Should Eritrea introduce Scandinavian style national service?

Photo: New national service recruits in Eritrea. The country produces over 20,000 men and women enlist a year.

30 Oct 2019 – (EP) The People of Eritrea have after 30 years of bitter and armed struggle characterised by heavy and high sacrifices succeeded in materialising their dreams of redeeming our country Eritrea from the oppressive and all aspect sufferings caused by the dark domination enabling it to become an independent and sovereign nation.

The present and future generations have the historical responsibility of preserving a free and sovereign Eritrea as a legacy of thousands of martyrs. For the realisation of this noble objective, it had become necessary to proclaim and issue the proclamation on national Service in 1995.
However, this noble idea has become a conscientious objection, desertion, draft evasion and forced conscription to most Eritreans after the end of the war with Ethiopia in 2000.

All Eritrean citizens from the age of 18 to 40 years were supposed to have the compulsory duty of performing Active National Service which consists of six months of training in the National Service Training Centre and 12 months of active military service and development tasks in military forces for a total of 18 months. However, that national service obligations are extended indefinitely.

The majority of able-bodied adult Eritreans are on “indefinite, compulsory” active national service or on reserve. A fact-finding mission report published in 2008 by the European Parliament Committee on Development similarly indicated that military service “often extends over decades” (EU 11 Nov. 2008).

The indefinite national service has torn apart many Eritrean families and ripped apart the fabric of society. But Eritrean Press suggests that our national service should continue but must be reformed to appeal to our young generation once again.

Deborah Haynes – Foreign affairs editor for Sky News argues that her country Britain should reintroduce national service for its young men and women.

We suggest her case should be read and considered for the good of our country.

Deborah said, not only would national service give teenagers a sense of what it means to work for their country, it would teach them new skills to help in whatever career path they ultimately pursue.

A new form of conscription – not just focused on defence and selective in who is called up – would be good for the UK as well.

It would bolster Britain’s ability to deter threats and respond to a crisis.

In addition, it would give a far greater breadth of the society an insight into what the armed forces, security agencies and emergency services do. This would help fix a growing rift in understanding between the public and those who serve professionally.

Done correctly, conscription could also help counter a recruitment crisis afflicting the army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, by giving young adults who might not otherwise have considered a military career a taste of what it’s like.

Elisabeth Braw, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank, this week published a paper that called for the UK to adopt a Scandinavian-style form of national service.

Her argument is compelling and should be considered by political leaders as an innovative way to improve Britain’s resilience and – two generations on from the end of the original era of national service in 1963 – reconnect the public with the idea of serving their country.

Ms Braw looks at how Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland benefit from national service and says the UK could adopt its own model, learning from the Scandinavian experience.

In Denmark, all male teenagers (girls can and do apply voluntarily) are obliged to complete an online evaluation form to see if they are suitable for national service but only a small number are actually chosen each year following a variety of other assessments.

Norway and Sweden have similar systems but all teenagers take part, regardless of gender.

The selective aspect of the process makes being called up for national service a prestigious achievement. It also means the armed forces and civilian bodies included in the programme are able to choose the most capable youngsters.

Writing about the Norway experience, Ms Braw’s paper says: “The highly selective nature of Norway’s military service makes it very attractive among young Norwegians – indeed, somewhat paradoxically, the exclusivity rather than the actual duties appear to appeal to young Norwegians.”

She quotes Nina Hellum, anthropologist at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, as saying: “Today military service is seen as exclusive and prestigious. It looks good on one’s CV. The only people the armed forces have to draft against their will are a small number with specialist skills, such as electricians.”

The length of national service differs depending on the role but it ranges from four months to 16 months.

Finland’s model is much less selective, with up to 80% of all men called up to serve. Women may also participate but their service is voluntary rather than mandatory.

Ms Braw says a similar kind of competitive national service approach – adapted to the UK’s needs – could be used by Britain.

It would not only be aimed at the armed forces and security services, including attracting cyber experts to train at GCHQ, but could be broadened to include areas such as training with doctors, the police, the fire service and the energy sector.

She suggests those selected would spend two years within their specific area, comprising one year of training and another 12 months of service.

Afterwards each person would take on a reserve status if they decide against signing up full time.

Over to you, Asmara.