Peace Time: December 25, 2004

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: One of the most commonly held misconceptions about armies, especially among people who have never served in the military, is that conscription produces lower-quality troops than an all-volunteer force. However, this is not always true. The most common examples pointed to are the United States and Great Britain, both of which have strong, professional, all-volunteer forces and have not had conscription for over 30 years. 

Whether conscript soldiers are well-trained and motivated depends on a number of factors. Certainly, conscripts that are faced with poor equipment, poor leadership, poor training, poor discipline, and corruption in the ranks are bound to perform poorly in combat. Probably the best example of this is the Russian soldier in the two Chechen wars, where many of the troops were either alcoholic, suicidal, on drugs, or all of the above. But these standards apply to all combat troops, be they conscripts or volunteers. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have had conscription since the founding of the country and are considered to be among the best in the world. Why? The same thing that makes the American and British armies so successful: good equipment, good training, and good leadership. The IDFs officer and NCO corps is particularly good and training focuses on motivating troops in battle and taking the initiative. The Israelis have a system where essentially every officer was first an enlisted man and an NCO. For example, after basic training and completion of their branch school, a certain number of conscripts are selected to attend tank commander courses from which they become sergeants. Afterwards, the graduates are given the option of obtaining a commission. They would then return to their units as platoon commanders. This not only helps reduce elitism in the IDf, but also fosters a close bond between enlisted men, NCOs, and officers. 

An excellent example of a conscript system with serious drawbacks is the old Soviet Red Army. All Soviet men were conscripted for two years upon their 18th birthday, just like the Israelis. Although Soviet soldiers were generally well-drilled and trained in basic combat skills, the absence of a real NCO corps was a major pitfall. In the Soviet system, still used in Syria and a few other countries, the NCOs job is basically just to supervise training. All real responsibility was delegated to the officers. A wide gulf existed between enlisted men and their NCOs and the officer corps. Officers were generally drawn from the upper classes of society, were Slavic Russians, and received better clothing, equipment, and pay than their subordinates. Few, if any officers, were from non-Slavic republics. 

The duration of service is another factor that determines the quality of draftee soldiers. In Israel and Egypt, conscripts serve for at least two years, which is long enough to teach and develop high-quality combat skills. Four years is ideal, but few countries keep their conscripts for that long. In other countries, however, the duration of service is much shorter, only a year or so. Many times, such soldiers are poorly-trained and perform poorly in combat, such as the Argentine troops in the 1982 Falklands war, where most of the Argentine troops were one-year draftees with only two or three months of training. Colombia also uses a short-term draft system, with conscripts serving between 12-18 months. Not enough time to teach much at all before the next batch of raw recruits comes in. Only countries with larger defense budgets, like Finland and Greece, can get away with this, but even then, a minimum of at least two years service is still better. Greece makes up for their short mandatory service time with an exceptional NCO and officer corps to lead their men. Basically, the idea of conscripts being bad troops really isnt true. Just like anything else in the military, it takes time and practice to develop essential skills and good combat performance require competent leadership. 

 


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