Mandatory Service Around the Globe

This past summer, France, Morocco, and Colombia made news when it came to mandatory service.

France announced that beginning in 2019, it will require all men and women at age 16 to commit a month to learning service skills, such as first aid, and applying these skills in real-word settings. After completing their month of service, they will be encouraged to volunteer for three to twelve months. Volunteer service could include tutoring, helping the environment, or supporting national defense and security via army, police, or civil security.

Morocco announced that it will reinstate compulsory military service. All men and women between the age of 19 and 25 years old will be required to serve in the Moroccan military for twelve months.

Colombia currently has a mandatory military service requirement for all its male citizens. This summer, Colombia reduced the term length for service from twenty-four months to eighteen months.

These are just three of the many countries around the globe that require their citizens to serve in some way. In total, about seventy-five countries have some form of mandatory service. Nigeria, Germany, and Denmark have mandatory national service. Countries like Russia, China, Brazil, Sweden, Israel, and South Korea have military conscription — though their military personnel systems vary greatly in policy, objectives, and structure. Some of the key differences in conscription models include gender, age groups, service time periods, the number of conscripts required, the goals of mandatory service, the existence of an alternative service option, and public opinion surrounding the draft.

What about the United States?

Although the United States requires many things of its citizens, aside from jury duty the federal government does not currently mandate service. However, for much of U.S. history the nation required young men to serve in the military, both for emergency wartime drafts and in peace time through a process known as standing conscription. Standing conscription ensured the military had enough personnel to counter threats. In 1973, standing conscription, which had been in place for 25 years, ended and the U.S. military shifted to a voluntary recruited force backstopped by provisions for an emergency draft. By law, men 18 to 25 years of age are required to register with the Selective Service System, to be potentially called for mandatory military service.

To learn more about the various mandatory service requirements, the Commission met with representatives from Norway, Nigeria, Estonia, and Colombia at the Norwegian Embassy last month. The discussion helped the Commission understand the types of programs these countries developed, how those programs meet the unique challenges faced by each country, and the impact they have on their citizens, communities, and countries.

Commissioners meet with representatives from Norway, Nigeria, Estonia, and Colombia at the Norwegian Embassy in November 2018.

The Commission is committed to listening and learning from other countries. Just because a particular country has adopted mandatory service doesn’t mean it is necessarily right for the United States. As the Commission discusses mandatory service and its implications for the United States, it will certainly consider the factors that make this country unique, including its demographics, geography and values.

What do you think?

  • Is the military draft or draft contingency still a necessary component of U.S. national security?
  • Are modifications to the Selective Service System needed?
  • Is a mandatory service requirement for all Americans necessary, valuable, and feasible?

Let us know what you think about mandatory service. Share your thoughts on our website at www.inspire2serve.gov.