The Need for a Mandatory National Service Program

The United States has a history of big, bold initiatives. Americans as individuals, however, have largely forgotten them. The New Deal is barely taught in school, most students do not understand why the United States fought World War II, and the Apollo space program might be remembered as an okay Tom Hanks film. Yet, big challenges and ideas have been at the core of American exceptionalism—itself a barely-remembered concept—since the founding of the Republic.

Today, in the shadow of a devastating pandemic and what might have been the most divisive election in the nation’s history, we are again faced with very serious challenges. But unlike most of the earlier challenges—threats to our freedom, economic hardships, natural disasters—we do not see ourselves as “one nation under God.” We are divided, mistrustful, angry, and probably far more fearful than we want to admit.

The Biden administration holds hope for many, but is distrusted by almost as many—not a particularly encouraging picture. Pundits talk about the need for political bipartisanship, but that requires politicians to actually cross the aisle and compromise. The rhetoric trumps the action. Even initiatives such as rebuilding crumbling U.S. infrastructure—that supposedly enjoy nearly universal support—cannot gain traction.

Is there anything that can break the logjam? Optimists believe that those currently in positions of political power will find compromise on the margins—probably starting with infrastructure. But on bigger issues such as health care? Not likely anytime soon.

Our best hope for a return to normalcy—to listening, to reason, to compromise—might be with the next generation. But what can we do to increase the chances that people will be tolerant of opposing viewpoints, different perspectives, unconventional ideas?

One answer—often repeated but rarely acted on—is to promote shared experiences. There is talk about having a “national dialogue” about important, difficult subjects—race relations being the most commonly heard. But we don’t talk to people outside our families and small circles of friends. We don’t seek out people in different socioeconomic classes, nor are we likely to invite them in.

Unless we have to.

National Service in the United States

We know—from more than 100 years of experience—that the best way to get people from a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives to interact is through compulsory service. Several times in our nation’s history we have seen the military draft bring people together in common cause. People who otherwise would rarely, if ever, have contact have had to work together, listen to one another, help each other to achieve a common objective. They might not have liked each other, but they served together, shared experiences, and were exposed to ideas, perspectives, biases, language, food, places, tasks that they would never have otherwise seen. And we became a better nation because of it.

The military draft is not coming back. Nor should we abandon the very successful all-volunteer military. But we can use the model to do something bigger and almost as important: We can use mandatory national service to rebuild the nation.

For more than 60 years we have seen effective voluntary programs: The Peace Corps of the 1960s was followed by AmeriCorps in the 1990s. The Peace Corps has just 7,334 volunteers annually, and only 240,000 since its inception. AmeriCorps involves about 75,000 young people annually, and slightly more than 180,000 join the military every year. That is more than 260,000 young people volunteering, a tiny percentage of those in the age cohort: there are about 4.2 million people in each one-year group, or about 25 million in the 18–22 cohort. So, bravo and thanks to those young people who choose to volunteer, but they represent 1 percent of their peers. Voluntary service is nice and noble, but it is not actually bringing most people together.

The expansion of national service is not a new subject. Congressional leaders and major think-tanks have repeatedly proposed models of universal service. The importance and benefit of service is not disputed and is perhaps accepted now more than ever. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Chris Coons (D-CT) introduced an expansion of national service programs to respond and recover from the current crisis. This bill, the bipartisan CORPS Act , points to national service as a path to address urgent community needs—public health, hunger, education, conservation, behavioral health. And, importantly, the bill highlights national service as an opportunity to create hundreds of thousands of meaningful employment opportunities.

The Aspen Institute, Service Year Alliance, and Brookings Institution all have bolstered this push for voluntary, but hopefully universal, service with compelling data that illustrates the ways in which an expanded ecosystem of service would benefit the United States, both as a nation and as individuals. However convincing the evidence may be, proposals for voluntary programs are just not enough. Not enough young people choose to volunteer.

Make Service Mandatory

Leaders and thinkers from across the political spectrum have proposed universal service as a means of uniting our country through shared experience. Retired Army General Stanley McChrystal, former head of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, has been advocating for expanded service opportunities and chairing the Service Year Alliance at the Aspen Institute. National service has been the subject of op-eds in publications as diverse as The New York Times and The Hill . Times opinion writer David Brooks’ “We Need National Service. Now” was among his most popular columns; and my pieces in The Hill generated more “shares” than any article I have ever written. And, perhaps as a testament to its appeal to the younger generation, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg advocated for universal service in his presidential campaign .

Surveys reveal there is strong support among most segments of the U.S. population for a program requiring all young people to serve a year or two in some service capacity. One recent poll conducted just after the 2020 election found that 80 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 22 support an 18-month program of mandatory national service. And, significantly, 88 percent of their parents support it too.

There also is broad agreement that military service should remain voluntary—those who wish to carry a gun and put themselves in harm’s way would have that option. But service—whether as a teacher’s assistant, a nurse’s aide, clearing forests, or rebuilding roads—would be mandatory. Everyone would serve, with no exemptions or favoritism in assignments. As one pundit put it: everyone would be equally unhappy with their task.

Op-eds, polling, congressional initiatives, and think-tank proposals all reflect the growing demand for a national conversation on the topic. Ask Americans whether they favor mandatory national service, and most will say, “It depends on the details.” There are dozens of questions, options, iterations, combinations. Conversations must start somewhere; and this is my proposed starting point:

This design is built on ten questions. By answering each, providing some context, and a rationale for the recommended option, we have the framework for a plan. The key questions are:

1. Who would serve?

3. For how long?

4. What would people be doing?

5. Where would people serve?

6. Would people have any choice about what work they did?

7. Would people get paid?

8. What if someone did not serve or successfully complete service?

9. What will this cost?

10.  Who is going to oversee this program?

Some answers follow.

Who Would Serve?

The simple answer is everyone. There would be no exemptions and very few deferments. The rich could not buy their way out. There would be no student deferments—as there were during the Vietnam draft era—and very few medical exemptions. What is not so simple is how to deal with cases on the margins. For example, we would certainly make reasonable accommodations for the disabled; but what would qualify as severely disabled and trigger an exemption? And who would make that determination?

Some categories of people—for example, the very best athletes whose peak performance years typically correspond to their early 20s (Tom Brady notwithstanding)—might require a bit of flexibility in the types of jobs they perform. The rule should be: no special treatment. We are not talking about five years of commitment; that would deprive them of their livelihood during their prime years. I am proposing—spoiler alert—just 18 months. Young people—even those with special talents— will be asked to make small sacrifices for the common good.

When Would People Serve?

Most countries that have mandatory national service programs require everyone to begin their service at a set time—either in the year of their 18th birthday, or immediately after graduating from high school. At first glance, that seems like a pretty reasonable way to structure an American program. But it may not be the best way.

An alternative would be to require registration before one’s 18th birthday, and then have a more flexible opt-in start date at any time before a person’s 22nd birthday. There are reasonably plausible rationales for this approach.

The first is flexibility. Not everyone will be doing the same service job. Some people may join the military—which would remain a completely voluntary “branch” of the mandatory program. And the military’s training pipeline would benefit from a bit of flexibility. Second, some people would benefit from serving when they are at the younger end of the age range while others might do better with a year or two of college (or work experience) under their belts. And having some people who are a bit older—and presumably more mature—could be a good thing.

But, again, the operative principle is that everyone is going to serve, and there can be a bit of flexibility for the common good.

How Long Will People Serve?

I propose 18 months. Why 18 months? Because it is longer than a year and less than two years—the two other most commonly suggested time commitments.

