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date: 03 December 2020

Conscription and the Politics of Military Recruitmentlocked

  • Nathan W. TorontoNathan W. TorontoProgram on Civil-Military Relations in Arab States, Carnegie Middle East Center
  •  and Lindsay P. CohnLindsay P. CohnDepartment of National Security Affairs, U.S. Naval War College

Summary

There is more to conscription than the presence or absence of conscripts in a military force. A brief survey of the history of military recruitment suggests that economics, threat, and political heritage go a long way toward explaining why and how states recruit manpower and prepare that manpower for war. Understanding the sources and implications of different types of military recruitment, and how trends in military recruitment change over time, is essential for understanding conscription now and in the future.

The French Revolution is often regarded as a turning point in conscription, with the famed levée en masse, which coincided with dramatic changes in warfare and how states mobilized their polities for war. Less well known is how rarely conscripts were actually used in the wars that followed the French Revolution. Rather than being a turning point in the history of military recruitment, the levée en masse was just another moment in the ebb and flow of how states recruit military manpower in response to economics, threat, and political heritage.

A number of dimensions describe the extraordinary variety of compulsory recruitment systems. The two most important of these dimensions are whether conscription is institutionalized or opportunistic, and whether it is core or supplementary. The typology of compulsory recruitment systems that results describes a great deal of the varieties of conscription and, along with other dimensions, might give clues as to how states will recruit military manpower in the future.

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