Questions on Military Conscription

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Military conscription is the mandatory enlistment of civilians into some sort of national service, involving a form of service in an army. Using Singapore as an empirical example in this paper, I argue that military conscription is necessary for the survival of the state because in this anarchical and unpredictable international system, wars are inevitable, therefore conscription aids in building a plausible military deterrence force. Furthermore, military conscription is desirable to maintain political stability, which is a prerequisite to economic growth as well as a means of fostering social cohesion. In the context of Singapore, conscription takes the form of a two-years long national service stint for every 18-year-old male citizen and a reservist commitment until the age of 40.

Essentially, neorealism affirms that wars and conflicts are unavoidable due to an anarchical international system where there is an absence of a central, global authority to restrain all politicians’ war mongering tendencies, resulting in states having the need to fend for themselves to ensure their survival . Therefore, states needs to build up military strength through conscription to safeguard its survival if war is ever to break out. Henceforth, amassing enough military proficiency will increase the disbursement of aggressions & make any abeyant adversaries hesitate before attacking. Apply neorealism to the Singapore context; geopolitically, Singapore is an infinitesimal “Chinese state in a Malay sea” which it views as a conceivable ideological threat. Since 1971, Singapore has practised the “poison shrimp” doctrine extracted from Israel’s doctrine of defence, which metaphorically meant the need to adopt a sizable defence budget and a remarkable military arsenal to the level of making it adequately repulsive for any potential aggressors “to take a bite of the morsel”. Moreover, instances such as when Former Indonesian President Habibie scornfully mocked Singapore as "just a little red dot" undoubtedly highlights Singapore’s vulnerability. Evidently, it furthers the case that military deterrence is cardinal as Singapore will never know when that threat will occur so there is a need to send a strong deterrence signal to these neighbouring countries that it is a strong force to reckon with, so that the neighbouring countries will contemplate before ever staging an assault. Therefore, conscription ensures the sovereignty and security of the nation.

Moreover, different circumstances faced by different states would mean that alternatives to military conscription would not suit some states, leaving them no choice but to conscript for the survival of the state. The alternatives to conscription, which are either a full-time professional army, comprising of a pool of full-time career soldiers not disbanded during times of peace or the hiring of mercenary armies such as Blackwater Worldwide used during the Iraq War by the United States (US). In the case of Singapore, the small population size does not permit it to have a large standing army beyond its present size of 72,500 strong, which includes conscripts. Coupled with Singapore’s sharping declining population as well as low birth rates , a full-time professional army would clearly not suffice. Moreover, the questionable and unassured loyalty of mercenary armies would mean that Singapore is left with no choice to conscript to have a sizable army at its disposal. The advantages of conscription as opposed to mercenary armies is substantiated by Tilly, who asserts that with the gradual transition toward monetization and commodification, the states’ own citizenry under the control of its own aristocracy, often fought more superiorly, faithfully and economically than mercenary armed forces which was previously preferable. In order to win wars to safeguard the sovereignty of the state, conscription soon replaced these inferior mercenary armies. Hence, unlike the US whereby there is a huge...
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