Compulsory service models generally reflect this timeline. Some of the most demanding countries, such as Israel, require several years of service. The Israeli Defense Force requires a 30-month obligation for men. Others, such as France, require just one month of service for high school students during the summer. But most countries, such as Finland, Norway, and Singapore, require service in the one- to two-year range.

Eighteen months gives people time to learn their jobs and make substantive contributions doing them. It is long enough to break bad (or nonexistent) work habits and develop new routines and skills. Yet, it is not so long to be so disruptive to people’s educational or professional plans.

What Would People Be Doing?

Should people be cleaning neighborhoods, caring for the elderly, assisting in pre-k classrooms, building low-income housing or . . . fill in the blank? What is not mentioned in the above—and in any anticipated list of priorities—is military service. It is a fundamental precept that service in the military should continue to be voluntary and would, of course, constitute one of the options available for satisfying a national service commitment.

AmeriCorps already has a model of service priorities in the United States. They fall into six priority areas: disaster services, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families. In the most recent year, AmeriCorps volunteers focused their efforts heavily on the COVID-19 response. Volunteers ran contact tracing, staffed testing sites, and worked in food banks. The climate crisis has been another focus of AmeriCorps service in the recent years. Members work in environmental conservation. They respond to and help prepare for natural disasters.   

America’s needs are always evolving and priorities are often forced to shift. As we decide what issues are most pressing—and where national service participants should be assigned—AmeriCorps’ existing model can serve as a framework to place young people in service roles around the country

Where Would People Serve?

For the most part, it would be better for people to work as far away from their hometowns as possible; and in environments different from their neighborhoods. People from large cities would benefit from working in rural areas. Kids who have never (or rarely) set foot in big cities would benefit from being assigned to jobs in the inner city.

The rationale for suggesting this non-comfort-zone approach is simple: Participants would be better off being exposed to people and environments unlike their own. If an important objective of the program is to give people an opportunity to meet, work with, and hopefully understand people different from themselves—and create the basis for future common ground—people need to get out of their comfort zones. That means physically, emotionally, socially, and geographically.

Would People Have a Choice about What Work They Did?

The answer to this question should be yes, but with the realistic expectation that most people will not get the job they request. In fact, there is a strong argument to be made—and a temptation to say—that jobs should be randomly assigned. There would be less gaming of the system.

Men who opt for civil service in Switzerland organize their own assignments. Once a citizen’s application for civil service is approved, conscripts apply to positions that interest them, and they organize the terms of service with their host organization or institution.

AmeriCorps is similar. In the application process, people identify specific programs, positions, and locations they are interested in. (They do not always get their choice.) Could this level of choice be maintained in a scaled and mandatory version of the system? It seems unlikely.

Would People Get Paid?

Yes, people would receive a subsistence allowance, in addition to room and board. But it should not even approach minimum wage. In addition, a small payment of $100 per week should be put aside into a mandatory, untouchable savings account that would become available to the participant on completion of service. (That amount saved would yield $10,000.)

In its present form, AmeriCorps offers a small allowance and benefits to all who serve. Members are paid a living allowance of approximately $13.00 per day and are paid biweekly a sum of $181.44. Other benefits include housing, meals, limited health care benefits, childcare options, and uniforms. On successful completion of service, AmeriCorps members also are eligible for an education award of $4,725. This award is intended to pay for qualified school expenses or to repay qualified student loans.

What if Someone Did Not Serve or Successfully Complete Service?

There should be consequences for failing to serve or successfully complete service. When the basic plan was surveyed in the fall of 2020, the “stick” that was suggested for failing to serve was the person would be ineligible for any federal student loan or mortgage guarantee program. Since then, several people have commented that such punishment would only really impact less affluent people. Kids from rich families are far less dependent on government loan programs.

Consequently, the consequences would be expanded to include ineligibility to attend any college or university that receives federal funds.

What Will this Cost?

A rough, “back of the envelope” calculation of the cost of an 18-month program in which everyone participates; are paid a small $100 per week allowance and an additional $100 per week goes into a savings account; live in college-like dormitories and eat college-quality food; and receive health care is approximately $133 billion annually.


$132 billion is a lot of money. But, it is less than one-fifth the cost of annual military spending. The Department of Agriculture is the closest in size, spending $129 billion in fiscal year 2021. The 2021 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs is $235 billion, and the budget is $60 billion for the Department of Homeland Security.

Who Oversees this Program?

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), an independent government agency, currently oversees AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and other civilian service programs in the United States. I propose CNCS take on responsibility for this new mandatory program as well, because it already has relationships with the various state service commissions that implement AmeriCorps programs in communities across the country; and has relationships with the local agencies, and nonprofits that oversee the various AmeriCorps projects.

That is my outline of a national service program. Now it needs to be fleshed-out, debated, refined, and argued about some more. It is a starting point, not the finished design. Will it be enacted? That is for the American people to decide.

By Steve Cohen

Steve Cohen is an attorney at Pollock Cohen LLP in New York. He is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Naval Institute.

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Pro and Con: Mandatory National Service

Sailors attending information warfare courses at Information Warfare Training Command (IWTC) Corry Station march to class at Naval Air Station Pensacola Corry Station, Pensacola, Florida. These Sailors are just some of the many thousands training and preparing to defend America around the world as information warfare warfighters. September 30, 2019

To access extended pro and con arguments, sources, and discussion questions about whether the United States should have mandatory national service, go to .

Mandatory national service (also called compulsory service) is a requirement that people serve in the military or complete other works of service. Modern propositions for compulsory service envision that young Americans could join the military or do civilian projects such as teaching in low-income areas, helping care for the elderly, or maintaining infrastructure, among other ideas.

Proposals in the United States to implement compulsory service trace back to the 1800s. More recently, between 2003 and 2013, former US Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) made five unsuccessful attempts to pass the Universal National Service Act, which would have required all people in the United States between ages 18 and 42 to either serve in the military or perform civilian service related to national defense.

The US military draft , created during the Civil War, is one type of mandatory national service. However, although all male US citizens ages 18 to 25 must register with the Selective Service, the United States has an all-volunteer army and hasn’t drafted men into the military since 1973 when around 2.2 million men were drafted into the military during the Vietnam War. 

Public opinion on mandatory national service is split: 49% favored one year of required service for young Americans in a 2017 poll, while 45% were opposed. Among adults ages 18 to 29, who would be required to complete the service, 39% were for the proposal and 57% were against.

  • Mandatory national service would foster unity and bring people from diverse backgrounds together.
  • Compulsory service would save the government money and provide benefits to all citizens.
  • Performing national service would help young people mature and serve as a bridge to adulthood.
  • National service doesn't need to be mandatory because the volunteer system is booming.
  • Mandating national service violates the constitution and would infringe on the freedom to choose what to do with our lives.
  • A mandatory service program would be manipulated by the rich and unfairly harm others.

This article was published on July 8, 2021, at Britannica’s , a nonpartisan issue-information source.

