Conscription and European Security: A Theoretical First-Step
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Issue 1:1

Mitchell A. Belfer

Conscription and European Security: A Theoretical First-Step

In the 18 year process of European reintegration, military conscription – as a feature of the European political scene – has largely vanished. The evaporation of sizeable, conscripted militaries reflects the widespread belief that conscription is a political, economic and military anachronism reminiscent of times of great continental insecurity and international militarism which are no longer considered valid sources of European identity. Instead, security identities in post-Cold War Europe are increasingly forged by cosmopolitan values such as democratic internationalism, human rights protection, legal-secularism, political transparency (including the democratisation of foreign policy) and the social market economic system.

It seems that Europe is ready to bury and forget Cold War reminders as the EU boldly (if cautiously) extends and deepens its regional and international commitments. However, as this work argues, some Cold War conceptions are better served public and polished. Conscription is one such conception. EU interests – its ability to fulfill its new-found international responsibilities – would be greatly enhanced by recycling and reshaping, rather than abandoning conscription to suit the changing international political environment.

There are suspiciously few definitions of conscription in international relations literature. Most discussions, essays and books which deal with conscription simply avoid academically defining it and tend to rely on popular dictionary definitions. Some international relations theorists simply discuss the phenomenon without defining it at all, in the hope that a reasonable understanding may naturally emerge.

In all, most intellectual examinations of conscription lack a robust definition and instead simply declare it mandatory (or forced) military obligations, call-up, or in American political jargon, ‘the draft.’ Christopher Jehn and Zachary Selden’s work entitled, “The End of Conscription in Europe?” serves as a strong example of this. These authors immerse readers into a political and economic narrative of conscription, which while very insightful, spends too much time evaluating shifts in European perceptions of conscription without fully explaining what conscription really entails. They are hardly alone. A level of subject reification is present in nearly all surveys and theoretical articles focussed on conscription.

(Re)Defining conscription is essential. Theories of peace- and war-time conscription may help paint a more vivid picture of international society and the division of responsibility within it. Thus, on the theoretical side, (re)defining conscription narrows inquiries and allows the degree of focus required to explore the murky and nuanced implications. On the practical side, this paper advocates the wide-scale reintroduction of conscription programmes throughout the members of the European Union. Such a position will, hopefully, spark a much needed debate over international society and Europe’s ability to carve out a niche of ‘civilian power.’ (Re)Defining conscription will, it is hoped, assuage critics of peace-time conscription by clearly and unambiguously projecting the scope and boundaries of such programmes.

2020 - Volume 14 Issue 2