Military service and political participation have links going back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Republic. While bearing arms was for most of history a privilege reserved for stakeholders in the state, universal conscription later turned this notion on its head in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Instead of selecting stakeholders to serve as soldiers, the soldiers themselves became stakeholders as the right to vote was extended to include them in the democratic polity in several states. This quid pro quo arrangement paved the way for the extension of the franchise to large portions of the male population who had previously been excluded from voting by property qualifications. In some cases, it also resulted in limited franchise extensions for female voters. For minorities, conscription can be a curse or a blessing, depending on their ability to leverage it as a bargaining tool for citizenship or increased status. Some, such as the Druze in Israel, have been relatively successful, while the same strategy was less fruitful for African American veterans of World War I. While conscription has been criticized by economists, who tend to regard it as a form of taxation, for being unfair and inefficient as a recruitment tool for the armed forces, it has also been seen as a political instrument for promoting democracy, social cohesion, and as a safeguard against military coups. Many of these suggested benefits have failed to hold up to empirical scrutiny, but conscription remains a viable alternative for small states in urgent need of military manpower in times of heightened tensions, where some states have in the latter half of the 2010s reintroduced the draft after having suspended it. The growing tensions and deteriorating security situation in some parts of the world, such as the Baltic Sea region, have once more put conscription on the agenda. Consequently, an understanding of conscription’s role in relation to citizenship and democracy is as relevant as ever.
Despite national differences, the military has usually presented a lack of political role and agency in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman. This development has occurred because state formation in these nations has been mainly driven by energy revenues and external security provision. The primary task of the armed forces, especially between the 1950s and the 1970s, was rulers’ protection and regime security; for the monarchies, keeping the armies small and detached from political power was a coup-proofing strategy. As a result, researchers used to stress the dependency linkage between tribal armies and royal families, underlining the prominence of kinship loyalties (for upper echelons) and foreign manpower (for lower ones) in political–military relations. But as in a prism, these militaries reveal three coexistent faces—praetorian, neopatrimonial, and performative—with one prevailing on the others depending on the time frame. In fact, starting from the 1990s, the gradual processes of state consolidation and modernization have fostered the expansion of the military sector in the Arab Gulf states, maximizing the neopatrimonial dimension of the military. Defense procurement burgeoned, with an emphasis on hard power, as the agreements with the United States and Western allies to establish defense pacts, troop stationing, and military facilities. In the context of state transformation, the 2010s represent a turning point for the militaries that showed a rising performative dimension, especially in the UAE, and, to a lesser extent, Qatar—performative because of greater operative performances and also because of the ability to influence nation-building. Arab Gulf states’ national strategies acquired a military shape, reflecting in some cases military-driven foreign policies. Autonomy and self-reliance became national guiding stars and military reform was no longer a taboo for Emirati, Qatari, and Kuwaiti rulers. In fact, this is now functional in the improvement of military capabilities through know-how transfer, local expertise, and forms of social mobilization (as conscription, parades, exhibitions, and official rhetoric). In this sense, Oman played a vanguard role in the 1970s as the first-ever example of a performative army in the Gulf monarchies. In the performative armies of the 2010s, soldiers embody a renewed model of post-oil citizenship, based on sacrifice, duty, and national pride. As a matter of fact, the 2015 unprecedented military intervention in Yemen has turned into a watershed for Gulf militaries’ tasks and capabilities (especially for the UAE). Therefore, the military has gradually become a tool of nation-building and governments have been betting on militarized nationalism to forge a sense of shared belonging, identity, and patriotism. In times of rising Middle Eastern arms races and multidimensional threats, the military dimension has been redrawing civil–military relations, especially in the UAE and Qatar, thus offering a new research agenda for future studies on the Arab Gulf states’ militaries.
Nathan W. Toronto and Lindsay P. Cohn
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.