Mandatory National Service – Top 3 Pros and Cons

Cite this page using APA, MLA, Chicago, and Turabian style guides

Mandatory national service (also called compulsory service) is a requirement, generally issued by the federal government, that people serve in the military or complete other works of service, most often as young people but age requirements vary. Modern propositions for compulsory service in the United States include young Americans serving in the military or working on civilian projects such as teaching in low-income areas, helping care for the elderly, or maintaining infrastructure, among other ideas. [ 2 ]

Proposals in the United States to implement compulsory service trace back to the 1800s. Perhaps the most popular early proposal can be found in the novel Looking Backward (1888) by  journalist Edward Bellamy . In what would now be called a “utopian fantasy,” Bellamy imagines a society in which mandatory service “is regarded as so absolutely natural and reasonable that the idea of its being compulsory has ceased to be thought of.” [ 44 ] [ 45 ]

In 1906, American philosopher and psychologist William James , while arguing for pacifism , suggested the conscription of men for service not in the military but in civic, social, and humanitarian programs: “The military ideals of hardihood and discipline would be wrought into the growing fiber of the people; no one would remain blind, as the luxurious classes now are blind, to man’s relations to the globe he lives on and to the permanently sour and hard foundations of his higher life. To coal and iron mines, to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to dishwashing, clothes-washing, and window-washing, to road-building and tunnel-making, to foundries and stoke-holes , and to the frames of skyscrapers would our gilded youths be drafted off, according to their choice, to get the childishness knocked out of them, and to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas. They would have paid their blood tax, done their own part in the immemorial human warfare against nature; they would tread the earth more proudly, the women would value them more highly, they would be better fathers and teachers of the following generation.” [ 46 ]

More recently, between 2003 and 2013, former U.S. Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) made five unsuccessful attempts to pass the Universal National Service Act, which would have required all people in the United States between ages 18 and 42 to either serve in the military or perform civilian service specifically related to national defense. [ 1 ] [ 34 ]

The Universal National Service Act reflects what most think of when faced with the phrase “mandatory national service”: the military draft. Also called conscription , the draft was created during the Civil War and is one type of mandatory national service. During the Civil War, the Union Army draft was controversial, resulting in the Draft Riot of 1863 . As Encyclopaedia Britannica explains, “Although labouring people in general supported the Northern war effort, they had no voice in Republican policy and occasionally deserted from the army or refused reenlistment. Because of their low wages, often less than $500 a year, they were particularly antagonized by the federal provision allowing more affluent draftees to buy their way out of the Federal Army for $300. Minor riots occurred in several cities, and when the drawing of names began in New York on July 11, 1863, mobs (mostly of foreign-born, especially Irish, workers) surged onto the streets, assaulting residents, defying police, attacking draft headquarters, and burning buildings. Property damage eventually totaled $1,500,000.” [ 41 ] [ 42 ]

The draft was suspended with the end of the Civil War in 1865 and was not reinstated until shortly after the United States entered World War I in Apr. 1917. Because the American military only had about 100,000 men, conscription was needed for American participation in the war. President Woodrow Wilson signed the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917, and about 2.8 million men were drafted. The draft initially required all men aged 21 to 30 to enroll, but it was expanded to all men aged 18 to 45. [ 41 ]

Now, all male US citizens ages 18 to 25 must simply register with the Selective Service . However, the United States has had an all-volunteer army and has not drafted men into the military since 1973; in the 1960s and 70s, some 2.2 million men were drafted into the military during the Vietnam War . For more on the U.S. Selective Service Acts, visit Encyclopaedia Britannica . [ 35 ] [ 36 ] [ 37 ]

Many countries require national military service of some or all citizens, including Brazil , Greece , Iran , Israel , North Korea , Russia , Singapore , South Korea , Thailand , Turkey , and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Requirements for each country vary; in Israel, for example, military service is mandatory for women, too. [ 43 ]

While the United States has never had a national service mandate other than selective military service, the closest analogues are jury duty and volunteer organizations like the Peace Corps and Teach for America .

Globally, a few countries have non-military national service. Nigeria has a social mandatory service requirement for college graduates: the National Youth Service Corps . Established on May 22 1973, the corps was created after the Nigerian Civil War (also called the Nigerian-Biafran War) for rebuilding the country. In Rwanda , the last Saturday of every month is called Umuganda, a compulsory community cleanup event for everyone aged 18 to 65 enforced by police presence and a ban on driving. [ 47 ] [ 48 ]

U.S. public opinion on mandatory national service is split: 49% favored one year of required service for young Americans in a 2017 poll, while 45% were opposed. Among adults ages 18 to 29, who would be required to complete the service, 39% were for the proposal and 57% were against. [ 3 ]

Should the United States Have Mandatory National Service?

