From 2023, the Ministry of Defence is proposing to gradually introduce mandatory National Defence Service in Latvia within five years. From January 1, 2023, the first phase of implementation will take place, for which it will be possible to apply voluntarily. It is planned that after a five-year transition period, the service will be compulsory for men aged 18 to 27, while it will be voluntary for women in this age group. The Ministry’s offer provides that it will be possible to voluntarily choose one of four types of service: national defence service, national guard, platoon commander’s course at a university, or alternative service. On the other hand, experts point out that the plan proposed by the ministry is driven by political goals, will be expensive and will not help to achieve the goals of national defence, which the country intends to achieve in the long term.
The professional military service has made it possible to turn the Latvian army into a high-quality, Western NATO army equipped with new and modern equipment. However, the new security situation means that it is necessary to think not only about strengthening the combat capabilities of the defence forces, but also about building reserves. Currently, five brigades have been established in Latvia – four National Guard brigades and one professional army brigade – which are not filled. The armed forces are rapidly learning new military equipment, they need new, knowledgeable people who could participate in these processes. Therefore, a decision has been made not to rely only on the professional military service and the National Guard, but also to form the National Defence Service, which will be mandatory for men aged 18 to 27.
I Offer of the Ministry of Defence
The service is expected to be voluntary from 2023, followed by a transition period to compulsory service. The information provided to the media by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) shows that the defence service will be gradually introduced over five years. From January 1, 2023, the first phase of implementation will take place, for which it will be possible to apply voluntarily.
It is expected that recruitment to the service will take place twice a year – on January 1 and July 1. The MoD will develop a mechanism for organizing recruitment that would be transparent and ensure fair selection.
It is planned that after a five-year transition period, the service will be compulsory for men aged 18 to 27. However, if a person at the age of 18 is still studying in a secondary school or a vocational educational institution, then the person will be called into the service after graduating from the educational institution. On the other hand, women between the ages of 18 and 27 will be able to apply voluntarily to the National Defence Service, as envisaged by the MoD.
The offer of the MoD provides that there will be an opportunity to voluntarily choose one of four types of service:
- State Defence Service;
- National Guard (contract for 5 years, 20 days a year);
- conducts the commander’s course at university;
- alternative service.
The MoD’s offer also provides that the service will last 11 months and everyone is entitled to a total of one month of free time. Incentive service includes three months of basic soldier training, three months of military specialty training, and five months of service in the National Armed Forces. Also, the service is offered five days a week with the possibility to spend holidays at home. At the same time, an alternative service is planned, which provides for work in the institutions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Health, or Welfare.
It is planned that only citizens of Latvia would be admitted to the service and the persons would also have to meet the health requirements, which are analogous to those set by the National Guard. The offer also provides that social guarantees will be provided to trainees in the service. It is planned that they will receive compensation of up to 400 euros per month, food and living in the barracks, as well as access to sports infrastructure.
In the first year of implementation of the National Defence Service, it is planned to attract approximately 1,000 citizens – 500 in each enlistment, and the Mechanized Infantry Brigade of the Ground Forces will be the leading unit of the armed forces in the implementation of training.
II Expert’s Opinions on the Compulsory Military Service
Opinions of experts and the public are divided about the idea put forward by the MoD. This proposal has been discussed with the President of the State, Egils Levits, who believes that the mandatory service is a good offer, because the country needs to increase its defence capabilities due to the geopolitical situation. Alongside this, the presence of the country’s allies will also increase. It has the potential to ensure Latvia’s security in accordance with the unstable situation in neighbouring countries, so the president emphasized that this proposal is supportable.
Defence Minister Artis Pabriks said that the professional service and the National Guard are no longer enough to protect Latvia and deter Russia in the event of a threat. As Minister Pabriks said, there is an interest in creating a new social contract between the citizen on the one hand and the Latvian state and nation on the other. “If society wants rights and freedoms to continue to apply to it, then it must also participate in the defence of the state,” the minister reasoned.
In the initial stages of the service’s implementation, in the first two years, existing state budget resources will be sufficient, but in the middle of the process, an additional 120 million euros might be needed, Pabriks said, so MoD will call on the government and the Saeima to support this plan. Gradual introduction of mandatory national defence service would, on the one hand, improve both military-patriotic education and the national defence system. However, on the other hand, one cannot fail to notice that this is also a purely political step without serious justification, according to Ilga Kreituse, a professor at Riga Stradins University and a political scientist.
Professor Kreituse feels that this is more of a political statement and a campaign statement at this point. Because there are some models, but there is practically nothing about their implementation, financing, specialists who will be associated with it, how it will be realized.
Military defence expert and former commander of the National Armed Forces, Gaidis Andrejs Zeibots, did not express great enthusiasm for the plan: “This information clearly and strictly did not show the goal. The minister’s intention was said, but there was no goal to achieve the intention, and this must be clarified.” Secondly, compulsory service does not and has never increased the capabilities of the armed forces. The compulsory service is needed to prepare reserves for the long term and this service in any country is extremely expensive.
Professor Ilga Kreituse also does not believe that this step will cause unrest among young people. But considering how the voter is basically a person of the older generation who believes that discipline and order are necessary, and the young people look at the elections with a non-serious attitude, then maybe such a move on the part of Minister Pabriks could give him some advantage in addition to the current positive assessment.
To sum up, the MoD’s plan for the gradual introduction of the mandatory national defence service is evaluated differently. Both political scientists and military defence experts, as well as the public, evaluate this idea as more negative, considering that, first of all, the initiative may be driven by political goals, considering the 14th parliamentary elections, which will take place in October this year. Also, military experts have emphasized that the long-term goals set by the MoD cannot be realistically achieved with compulsory military service, and in order to achieve these goals even partially, it will be necessary to invest large sums of money. The biggest failure of Latvian politics is that ideas are expressed, but there is no thought of how to implement them practically. From the experience of other countries, it can be seen that compulsory military service today does not bring the same benefit as it used to, so investing in an idea that the majority of the public is dissatisfied with is irrational from the point of view of politics and public satisfaction. Considering that the youth are currently more focused on the summer and do not think about what will be introduced, it is likely that as 2023 approaches, dissatisfaction could arise in the youth community.
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Šo rakstu sagatavoja Latvijas Zinātņu akadēmijas Ekonomikas institūts, tas ir tapis sadarbībā ar China-CEE Institute un ir China-CEE Institute intelektuālais īpašums.
This briefing was written by the Institute of Economics of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with the China-CEE Institute, and is the intellectual property of the China CEE-Institute.