictatorship ended. In the end of the 1970s there were just a few insumisos and with duties for all. The the campaing on insumisos started with imprisonment before CO was recognised. Then total resistance started. The society does not recognise duty for all anymore, and there are 20 000 insumisos. Introduction of professional army, the propaganda is increasing through educational forces by soldiers visiting schools, TV-programmes showing the nice faces of military.
  • Ecuador has conscription as a legal force. There is a selection by ballot. You can also buy yourself out. There is also a strong economic force. Many with low resources join the army. Military is an accepted force in society, with its own economic system. Many forms of aid are given through the army, like vaccinations and schools for indigenous.
  • USA has no conscription, but has a compulsory registration. There is much propaganda to recruit people. It is like woolves in sheeps' clothes, they say they get 'skills', while there is high unemployment among military leavers. The military is integrated into society and in everyday life, as in the schools:
    • schools give away adresses of pupils to the military
    • vans with high-tech equipment come to schools
    • college money attracts minorities and blacks
    • one light for the peace movement: activists have gained access to schools as well.
    • US has always aimed to get a multinational army in Latin America. The IMF and UN have demanded decrease of military budgets. 'Multinational army' should fight the war on drugs. People are not uneducated; they expect more education in the army.

The discussion in the group, mainly concentrated on the change in recruitment startegies after the end of conscription and the change to professional armies. Should we focus on the higher ranks to convince officers?

Are there any differences between conscription and professional army? There was agreement that the low social groups and the poor are effected most. The difference is that people can be free when conscription is away. The armed forces have to work to fill their ranks. But in a country like the Netherlands they do not succeed.

Conscription is bad of course, but the military is an even greater injustice. To strive for non-conscription seems the end of the pacifist movement by being silenced. While professional army is a punishment for the civil society!

With conscription, it is easy to make a public stand against the military. Peace movement occupied the public sphere. The military is nervous about the rate of COs. Now the military is trying to occupy the public sphere. Without conscription, it is up to the military to get the recruits, not the other way round. This is an achievement. There's a question if a conscripted is army cheaper than a professional army.

The workshop reminded about not to forget the people in the military in professional armies, and not to forget recruitment in Africa.

Summary by Bart Horeman