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.
Nathan W. Toronto and Lindsay P. Cohn
Jorge I. Domínguez
Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), founded in 1959, have been among the world’s most successful militaries. In the early 1960s, they defended the new revolutionary regime against all adversaries during years when Cuba was invaded at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, faced nuclear Armageddon in 1962, and experienced a civil war that included U.S. support for regime opponents. From 1963 to 1991, the FAR served the worldwide objectives of a small power that sought to behave as if it were a major world power. Cuba deployed combat troops overseas for wars in support of Algeria (1963), Syria (1973), Angola (1975–1991), and Ethiopia (1977–1989). Military advisers and some combat troops served in smaller missions in about two dozen countries the world over. Altogether, nearly 400,000 Cuban troops served overseas. Throughout those years, the FAR also worked significantly to support Cuba’s economy, especially in the 1960s and again since the early 1990s following the Soviet Union’s collapse. Uninterruptedly, officers and troops have been directly engaged in economic planning, management, physical labor, and production. In the mid-1960s, the FAR ran compulsory labor camps that sought to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals and to remedy the alleged socially deviant behavior of these and others, as well. During the Cold War years, the FAR deepened Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union, deterred a U.S. invasion by signaling its cost for U.S. troops, and since the early 1990s developed confidence-building practices collaborating with U.S. military counterparts to prevent an accidental military clash. Following false starts and experimentation, the FAR settled on a model of joint civilian-military governance that has proved durable: the civic soldier. The FAR and the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) are closely interpenetrated at all levels and together endeavored to transform Cuban society, economy, and politics while defending state and regime. Under this hybrid approach, military officers govern large swaths of military and civilian life and are held up as paragons for soldiers and civilians, bearers of revolutionary traditions and ideology. Thoroughly politicized military are well educated as professionals in political, economic, managerial, engineering, and military affairs; in the FAR, officers with party rank and training, not outsider political commissars, run the party-in-the-FAR. Their civilian and military roles were fused, especially during the 1960s, yet they endured into the 21st century. Fused roles make it difficult to think of civilian control over the military or military control over civilians. Consequently, political conflict between “military” and “civilians” has been rare and, when it has arisen (often over the need for, and the extent of, military specialization for combat readiness), it has not pitted civilian against military leaders but rather cleaved the leadership of the FAR, the PCC, and the government. Intertwined leaderships facilitate cadre exchanges between military and nonmilitary sectors. The FAR enter their seventh decade smaller, undersupplied absent the Soviet Union, less capable of waging war effectively, and more at risk of instances of corruption through the activities of some of their market enterprises. Yet the FAR remain both an effective institution in a polity that they have helped to stabilize and proud of their accomplishments the world over.
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.
Marissa Reilly, Elizabeth L. Hillman, and Elliot Koltnow
Examining the evolution of U.S military policy reveals how debates about the rights and opportunities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have been shaped by military personnel policies, federal laws, and cultural practices within military units. LGBT individuals have experienced U.S. military service through regulatory regimes that have often defined them as burdensome deviants and denied them civil rights enjoyed by other service members. LGBT people have served as volunteers and conscripts, openly and in the closet. Key periods of U.S. military history for LGBT service include World War II, the Cold War, as well as the Vietnam War era, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) regime (1994–2010), and the post-DADT period (2011 and beyond). During these periods of time, the armed forces and the United States reassessed the regulation of the service of LGBT service members and implemented changes that affected the rights, opportunities, and safety of LGBT military personnel and potential recruits. Those changes traced a path from outright exclusion of open service by LGBT persons to exemption, under which LGBT persons may serve under certain conditions, which often included the threat of expulsion, punishment, and extra-legal violence. In the post-DADT period, inclusion, or open service by some, but not all, LGBT groups, was made legal and safer through changes in law and military regulations and training that protected against some types of gender-identity and sexual orientation discrimination. Because serving openly in the military is a sign of full citizenship in the United States as well as a means of achieving economic security, eliminating limits on LGBT military service has long been a focus of advocates for civil rights. Military service has been perceived as proving a citizen’s loyalty and patriotism as well as offering material and social advancement. With many LGBT people at greater risk of unemployment, homelessness, and premature death as a result of violence and social ostracism, military service has been an especially critical opportunity for political and economic advancement. Honoring this history and identifying existing trends can help the United States, other nations, and international organizations to adapt their policies in recognition of gender and sexual diversity. Even when excluded by formal policy, people have found ways to serve, sometimes at great personal risk. Although their labor is officially lauded as an asset, their contributions and needs have not been fully recognized or appreciated by the state they pledged to serve. As the nation’s largest employer and provider of structural resources, the U.S. military’s support of LGBT military personnel and veterans matters greatly to social equity for a still-vulnerable LGBT population.
Marybeth P. Ulrich
The gap between the American people and the United States military is growing, with implications for the preservation of democratic institutions. The gap has contributed to the erosion of democratic norms by negatively affecting perceptions of citizenship obligations and weakening the attachment to national institutions. Ironically, a feature of the gap is the rise of a “warrior caste” of men and women who self-select to join the all-volunteer force (AVF), leaving the remaining 99.5% of citizens to think that national defense is a concern for “other people.” With only 1 in 200 Americans directly involved in military service, the wars that the AVF serves in do not directly affect most Americans or their elected representatives. This indifference has led to perpetual wars with poor oversight, eroding the democratic norm of citizen oversight of and participation in the nation’s wars. The civil–military gap can be mitigated with a comprehensive expansion of programs that offer opportunities for military and national service, the adoption of more robust civic education in civilian and military education systems, and fostering a culture of defense among the citizenry.