Pro 1 Mandatory service provides a much-needed bridge to adulthood and maturity. “Many of today’s young people are floundering. They are uncertain about what they want to do with their lives. They need a structured opportunity that will allow them to feel needed and capable,” explains Isabel V. Sawhill, Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. [ 28 ] Compulsory military or social service would allow all young people to pursue personal development before starting college, entering the workforce, or otherwise managing adulthood. They would learn discipline and a healthier way of living. They would gain real-world skills while learning to socialize with diverse people from diverse backgrounds, breeding greater social understanding and empathy. [ 25 ] [ 26 ] [ 29 ] 98% of students who took a “gap year” between high school and college reported that the deferment helped their personal development, and 97% said it increased their maturity. Gap-year students also tend to have higher GPAs than their peers. [ 25 ] [ 26 ] “We know that we as a society need these services. I would argue that young Americans would be given a sense of maturity and competence by providing them,” argues Paula S. Fass, History Professor Emerita at the University of California at Berkeley. She advocates for 18- to 21-year-olds to complete two years of service either in the armed forces or in needy communities. [ 27 ] Read More
Pro 2 National security concerns require that more Americans serve their country. The U.S. military is suffering a years-long staffing crisis. Only about 9% of Americans who are service-aged were interested in serving in 2022, the lowest amount in 15 years. [ 50 ] The Army missed its recruiting goal by 15,000 people in 2022 and is on target to miss 2023’s goal by 20,000. [ 50 ] [ 51 ] “The risk is if the US military is too small to conduct the kinds of missions that it needs to conduct in future wars, that will go badly for the United States,” explains Nora Bensahel, senior fellow of the Merrill Center at Johns Hopkins. [ 50 ] The military being a “family business” exacerbates the recruitment shortages. Less than 1% of the U.S. population is in the military and almost 80% of new recruits had family already in the military. That means most Americans are completely disconnected from service. Michelle Kurilla, a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, questions whether “it’s healthy for a democracy to have the vast majority of its citizens with little connection to its armed forces.” [ 50 ] Former Marine Elliot Ackerman asks, “But could we blame civilians for their apathy? No one asked them to care about the wars. How to make them care? [One] answer was the draft. It’s become mine too.” [ 52 ] Moreover, “A truly American military, inclusive of all social classes, might cause politicians and voters to be more selective in choosing which battles are worth fighting and at what expense,” argues former draftee Joseph Epstein. “It would also have the significant effect of getting the majority of the country behind those wars in which we do engage.” [ 54 ] Finally, for those who are “unfit” to serve in the military, countless opportunities exist to support national defense in non-physically demanding ways, from serving in disaster preparedness to aiding the Red Cross and USO. With global threats only growing stronger, the U.S. needs both a stronger, larger military force and a stronger connection between American citizens and national service. Read More
Pro 3 Mandatory service fosters national unity and a greater sense of purpose. “National service, be it in the military, Peace Corps, or other public or private sector opportunities, breaks down the barriers of race, class, income, geography, and even language. Young adults are granted the opportunity to see their peers and fellow Americans as a member of their team,” according to Dan Glickman, former U.S. Representative (D-KS). [ 5 ] Around 30 countries have compulsory military service. Switzerland, which has four official languages and three major ethnic groups, bridges its divides with a mandatory national service program. The country is identified as one of the happiest places in the world by the United Nations. [ 6 ] [ 7 ] Gene Yaw, a Republican Pennsylvania state senator, recommended a two-year universal public service requirement to promote civility and understanding of what it means to be an American. “We cannot generate enthusiasm for our way of life when less than 2% of our population has put forth any effort for our country.” [ 8 ] Read More
Con 1 Volunteerism is a better experience than mandatory service. A whopping 80% of young Americans are “unfit” to serve in the military in 2023 because of drug use, weight issues, or other mental and physical ailments. [ 49 ] Conscripting unfit or unwilling people into the military would make the armed forces less efficient. Michael Lind, co-founder and fellow at the New America Foundation, states, “Most members of the military are satisfied with our professional soldiers and do not want to baby-sit teenagers who will leave the military after six months or two years of unsought, compulsory training.” We should not leave our national security to sulky young people who would rather do anything else. [ 14 ] Volunteers, however, are happier. 28% of millennials have volunteered for a total of 1.5 billion community service hours annually. And 26% of Gen Z, mostly just young kids at the time of the survey, said they already volunteered and 50% would like a job in volunteerism. [ 29 ] [ 30 ] There are limitless volunteer opportunities throughout the country for willing young people to help others and mature into adulthood. For example, since AmeriCorps was founded in 1993, over 800,000 participants have completed more than one billion service hours. Applications outpace funding and capacity and there are 15 qualified would-be volunteers for every available AmeriCorps spot. [ 10 ] [ 11 ] [ 12 ] [ 13 ] Read More
Con 2 Mandatory service results in draft dodging and an unfair burden on low-income and minority citizens. “The Vietnam-era draft . . . drew disproportionately from those of low socioeconomic backgrounds, while the children of the wealthy and influential were able to finagle exceptions.…[D]raft boards across the country were required to call up men with IQ scores below the military’s minimum standards to offset the recruitment deficit caused by college student deferments,” says former Marine Elliot Ackerman. [ 52 ] The problem did not begin with the Vietnam War, but with the beginning of the American draft itself, explains the Deseret News : “Through the ages, the wealthy sought for ways out, including unjustified medical exemptions, while the poor tended to have few alternatives. The nation’s first draft was during the Civil War. Wealthy draftees at the time could pay someone to substitute for them, or they could pay $300 for an exemption.” [ 53 ] Any compulsory service programs “will be gamed by the wealthy, the well-connected, the folks with the social capital to figure out how things work — and national service will be set up in a way that serves their ends and reflects their values and preferences,” says Conor Friedersdorf, staff writer at The Atlantic . [ 32 ] Also, a period of mandatory service could be a hardship for families and communities that would lose the young people who are already performing service by contributing to household income, babysitting for neighbors, or caring for sick relatives. [ 33 ] [ 34 ] Compulsory service would also delay people’s entry into the workforce, resulting in significant lost earnings that for some are desperately needed to keep multiple generations of a family afloat. [ 33 ] [ 34 ] “Think of the aspiring athlete or entertainer who has only so many years in her prime, the talented coder who might have to pass up a big market opportunity or the young worker who cannot take a year off from helping to feed his family,” notes the Washington Post . [ 13 ] Read More
Con 3 Mandatory service infringes on Americans’ constitutional right to liberty. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States,” states the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. [ 22 ] While the government has the authority to “raise and support Armies,” there is no constitutional basis for compelling citizens to perform public service. “Mandatory universal national service, at least if legally required and backed by civil or criminal penalties, would fit the definition of involuntary servitude,” says Doug Bandow, lawyer and Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. [ 1 ] [ 23 ] “Since people are now free to live and work where they want, one presumes participation in a National Service Program would be mandatory under the threat of a prison sentence,” adds Stuart Anderson, Executive Director of the National Foundation for American Policy. “A National Service Program that takes two years out of the lives of young people (or others) contravenes the most important part of America, what has drawn people to its shores for centuries – individual liberty.” [ 24 ] Read More

Discussion Questions

1. Should the United States have mandatory national service? Why or why not?

2. If you had to complete mandatory national service, what sort of service would you like to enroll in? Explain your answer(s).

3. Should military service be mandatory? Explain your answer.

Take Action

1. Analyze the arguments from Lilliana Mason and Eric Liu in favor of mandatory national service.

2. Explore the debate via readers’ letters to America: The Jesuit Review .

3. Consider Doug Bandow’ s arguments against mandatory national service.

4. Consider how you felt about the issue before reading this article. After reading the pros and cons on this topic, has your thinking changed? If so, how? List two to three ways. If your thoughts have not changed, list two to three ways your better understanding of the “other side of the issue” now helps you better argue your position.

5. Push for the position and policies you support by writing US national senators and representatives .

1.Doug Bandow, Mandatory Universal National Service: A Dystopian Vision for a Free Society,”, Feb. 21, 2019
2.Thomas Ricks, “Let’s Draft Our Kids,”, July 10, 2012
3.Jim Norman, “Half of Americans Favor Mandatory National Service,”, Nov. 10, 2017
4.Pew Research Center, “The Partisan Divide on Political Values Grows Even Wider,”, Oct. 5, 2017
5.Dan Glickman, “National Service Can Unite America,”, Oct. 29, 2018
6.Sharon Omondi, “Countries with Mandatory Military Service,”, Sep. 6, 2017
7.The Panetta Institute, “The Case for National Service,”, July 2017
8.Gene Yaw, “To Unite Us, America Should Require Mandatory Public Service,”, Apr. 3, 2018
9.Bill Chappell, “Should Young Americans Be Required To Do Public Service? Federal Panel Says Maybe,”, Jan. 23, 2019
10.Alia E. Dastagir, “Pete Buttigieg Wants a National Service Program. Could It Heal a Divided Country?,”, Apr. 17, 2019
11.VolunteerAR, “About AmeriCorps,” (accessed Apr. 22, 2019)
12.Associated Press, “National Service Bill Gets Obama’s Signature,”, Apr. 21, 2009
13.Washington Post Editorial Board, “National Service for Young People Should Be Encouraged — but Not Required,”, Sep. 18, 2016
14.Michael Lind, “No, America Doesn’t Need a National Service,”, July 10, 2012
15.Nolan Feeney, “Pentagon: 7 in 10 Youths Would Fail to Qualify for Military Service,” June 29, 2014
16.John Hickenlooper, “Invest in What Works: National Service,”, Nov. 2, 2017
17.Clive Belfield, “The Economic Value of National Service,”, Sep. 2013
18.Joseph Gersen, “Senate Hearing 113-82,”, July 25, 2013
19.Policy Studies Associates, “Study Overview Analysis of the Impacts of City Year’s Whole School Whole Child Model on Partner Schools’ Performance,”, 2015
20.Stanley McChrystal, “Every American Should Serve For One Year,”, June 20, 2017
21.Michigan Community Service Commission, “AmeriCorps Urban Safety Program,” (accessed Apr. 22, 2019) Editors, “13th Amendment,”, Apr. 15, 2019
23.Ilya Somin, “Why Mandatory National Service is Both Unjust and Unconstitutional,”, Oct. 19, 2018
24.Stuart Anderson, “Mandatory ‘National Service’ for New York Times Columnists,”, Jan. 31, 2012
25.Nina Hoe, “American Gap Association National Alumni Survey,”, May 2, 2016
26.Bob Clagett, “Bob Clagett on Taking a Gap Year,”, Mar. 20, 2013
27.Paula S. Fass, “Young Americans Need Required National Service,”, Mar. 2, 2016
28.Isabel V. Sawhill, “It’s Time to Make National Service a Universal Commitment,”, Nov. 30, 2017
29.Lawrence White, “The Case for Mandatory National Service,”, Mar. 3, 2014
30.Libby Nelson, “The Real College Admissions Scandal Is What’s Legal,”, Mar. 12, 2019
31.Nick Visser, “John McCain Slams Wealthy Draft Dodgers in Apparent Swipe at Trump,”, Oct. 23, 2017
32.Conor Friedersdorf, “The Case Against Universal National Service,”, June 26, 2013
33.Randi Hjalmarsson and Matthew Lindquist, “What Are the Effects of Mandatory Military Conscription on Crime and the Labour Market?,”, Apr. 2, 2016
34.GovTrack, “H.R. 5741 (111th): Universal National Service Act,”, Feb. 3, 2013 Editors, “Conscription,”, Aug. 21, 2018
36.Andrew Glass, “U.S. Military Draft Ends, Jan. 27, 1973,”, Jan. 27, 2012
37.Sean Mclain Brown, “Should the United States Reinstate the Draft?,”, May 17, 2018
38.Rwanda Governance Board, “Impact Assessment of Umuganda 2007-2016,”, Oct. 2017
39., "Gen Z: The Next Generation of Donors," (accessed July 8, 2021)
40.Kim Strong, "71% of Young People Are Ineligible for the Military — and Most Careers, Too,"
41.Michael Ray, “Selective Service Acts,”, May 11, 2023
42.Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Draft Riot of 1863,”, July 4, 2023
43.CIA, “World Factbook: Military Service Age and Obligation,” (accessed July 25, 2023)
44.Warren Sloat, “Looking Back at ‘Looking Backward’: We Have Seen the Future and It Didn’t Work,”, Jan. 17, 1988
45.Doug Bandow, “Mandatory Universal National Service: A Dystopian Vision for a Free Society,”, Feb. 21, 2019
46.William James, “Proposing the Moral Equivalent of War,”, 1906
47.National Youth Service Corps, (accessed July 25, 2023)
48.Amy Yee, “How Rwanda Tidied up Its Streets (and the Rest of the Country, Too),”, July 18, 2018
49.Leroy Triggs, “80% of Americans Ages 17 to 24 Are Unfit for Military Service,”, Mar. 19, 2023
50Michelle Kurilla, “The President's Inbox Recap: The U.S. Military Recruiting Crisis,”, June 16, 2023
51.Doug G. Ware, “Army Secretary Says Recruiting Troubles Are ‘Very Serious’ and Fixing Them Could Stretch into 2024,”, Feb. 23, 2023
52.Elliot Ackerman, “Why Bringing Back the Draft Could Stop America’s Forever Wars,”, Oct. 10, 2019
53. Editorial Board, “Opinion: Volunteer Armed Forces Protect American Freedom Valiantly,”, May 28, 2023
54.Joseph Epstein, “How I Learned to Love the Draft,”, January/February 2015

