05 November 2007

Compulsory Military Service

Fostering national unity in diversity through compulsory military service. Although no one is saying so explicitly the Draft Bill being prepared for parliamentary debate some time early next year will require all 'men' between the ages of 18 and 45 to enlist in a military reserve. Presumably this will be any branch of the armed services, but not necessarily of the prospective reservists choosing.

The Bill is being drafted so the actual or specific content is still subject to debate and change as the process motors along. Nevertheless, it seems whether you want to or not all Indonesian men are destined to become part of Indonesia's war machine. A system of 'on call' reservists ready, willing, and able to deploy to whether the Government thinks they are needed. I guess it is somewhat reassuring that one of the drafters has stated that reservists are not to be used in fighting terrorism or domestic separatist movements. However, there have been plenty of US reservists deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 4 or 5 years. The difference here being that the US does not use compulsory military service to boost military numbers.

Being short on detail means that at best one can only speculate. But hopefully the Bill will include benefits such as educational assistance to those who have to enlist, practical skills training aside from weapons handling, and other useful, in the broader community, skills.

There is a public policy possibility here in that the compulsory military service program could be used to fill shortfalls in other Government programs such as education. It would be a little cynical to try and hide Indonesia's unemployment figures by forcing the unemployed into compulsory military service. Yet, a program of this nature could conceivably be used to provide vocational skills, perhaps even re-skilling retrenched workers, for re-entry into the workforce.

Not everyone would be happy that these skills were gained through compulsory military service but from the Government's perspective it is simply killing two birds with one stone!

The idea that all countries, as some researchers have suggested, have compulsory military service is simply untrue. Almost all states have some former of military reserves where the obligation generally is one weekend a month and two weeks a year, but this is not compulsory.

It will be interesting to see how the Draft Bill deals with meeting the military's exacting physical fitness standards. Perhaps compulsory military service may even become a public health issue as compulsory military service may ensure that even the sedentary get some exercise.

May the force be with you (or at least you will be with the force irrespective of what you want!) when you are asking yourself "...not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

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