Wednesday 19th of June 2024

the UK is on the march.....

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week found a new and ridiculous way to announce a national election by standing in front of No.10 Downing St in drenching rain, without an umbrella.

But the campaign quickly grew more serious. Sunak’s first election promise was that his government would reinstate compulsory national service for all 18-year-olds. This is a bold idea for an unpopular government to stake its future on. Did Sunak do this because of the seriousness of the military threats to Britain or because of the desperation of the British Tory party to win votes?

 

BY Peter Hartcher 

 

Around 40 per cent of all nations on earth have some form of national service for young people, and the percentage is growing. Such schemes vary enormously. Not all are compulsory; not all involve a military element.

The plan Sunak proposes for Britain, for example, is a hybrid. It’d be compulsory for all 18-year-olds, but only one in 10 would do military service for a year. The other 90 per cent would perform some community service.

 

The concept of national service for young people had been passing out of fashion with the end of the Cold War but today is building momentum as the threat from autocratic regimes has returned. In Europe, for instance, in the last half-dozen years, France, Sweden, Latvia and Lithuania have announced the reintroduction of such schemes, and Germany is considering it.

After two centuries of peace in Sweden, the country’s Minister for Civil Defence, Carl-Oskar Bohlin, in January said: “Have you considered whether you have time to join a voluntary defence organisation? If not – get moving.”

And, of course, Ukraine introduced compulsory military service in great haste, but only when Russian missiles slammed into its cities two years ago.

Britain’s General Patrick Sanders, chief of the general staff, used Ukraine as a case study to support his own call for British citizens to be trained and ready for war: “Ukraine brutally illustrates that regular armies start wars – citizen armies win them.”

In Asia, Taiwan has reintroduced one year of compulsory military service for 18-year-old men, joining Singapore and South Korea which have had such policies for generations.

In Australia, where national service has been imposed four times since Federation, it was last abolished in 1972 as the Vietnam War ground to its inevitable end. No political party is proposing to reinstate any kind of national service. Both Labor and Liberal have said that any such proposal would be put to the people in a plebiscite.

But note that last year’s defence strategic review concluded that the defence forces alone are not enough to defend Australia. The review called for a “whole of government” and even a “whole of nation” approach harnessing “all elements of national power”.

The review co-author, Professor Peter Dean of the US Studies Centre, says Australia is a long way from needing to reintroduce military service: “It’d be really expensive and what’s the return on that investment?” he poses.

 

But Australia increasingly is jittery about future US reliability. Dean cautions: “If Donald Trump is elected and starts to do really whacky things, these would be the detailed discussions you’d need to start having.”

John Blaxland from the ANU advocates a paid, volunteer national service scheme in Australia, not to train for war but to take pressure off those who are – the Australian Defence Force.

The defence strategic review called for the creation of a new government agency to deal with emergency and environmental responses so that the military could work on military responses. A wise proposal, but we’ve seen zero progress to date.

And Rishi Sunak’s reasoning for pitching compulsory national service? His Tory party has made defence a defining issue. It promises to raise Britain’s military spending from the equivalent of 2 per cent of GDP to 2.5 per cent by 2030, and portrays Labour as “weak” on defence.

 

In announcing his national service idea, Sunak made it seem he was doing the youth of Britain a favour: “Generations of young people have not had the opportunities or experience they deserve and there are forces trying to divide our society in this increasingly uncertain world.”

His plan would offer young people “the chance to learn real-world skills, do new things and contribute to their community and our country.” Strikingly, the prime minister made no reference to warfighting.

And there is evidence that national service can deliver benefits to a society other than military preparedness. A study of the social effects of conscription in Israel by Ori Swed, professor of sociology at the University of Texas, found that service in the Israel Defence Forces “cultivates new skills (human capital), new social networks (social capital), and new social norms and codes of behaviour (cultural capital)“. Taken together, this generates “military capital”, they write.

And a 2014 multi-country study by Nicolette Rose at Old Dominion University in Virginia found that military service with a civil option reduced burglary and financial crime by boosting employment prospects, and increased social bonding.

 

Can it save Sunak? With Labour polling a commanding 44 per cent of the vote and the Tories a lame 23, according to the Financial Times tracking average, the Tories have no realistic chance.

It’s certainly not a policy to win the youth vote – only 10 per cent of young voters like the idea, according to a YouGov poll. The idea is popular with older, conservative voters.

In other words, Sunak is pitching national service to shore up the Tory base, which is under pressure from the right-wing Reform UK party, and not to actually win the election. No wonder Labour rejected the idea as a desperate gimmick. And you’d have to wonder whether a bloke who can’t organise an umbrella in a rainstorm can be trusted to organise an army of 18-year-olds.

Still, as long as the world has Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un and the ayatollahs of Tehran, the idea of national service in democracies will not go away.

Peter Hartcher is international editor.

https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/a-man-who-can-t-organise-an-umbrella-can-t-possibly-organise-a-teenage-army-20240527-p5jgum.html

 

OF COURSE HARTCHER HAD TO MENTION THE FOES: Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un and the ayatollahs of Tehran... NETANYAHU AND BIDEN, AND MACRON AND OLAF ARE FRIENDS ON HORSES....

 

 

donkey Darby....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytB1bTxXlIY

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See also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLay8Cm9h04

 

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