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Is Mandatory Military Service Good for a Country?

A prescribed period of civic service may offer benefits, promoting active citizenship across the socioeconomic divide and creating strong social ties.

Soldiers training in the Israeli Defense Forces

France’s President Emmanuel Macron wants to reinstate mandatory military service for young French citizens .

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The concept initially seems surprising for the markedly modern leader. Mandatory military service is an uncomfortable thought for many, calling to mind the horrors of the American Civil War, the World Wars, and the Vietnam War, when young men were drafted against their will.

In times of peace, however, military service serves an altogether different function. Arguing for the institution of mandatory military service in the United States, governance studies scholar William Galston theorized about the negative effects of relying on an all-volunteer force, and the potential benefits of a limited prescribed period of civic service.

He writes that volunteer-based recruitment contributes to what he calls “optional citizenship—the belief that being a citizen involves rights without responsibilities and that we need do for our country only what we choose to do.” In other words, relying on a volunteer force weakens the public notion of the responsibilities inherent with citizenship, and—as an extension—a sense of duty to one’s fellow citizens. Galston notes the power of communal service to foster a sense of solidarity and country. Without it, he argues, a nation is more susceptible to internal conflict, and less resilient in the face of external threats, be they political, environmental or otherwise.

Galston is clear that his support for mandatory military service by no means reflects a support of the draft. “It is hard to see how a reasonable person could prefer that fatally flawed system to today’s arrangements,” he writes, noting that the the idea of universal service would be to promote active citizenship across socioeconomic differences.

The French populace seems to agree . Although there’s murmurs of discontent, the BBC reports that 60% of the population is in support of the idea, at least in some form. Currently, the proposed service emphasizes civic duty, is lenient enough to avoid being strictly militaristic, and spans less than a year.

Europe is unarguably divided, and France is shouldering an increasingly heavy burden in keeping the European Union tied together. A sense of community and solidarity will be critical in carrying the nation through the years to come. It seems that Macron’s ultimate goal is to create stronger social ties between individual members of France’s youth despite their different backgrounds, an idea shared by Galston.

“I do not want to oversell the civic benefits that might accrue from a universal service lottery. Still, enhanced contact between the sons and daughters of the privileged upper middle class and the rest of society would represent real progress,” writes Galston, continuing: “Moreover, some of our nation’s best social scientists see a link between World War II-era military service and that generation’s productive dedication to our postwar civic life. If implementing my proposal could yield even a fraction of these civic dividends, it would be worth the price.”

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10 Meaningful Pros and Cons of Mandatory Military Service

Mandatory military service or military conscription is a strategy used by countries to build a large and powerful military ready to be deployed in times of war or when the need to protect the sovereignty of the state arises.

Many governments in history had used it, including the Qin Empire of China in 221 BC and France during the French Revolution in 1790s. Some countries impose mandatory military service even today. Among which are North Korea, which extends its 10-year military conscription last 2014; Myanmar, which requires the drafting of men and women into its armed forces; and South Korea, which imposes compulsory national service for all its citizens.

Mandatory military service is a controversial topic, and many objections have been raised against it on both religious and political grounds. This leads us to the question: Is compulsory conscription a good thing or a bad thing? Let us take a look at its pros and cons, and you be the judge.

List of Pros of Mandatory Military Service

1. Promotes National Unity Mandatory military service can promote national unity in many ways. First, it allows citizens to learn and train together, creating that shared experience of having served in the military. Then there is also that general understanding of what life in the army is like, what is required of the job, and what has to be done in order to protect the country. Citizens are able to understand and develop appreciation for the sacrifices that people in the military made for their country. And all of these can bring people together, especially when dealing with a cultural or political threat from other nations.

2. Maintain Active Military Force Having compulsory conscription to the military means having an active reserve of large body of armies that is ready to respond quickly and effectively to any threats to national security.

3. Ensures High Levels of Governmental Participation With every citizen required to joined in the armed forces when the need arise, the public will be more aware and watchful of the government’s decision, especially in terms of national security and the like. With their lives at risk or at sacrifice, people will seek to understand more about the threats that face their country and will seek a greater voice on how their government approaches problems.

4. Can Provide Useful Skills Life in the military can teach individuals more than how to throw a salute or shoot straight. The trainings they provide goes far beyond the technical skills needed to get the job done. Many military volunteers who have pursued a career in the civilian workplace mentioned several other skills and work-related attitudes that help them well in their job. These include teamwork, responsibility, initiative, stress management, diversity, and global awareness. Others learn the habits of healthy living and discipline as well as the skills in self-defense.

5. Promote Equality Among Citizens Mandatory enlistment means that “no one” will be exempted from facing wars. All citizens, be they celebrities, rich businessmen or ordinary people, will be required to serve when the nation is facing war or in need of extra soldiers.

List of Cons of Mandatory Military Service

1. Violates Free Will One of the arguments raised against mandatory military service is that it violates people’s rights to exercise free will. No one has the final say whether they should participate or not in the military training and enter the army since it is a compulsory mandate implemented throughout the country.

