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Mandatory Military Conscription in the UK: Examining Possibilities

With thanks to the 24-hour nature of contemporary news coverage, the world feels less stable than ever before. Constant reports from the frontlines in Ukraine, and missives sent from under rocket fire in besieged Gaza, together make for a tapestry of violence which seems destined to land at our shores. Russia’s continued threats to the West at large have led to a dour atmosphere in the UK, with warfare feeling inevitable – and talks of conscription reaching the airwaves. But will conscription actually happen in the UK?

Will Conscription Return to the UK?

In short, conscription will not be returning to the UK any time soon. Max Blain, spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, confirmed as much after an ex-Army chief suggested such measures may be necessary, declaring that the government had ‘no intention’ of introducing them. Still, conversation has been sparked around the notion, with some right-wing pundits of the opinion that such a measure would be not only beneficial but wise.

National Security and Defensive Preparedness

The leading argument for mandatory conscription is, of course, to improve military preparedness in the event of large-scale warfare – or, at least, to improve the defensive capabilities of the UK as an island nation and ally to other nations. The Armed Forces have shrunk in number over the past few years, adding further fuel to the fires stoked by many proponents of conscription as an emergency measure. However, shrinking personnel numbers are more of a purposeful move than many understand.

Smaller personnel numbers mean less money spent on training, as more qualified candidates can be selected from the jump. This enables military forces to be more agile in their deployment and ambitions, making strategic operations more successful and contributing to a better defensive position.

Public Opinion

There is another spanner in the works of a mandatorily-expanded military, though – and indeed the possibility of growing military numbers voluntarily, outside of potential conflict. Military duty, whether active or simply on-base, can lead to injury and chronic health conditions. Military solicitors are already commonly engaged in cases regarding preventable injuries and the onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Though such claims are not overly common, they nonetheless speak to an Armed Forces not fully capable of looking after its own. Extrapolated outwards, the public appetite for risking health is low. Besides, public opinion generally tends towards pacifism, and today’s societies are less inclined to support conscription measures than prior generations.

Political Will

It is for this reason that the UK government is not considered to have a mandate for requiring conscription in the future. Such a policy would be regarded authoritarian, even draconian in today’s liberal age. Any attempts to require national service would be met with fierce resistance and a threat to power, leading governments instead to defer to existing military advice on the likelihood of expanded military numbers being necessary to begin with.