Reintroduction of compulsory military service: how realistic is this in Belgium?
With the recent explosions in the Crimea and rumours that Russia is recruiting volunteers for the war in Ukraine, the conflict in the region seems far from over. Meanwhile, the Polish population indicates to be in favour of compulsory military service, while Latvia already announced to reintroduce it next year. Even if Belgium were to reintroduce compulsory military service, it does not seem immediately feasible.
According to Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder (PS), Belgium is not ready to reintroduce compulsory military service because our country lacks the means, personnel and infrastructure. It is already thirty years ago, more specifically in 1992, that Belgium suspended military service. The duration of that duty varied between six months and three years.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the number of professional soldiers in Belgium fell from 60,000 to 25,000, which also led to the closure of several army barracks. Although then Defence Minister Leo Delcroix (CVP, now CD&V) abolished the law, conscription can be reactivated if there is a parliamentary majority in favour.
If Belgium was to introduce military service now, it would take months before our soldiers would be ready to go to war. Some time ago, former colonel Roger Housen told Knack that as commander of the Leopoldsburg armoured infantry battalion, he needed months to get soldiers ready.
"Even the lowest level of that battalion needed at least 13 to 16 months to be sufficiently trained. A military service that long is socially unattainable."
Housen is against reactivating conscription and calls it an 'organised waste of money'.
"Warfare has become so complex, and weapons systems so high-tech, that a candidate soldier cannot be trained within six months," he said.
Gilbert Nuytten, retired lieutenant colonel, also told Het Nieuwsblad that reintroducing conscription is out of date.
"Young people would no longer put up with not being paid for their work. So I think a reintroduction would be unaffordable."
With the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, more and more Poles are in favour of reintroducing conscription. Poland, which borders Ukraine, abolished it in 2009. Now more than half of Poles say they support its reintroduction. In addition, 78 percent are in favour of military training for civilians. Only 15 percent were strongly opposed to the reintroduction of compulsory military service.
At the beginning of July, Latvia, which borders Russia, reintroduced military service. Since 2007, the Latvian army consists of professional soldiers and volunteers of the National Guard. The new compulsory military service applies only to men and will come into effect in 2023.
The reintroduction of compulsory military service has also been discussed in our neighbouring countries. In Germany, right-wing parties in particular are in favour of the reintroduction, while left-wing parties prefer not to. In Germany, compulsory military service was only abolished in 2011. In the Netherlands, the government had already let slip that the army needs more adaptability, speed and perseverance. The latter could only be achieved if compulsory attendance is activated.
"We have to do what we should have done already, which is to build a full-fledged European defence pillar that can act as a deterrent and that can restore the political balance within NATO in the relationship between the EU and Russia," David Criekemans, professor of international politics at UAntwerpen, previously told HLN. "If you are confronted with certain problems in your foreign policy, then you also have the right to speak because you have certain capacities behind you. That is more effective than building up a gigantic army," he concluded.
© BELGA PHOTO HATIM KAGHAT - The Belgian army detachment in Cincu, Romania holds an exercise on Tuesday 07 June 2022.