2. Interferes with Other Forms of Education Mandatory military service typically drafts young men (and women) when they are at the peak of their learning ability (18 years old). This delays individuals’ pursuit for higher education as well as their entry into the into the civilian labor market, reducing returns to human-capital investments as a result.

3. Put Young People’s Lives at Risk Though you might not like to think about it, part of the process is risking young people lives at risk. Casualties don’t just happen in actual combat or in the battle field but also during training and the like. Mandatory military service, which normally enlists able-bodied young people, put the next generation to serious harm and, at worst, death.

4. Compromises the Quality of Military Service Unlike voluntary soldiers who are willing to undergo rigorous training and serve the country for a long time in the military, draft soldiers often lacks the necessary experience and preparedness, providing low combat skill quality when the time comes they are sent to war. This could lead to high casualty rate among soldiers drafted under compulsory military service.

5. Not Everyone Is Fit for It Mandatory military service requires every citizen to join and serve in the armed forces, but not everyone is cut out for it. Whether it is mental issue, physical issue, or psychologically issue, not everyone is fit to meet the physical, mental and emotions demands of the job. Factors like anxiety, depression and the like should be carefully considered. Potentially killing someone is something that every person who was drafted in the military struggles with in their own way. A study conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America showed that approximately 40,000 military members who returned from war in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And that rate is three times higher among those who were deployed in combat than those who were non-deployed.

Mandatory military service has its advantages and has proven itself valuable in protecting the sovereignty of the state as well as in expanding its territories – take for example the Qin Empire that conquered a large area of what is now China, as well as the case of France during the French Revolution that was able to defend itself from the attacks of European monarchies in the late 16th century. However, its ramifications on the young people enlisted, the quality of military service, the labor market, the future generations and the like should be carefully considered.

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Compulsory Military Service Essay

by Ritesh (Bangalore)

essay compulsory military service

Compulsory military conscript has always been a bone of contention, nevertheless, this process is being practiced by many countries the world over. Though men are predominantly drafted into military in those countries, some nationalists demand that females should also be encouraged to do so. This essay, however, disagrees with the idea of mandatory community service based on following reasons.

To begin with, it is nothing but infringement of civil rights to enforce military service on the young populace. Every civilian has the rights of free will, in which they can make decisions according to their desire. Whereas a legaly imposed community service is denial of their freedom of choice. As such, personal interst of young ones should be respected.

In addition, this can also affect the learning process of students. This is because in most of the countries schooling ends at the teenage, which is the peak period of education, where a student choses his career. If those students are enrolled in military they may either lose their urge for higher education or just give up pursuing it. This would be catastrophic to the nation, as they lack productive citizens for morrow. Therefore, priority should be given to pursuing higher education rather than building up a reserved army.

In conclusion,compulsory armed service ought to be dropped.Whereas, individual should be given the rights to make personal decisions and priority should be given to education.
It is hoped that the governments will come up with clear legislation to meet the security needs of the country by other means.

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Home — Essay Samples — Social Issues — Human Rights — Mandatory Military Service

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Essays on Mandatory Military Service

Choosing mandatory military service essay topics.

When it comes to writing an essay on mandatory military service, it's important to choose a topic that not only interests you but also has relevance and significance in the current global context. The topic you choose will determine the direction and focus of your essay, so it's crucial to select a topic that allows for in-depth research and analysis.

Importance of the Topic

The topic of mandatory military service is one that holds great importance in many countries around the world. It raises questions about national security, personal freedom, and the role of the military in society. By exploring this topic through your essay, you have the opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation about the role of the military in society and its impact on individuals and nations as a whole.

Choosing a Topic

When choosing a topic for your mandatory military service essay, it's important to consider your own interests and expertise. Think about the aspects of mandatory military service that intrigue you the most, whether it's the ethical implications, the impact on individuals, or the broader societal and political implications. Additionally, consider the availability of credible sources and data to support your chosen topic. It's important to select a topic that allows for comprehensive research and analysis.

Recommended Essay Topics

The ethical implications of mandatory military service.

  • The moral and ethical considerations of compulsory military service
  • The impact of mandatory military service on individual freedom and autonomy
  • The relationship between mandatory military service and human rights

Societal and Political Implications

  • The role of mandatory military service in national security and defense
  • The impact of compulsory military service on social and economic inequality
  • The political implications of mandatory military service on government and citizenship

Personal Experiences and Perspectives

  • The experiences of individuals who have gone through mandatory military service
  • The impact of compulsory military service on mental health and well-being
  • The perspectives of conscientious objectors and their stance on mandatory military service

Comparative Analysis

  • A comparative analysis of mandatory military service in different countries
  • The impact of voluntary vs. mandatory military service on national security
  • The cultural and historical factors that influence attitudes towards mandatory military service

Policy and Reform

  • The potential benefits and drawbacks of reforming mandatory military service policies
  • The role of mandatory military service in shaping national identity and unity
  • The implications of transitioning from mandatory to voluntary military service

These are just a few examples of potential essay topics related to mandatory military service. Each of these topics allows for in-depth exploration and analysis, and they offer the opportunity to engage with a wide range of perspectives and sources. Whichever topic you choose, it's important to approach it with an open mind and a willingness to consider diverse viewpoints.

By selecting a compelling and relevant topic for your mandatory military service essay, you have the opportunity to contribute to a meaningful and important conversation about the role of the military in society and its impact on individuals and nations. It's a chance to delve into a complex and multifaceted issue and to explore the ethical, societal, and political implications of mandatory military service in a thought-provoking and insightful manner.

Why The Mandatory Military Service is Important

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essay compulsory military service

Mandatory National Service in the United States Essay

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The question whether mandatory national service should be introduced in the US has been discussed by many scholars, sociologists, and policy-makers. The propositions for compulsory service within the context of the modern American society imply that young citizens could join the military or participate in other civilian projects involving national service (Cohen). These can include working and teaching in the low-income areas, caring for the elderly and the disabled, maintaining infrastructure, and other types of social activism (Cohen). Arguably, compulsory service should be required in the US because it has a number of important advantages, such as promoting diversity and inclusion, saving governmental funds, eliminating social isolation, and promoting young people’s health.

One of the main arguments for introducing mandatory national service in the form of a draft or required civil activism is the fact that this will promote unity and diversity. As people with different professions and backgrounds will be engaged in a similar type of work, exchanging their knowledge, experience, and skills, they will become more aware of the diverse nature of their community (Seck). This will help to address one of the most important issues in the modern American society, bridging the gap between individuals with different cultural and ethnical backgrounds and eliminating the barriers of race, class, and income. As a result, mandatory national service will increase diversity and inclusion in the US.

Another important argument that supports mandatory national service is the fact that it will help to save governmental funds, at the same time providing sufficient benefits to the communities. For example, it will allow policy-makers to re-evaluate youth national service programs, which have been reported to “cost a total of $1.7 billion annually” (Bauchner and Sharfstein para. 8). However, if young Americans were involved in the mandatory national service projects, it would remove the need to finance a large number of these programs and invest the additional funds in other important fields, such as healthcare and education. Moreover, the money will be saved that is currently spent on advertisements that encourage young citizens to join volunteer projects (Seck). As for the benefits for the youth, these can include the opportunity to gain valuable experience in the field of interest and increase awareness of the importance of civic engagement. Mandatory draft of civil service can also help young people mature and become more responsible.

