The French introduced the "Levée en masse", the creation of many huge armies with conscripts, quickly after the French Revolution 1789. This enabled France to field the huge and quick armies that Napoleon used impressively.

The Prussians - after being defeated by such armies - created their own conscription system, but that system wasn't only about huge armies of conscripts trusted more than the professional soldiers since the Thirty Years War. They used the conscription to train many men as infantrymen and send them back to civil life. This way, they had a huge and quickly mobilized reserve of infantrymen while not violating the maximum troop strength limit imposed by the peace with Napoleon. The Prussian system was copied almost everywhere in the world ... and it seems about to descend into history books in Europe.

Many European countries do not practice this system anymore (although some keep the laws to enable a return to conscription) because they don't expect to need large armies in the past. Other countries keep the conscription system but it's often under heavy attack there and conscription might end in additional countries soon.

I'm no proponent of conscription if it isn't essential for national sovereignty. Today, conscription is merely a cost-saving measure that in fact reduces overall force deployability and capabilities. In my opinion, conscription is a kind of forced labour at low wages today and should indeed be suspended.

But it's not as obvious that large reserves are unnecessary. It might even be that large reserves are necessary to have serious land combat power at all.
The conflict in Chechnya among others demonstrates how a modern, heavy army still needs several divisions to capture and hold a small town and a relatively small landscape around it against determined light infantry.
The so-called force multipliers simply don't seem to be very effective against light infantry - not as much as against mechanized divisions. The tiny European armies of today probably lack the quantity to really dominate large areas. They're fine for destruction of military formations, but even a battle in one of the many million-people cities of Europe against a couple ten thousand light infantrymen would stretch the European armies to their limits.
Europe is quite urbanized in many regions and has large woods elsewhere. With one distant war after another exposing the limitations of our armies, one could argue that we should better prepare against enemies that might exploit these weaknesses.
The dwindling quantity of NATO infantry forces is a problem, as is the dwindling of the infantry reserves.

We need a post-conscription system that provides sufficient quantities of reservists with basic infantry training.
A system based on freedom instead of coercion, suitable to attract enough young men. It would help us to keep the understanding of military affairs at an acceptable level and the link between people and their army intact.

Sven Ortmann

1 comment:

  1. Problem is easy to solve, pay them. Pay them good for acquiring the skills and pay them good for honing the skills as well as offer them military re-employment with good pay very timely in case of a civilian job loss.
    Giving them a good upgrade on current qualifications for the civilian job market will be a good bonus or offer a program that helps finance studies without necessarily becoming an officer.
    The choice for a military reserve career must pay off, not for greed, but in order to balance the willingness to serve with the lifetime costs of that commitment.