John A. Alic
The three large military services—Army, Navy, and Air Force—comprise the core of the U.S. politico–military–industrial complex. They dominate decision making on multi-billion dollar weapon systems and the operational concepts these are intended to embody. The armed forces need private firms to realize their visions of new weaponry, since government has limited capacity in engineering design and development and limited production facilities. Running a successful defense business means giving the services what they want, or think they want, whether this makes technical and operational sense or not; thus industry caters to the views of the services, and while it seeks to influence them, does so mostly at the margins. The political dynamics of the complex take place in two primary domains, only loosely coupled. The first is largely contained within the Defense Department. This is the main arena for conflict and bargaining within and among the services and between the services, individually and collectively, and Pentagon civilians. Most of what happens here stays hidden from outsiders. Service leaders generally seek to resolve disagreements among themselves; the goal, often although not always achieved, is to present a united front to civilian officials and the public at large. The second domain extends to the rest of government, chiefly Congress, with its multiple committees and subcommittees, and the White House, home of the powerful Office of Management and Budget among other sources of policy leverage. The complex as a whole is an artifact of the Cold War, not greatly changed over the decades. Repeated efforts at restructuring and reform have led to little. The primary reason is that military leaders, senior officers who have reached the topmost ranks after lengthy immersion in generally conservative organizational cultures, usually have the upper hand in bureaucratic struggles. They believe the military’s views on choice of weapons—the views of seasoned professionals—should have precedence over those of civilians, whether Pentagon appointees and their staffs, elected officials, or outside experts. They usually prevail, since few of the political appointees on the civilian side of DoD and in policy-influencing positions elsewhere can command similar authority. If they do not prevail on a particular issue, service leaders expect to outwait their opponents; if they lose one battle over money or some cherished weapon system, they anticipate winning the next.
Eritrea has a long history as a heavily militarized nation, dating back to its 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia. Militarization is a core component of Eritrean nationalism and state formation, which is arguably forged out of war but is also implicated in Eritrea’s problematic human rights record. Following Eritrea’s 1991 independence, the country was poised to democratize and liberalize. At that time, the country also began an intensive process of nation-building of which militarization was a central part. In 1995, Eritrea introduced the national service program. Eritrea’s national/military service, which requires 6 months of military training and 12 months of free military or civil service for all Eritreans (male and female), initially enjoyed widespread public support although there were always concerns about harsh living and labor conditions. In 1998, a border war with Ethiopia broke out. At this time, those who had military training in national service were recalled. Although fighting ended in 2000, the border war deepened Eritrea’s adherence to militarization as a key strategy of national defense, nation-building, and development. A condition of no-peace, no-war followed the border war. The long period of no-war, no-peace with Ethiopia allowed Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afewerki, to consolidate his power, deepen authoritarian rule, and extend the national service program indefinitely. The indefinite extension of national service meant that conscripts were not demobilized and new recruits into national service could not be assured that they would ever be released. Due to the indefinite extension of military service, harsh conditions in the military, and extreme punishments for those who try to escape the military, Eritrea’s national/military service requirement is at the center of concern about human rights and civil liberties in Eritrea. Militarization has since become fused with state control and punishment, leading to human rights and civil liberties violations and the mass flight of close to half a million Eritreans over the past decades. Despite the announcement in summer of 2018 that Eritrea and Ethiopia had finally agreed to peace, no one has been released from the military and Eritreans continue to flood out of the country to avoid national service conditions which have been equated with slavery.
Andrew Goodhart and Jami K. Taylor
For most of its history, the U.S. military has maintained a policy of exclusion toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people serving in uniform. The justifications for these exclusions have included the view that being homosexual or transgender is a psychological disorder, that it undermines military morale and effectiveness, and a fear that LGBT people would be vulnerable to foreign espionage. Explicit policies banning consensual homosexual sex—and excluding from service those who engage in it—date to the period between World Wars I and II, but de facto efforts at exclusion have existed since the early days of the republic. Regulations governing homosexuals in the military came under pressure in the 1970s and 1980s as societal views toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people changed, and those LGB service members discharged under the policy increasingly challenged their treatment in court. (Public pressure to change regulations governing transgender people in the military arose mostly in the 2000s, though litigation efforts date to the 1970s.) In addition to general shifts in public and legal opinion, the debate over LGB people serving in the U.S. military was affected by the experience of foreign militaries that allow LGB people to serve. United States law began to loosen formal restrictions on LBG people serving in uniform with the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in 1994, but it still required LGB people to serve in secret. Changing public perceptions of LGB people and problems implementing the ban galvanized support for eliminating such restrictions. In 2010, President Obama signed legislation repealing DADT and removing all restrictions on LGB people serving in the military. However, transgender people do not enjoy the same rights. The Trump administration has revised Obama-era rules on transgender service members to enable greater exclusion. The issue is being contested in the courts and appears ripe for further political and legal dispute.