Finally, it can be stated that mandatory national service is extremely beneficial because it will help to address the issues of loneliness and disconnection in the modern American society. While it may seem that people are now connected through social media and the Internet, studies have shown that “more than three in five Americans” regularly experience feelings of loneliness and isolation (Brown para. 7). These emotions are mostly common among young people often referred to as Generation Z, and tend to lead to widespread health issues such as depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders (Seck). In turn, compulsory national service in the form of military draft or required civil activism will allow reconnecting modern generation and promote young people’s mental and physical health and well-being.

It can be concluded that mandatory national service represents an efficient way to address a number of issues in the modern American society and should therefore be required in the US. First, it will bridge the barriers related to internal bias and discrimination. Second, it will allow the government to save money, investing it in other fields that are crucial for the communities, such as healthcare and education. Finally, it will allow decreasing and eliminating the feelings of social isolation, experienced by many young people nowadays, and promote health and well-being in the community.

Works Cited

Bauchner, Howard, and Joshua Sharfstein. “ Medical Students and Public Health Service for the COVID-19 Pandemic .” JAMA Network | Home of JAMA and the Specialty Journals of the American Medical Association , Web.

Brown, Khari. “ Why We Need a Mandatory Year of Service. ” The Hill , Web.

Cohen, Eliot A. Citizens and Soldiers: The Dilemmas of Military Service . Cornell UP, 2019.

Seck, Hope H. “ Mandatory National Service Would Create a More Equal Society, Former NSA Rice Says .” , Web.

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IvyPanda. (2023, December 18). Mandatory National Service in the United States.

"Mandatory National Service in the United States." IvyPanda , 18 Dec. 2023,

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IvyPanda . 2023. "Mandatory National Service in the United States." December 18, 2023.

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IvyPanda . "Mandatory National Service in the United States." December 18, 2023.

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Essay Samples on Mandatory Military Service

Advantages and disadvantages of mandatory military service in the us.

Mandatory military service is a procedure utilized by nations to fabricate an enormous and ground-breaking military prepared to be sent in the midst of war or when the need to ensure the power of a country emerges. Various governments in history have employed it, including...

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Analysis of the Military Model of Israel Defense Force

Israel is relatively small and is surrounded by states with unique issues and security concerns. With the establishment of the Israel Defense Force (IDF), Israel’s defense capabilities were tested through a series of security issues. From the War of Independence to the Six Day War,...

The Discussion Surrounding Mandatory Military Draft

A military draft is a form of conscription, that requires individuals between 18-25 years old to enlist and serve in the military if they are eligible to join the service after assessment. Why is it that some people argue against the military draft, while others...

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Mandatory Military Service in Reserve Officers' Training Corps

The establishment of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) chiefly bases on its major targets. To bestow the resources of enthusiasm and vitality among the juvenile, to set them up for a basic organization and citizenship and most extraordinary, to make pioneers and neighborhood armed...

The Atmosphere of the Military Culture and Obligations Behind it

Operating in a culturally masculine environment, women in the military face the hurdle of finding their place in the bonafide boys club. The role of women in military operations has always been viewed as to support the operations carried out by their male counterparts by...

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Best topics on Mandatory Military Service

1. Advantages And Disadvantages Of Mandatory Military Service in the US

2. Analysis of the Military Model of Israel Defense Force

3. The Discussion Surrounding Mandatory Military Draft

4. Mandatory Military Service in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps

5. The Atmosphere of the Military Culture and Obligations Behind it

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Many countries have compulsory military service for young men after they leave school. It would be a good idea for all countries to adopt this system for men, and possibly for women too. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

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Include an introduction and conclusion

A conclusion is essential for IELTS writing task 2. It is more important than most people realise. You will be penalised for missing a conclusion in your IELTS essay.

The easiest paragraph to write in an essay is the conclusion paragraph. This is because the paragraph mostly contains information that has already been presented in the essay – it is just the repetition of some information written in the introduction paragraph and supporting paragraphs.

The conclusion paragraph only has 3 sentences:

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To summarize, a robotic teacher does not have the necessary disciple to properly give instructions to students and actually works to retard the ability of a student to comprehend new lessons. Therefore, it is clear that the idea of running a classroom completely by a machine cannot be supported. After thorough analysis on this subject, it is predicted that the adverse effects of the debate over technology-driven teaching will always be greater than the positive effects, and because of this, classroom teachers will never be substituted for technology.

Start your conclusion with a linking phrase. Here are some examples:

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  • Military service
  • Conscription
  • National security
  • Social equality
  • Physical fitness
  • Life skills
  • Job training
  • Infringement
  • Gender equality
  • Education system
  • Labor market
  • Civil service
  • Alternative forms
  • Balanced view
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Band 7+: Many countries have compulsory military service for young men after they leave school. It would be a good idea for all countries to adopt this system for men, and possibly for women too. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

It is believed that compulsory military training programs should be employed for both young male and female after graduation from high school. I totally agree with this point of view.

A strong military power may bring a lot of benefits for a country. The first initial advantage is that every single nation needs to build itself a strong military power to protect itself against the threat of war. Indeed, a peaceful country with a political stability will encourage from having great developments in economic, technology and social welfare. Another benefit of adopting military service for young people is creating a decent generation that serves well for society. By fostering youngsters in a disciplined environment, the young will be able to learn how to adapt with strict rules and become a good role model. For example, waking up on time and doing outdoor exercises will help to improve the health and build a on-time habit. If students are late or have inappropriate behavior, they will be punished strictly.

Thanks for aforementioned advantages, women should participate in the military sessions for several reasons. Firstly, it empowers women to contribute in the military force, considering as a core element in creating a peacefulness for countries. This shows the fairness in society that everyone should take responsibility in protecting national security. Secondly, some women’s skills bring profound positive impacts to military training programs, such as logistics, cooking and caring. These skills are women’s strength and they should be enhanced to support military goals.

In conclusion, I hold the belief that military service should be given to both male and female young adults as it creates positive impacts for not only countries but also the youngster themselves.

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Military Conscription and Its Role in Shaping a Nation

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The military was created long before the formation of the current modern state. Established for the purpose of obtaining and protecting territory and resources, the military has played and continued to play a significant role in state formation and building. Consequently, the state and the army’s intricately intertwined relationship has attracted a significant amount of scholarly attention. However, the military is an institution that has expanded beyond its initial goals of offense and defense. Such an expansion has come as a defiance to the general and technical perception of what the military represents. It is a tool for state formation and building but it has also become a means from which nation-building and cohesion could be promoted.  While there is a sufficient amount of research on the military relative to state building, existing literature only goes so far in explaining the effective role of the military vis-à-vis nation-building.  Thus, this study will be focused on the latter; it will specifically evaluate one of the military’s policies, conscription, with respect to the activation of national sentiment.  By assessing the degree to which military conscription can break down existing ethnic barriers and unite citizens with a common national cause and identity, we can positively reframe the controversial perception of conscription. On a broader scale, it will also refine our current understanding of the military not just as a coercive institution but also as a social one with short-term and long-term influences on social attitude, behavior and consequently, nation-building.

Research Questions

In order to understand the potential conscription has in building a nation, it is necessary to evaluate the scope of its influence, with respect to its surrounding environment. Such an objective can be split into two inquiring parts: to what degree does military conscription have a uniting impact on society? And in what context is such an impact nurtured/hindered? The former can be studied by taking into consideration each case study’s social structure and the dynamic relation and interaction between their different social/ethnic groups. This brings us to the sub-questions: what impact does conscription have on inter and intra-ethnic interactions? And can it strengthen sub-groups’ loyalty towards the national community that they are a part of?

The latter can be studied by comparing both case studies to identify common background variables that have ensured the successful establishment and continuation of their conscription programs. This also brings us to further sub-questions: what would explain the successful application of conscription as a nation-building strategy? And, how could it be used to explain the success of some countries, and the failure of others, to maintain conscription as a nation-building process? 


The main method employed in this study is an in-depth comparative analysis of two very different case studies: Switzerland and Singapore. While such a selection might seem random, it is, in fact, driven by the cause to highlight and emphasize a specific characteristic of interest to our study. Both case studies have successfully implemented mandatory military service that has, in turn, contributed to their country’s nation-building. Using secondary sources ranging from books to academic articles, this study will be comparing these case studies in order to find common background factors that have led to the successful use of conscription as a nation-building tool.

However, the findings of this research have to be understood in consideration with some of its limitations. Taking a comparative method does relatively restrict the context in which the data will be collected and analyzed. This is especially the case for this research since I have refrained from choosing a case study that has implemented conscription but failed to incite a national identity.  However, it is important to note that Switzerland and Singapore are case studies that are very different in terms of history, culture and structure, with very different processes of state formation. Yet, they still share the same dependent variable — the successful application of conscription as a nation-building strategy. By looking at these two highly different cases, I can extract the potential independent variables and conditions that could further help this process. Since these variables should be found in both cases, it is thus improbable that any factor different across the cases would be the independent variable. In other words, a constant cause is needed for a constant outcome. Consequently, the factors that vary in between these countries will be dropped making it easier to identify and extract the background factors constant/common for both cases — the independent variables. 

The paper is divided into 5 sections. The next section provides an overview of the existing literature and debates on the topic. The third and fourth sections respectively focus on the case studies of Switzerland and Singapore. Both sections focus on potential factors, with respect to each country, that have contributed to the success of conscription as a nation-building tool. Finally, the last section spells out the comparative lessons of the case studies and their theoretical implications. 

Literature Review

When it comes to the military’s role with respect to nation-building, the literature is divided into two main perspectives. One perspective argues that it has a positive role with an organizational and stabilizing impact on the nation and state (Coleman & Brice, 1962; Pye, 1962), and/or the potential of acting as a unifying institution. The other perspective claims the opposite (Dietz, Elkin and Roumani, 1991). Krebs (2004), for example, argues that nations are collective and cannot be built on individuals’ decision to affiliate, while Luckham claims that the military institution is a budgetary burden and consequently restricts investment in human capital (1974). 

However, Lamb and Pisani subscribe to neither perspective. They argue that the military’s role regarding nation-building has been impactful in both a positive and negative manner (2018). According to their historical study of the armed forces in Europe and Africa, the impact of the military and the extent to which it was constructive or destructive is based on how and in what context the state was created and developed. 

 Frederick et. al (2017) attribute the effectiveness of the military, not on state-formation as Lamb & Pisani argue, but rather on its degree of cohesion and consequently the usage of national identity and ideology vis-à-vis the military. They support this argument by taking a wide-range of case studies such as Iraq, South Korea, South Vietnam and several African states to study how the presence/absence of a nation-building project highly impacted the survival of the state. In fact, this argument can be further supported by a study done on the IDF, Israeli Defense Forces, which also finds a positive relationship between the army’s integrative/socializing mechanisms, the force’s effectiveness and the nation’s survival. (Henderson, 1985). Not only does the army seem to be fairly reliant on national identity for cohesion and efficiency, it has also come to symbolize a different form of identification, one that supersedes society’s divisions and conflicts (Lomsky-Feder & Ben-Ari, 2015). Evidently, with the reduction of international conflict and the increase in international interdependence, the military and its focus on nation-building has increasingly expanded and proved to be influential.

Zooming in on the literature concerning conscription will show how the military has incorporated elements of nation-building. While many countries no longer implement conscription and have converted to all-volunteer forces (AVF), there are still many states that have maintained their conscription programs and have thus maintained its significance. To abandon or retain such a program continues to be controversial, especially considering arguments that it is a financial burden, a major restriction of freedom, and a site of exposure to trauma. Yet, Switzerland, one of the happiest countries in the world, has successfully normalized mandatory military service as a practice in society. 

In fact, there have been a wide-range of studies on the impact of conscription in many areas such as crime (Hjalmarsson & Lindquist, 2016; Lyk-Jensen 2018), labor market (Hjalmarsson & Lindquist, 2016; Bauer et. Al, 2012), mental health (Lazar, 2014; Morley et. Al, 2020) and personality traits like that of discipline, belligerence, agreeableness etc. (Navajas et. Al, 2019; Schult, 2015). However, not enough research has studied whether or if partaking in military service may develop a sense of national identity. According to the Goh, former PM of Singapore, “nothing creates loyalty and national consciousness more thoroughly than participation in its defense.” This is exemplified in the case of Singapore; its conscription program has been maintained for decades and yet its abolition has never been an election issue (Kwok, 2014). In fact, in 2014 the UAE implemented a conscription program  after taking inspiration from several states, including Singapore, considered to have some of the most effective conscription practices. The UAE did not do so purely for military reasons; once again, conscription is used as a political and symbolic tool to assert a ‘a more homogenous Emirati identity that supersedes local, tribal, religious, or ideological affiliations’ (Alterman & Balboni, 2017). Thus, as Cohen precisely words it, conscription establishes the military as a representative of a highly diverse and heterogeneous population (1985). 

However, can this be applied to any diverse and heterogeneous population? Can it occur in extremely fragmented societies? According to Allport (1954), public policies, including that of conscription, can reduce the distinction of ethnic identities under the right conditions. Rivkin (1969) also argues that nation-building can be successful if applied under conditions “that are conductive to political stability, economic growth and peaceful change.” However, both writers fail to mention what these conditions are. While scholars have highlighted the ability of conscription to successfully overcome ethnic barriers and enable nation-building in certain states, the conditions necessary for such a strategy are vague. For that reason, this study will be comparing Singapore and Switzerland — two cases that have demonstrated the potential of conscription to ameliorate ethnic divisions. According to Kai Ostwald’s survey experiments, his empirical tests strongly demonstrate that Singapore’s service program has been both durable and successful in changing conscripts’ attitudes and behaviors with respect to ethnic interactions (Ostwald, n.d). Not only has it been maintained for decades in Singapore but it has also been accepted and embraced — despite being obligatory — with its abolition never being an election issue (Kwok, 2014). Switzerland is a similar case. It has a high percentage of Swiss citizens in support of maintaining conscription. This can be further supported by a recent Swiss referendum that disclosed an immensely popular level of support for mandatory military service (Ostwald, n.d; Kwok, 2014).

Singapore and Switzerland are very diverse countries. Yet, they have succeeded in normalizing the practice of conscription, among a heterogenous population, for the sake of national defense. In other words, the policy of conscription, in these cases, encourages an outward-looking perspective rather than an inward one that focuses on groups’ allegiance towards their own group interests and needs.  Thus, using these case studies to identify the necessary conditions for the successful use of conscription could provide other countries, especially ones wreaked with division, with comparative lessons from which to learn from and use.

The Historical Shaping of the Swiss Nation

Switzerland is a confederation made up of twenty-six independent cantons that are unevenly divided according to four different language-speaking groups: German, French, Romansh and Italian. This multilingual entity is considered to be a successful example of the political integration of different ethnic affiliations. However, as a country with rich history, this is largely the result of the certain circumstances from which Switzerland arose and developed. 

Geographic Vulnerability 

The particular languages found in Switzerland not only represent the aftermath of historical territorial dominions but also the exchange of Switzerland’s geographical and cultural borders with that of its neighboring countries. Switzerland is a small state that is landlocked by several countries; Germany to the North, Austria and the Liechtenstein principality to the East, Italy to the South, and France to the West. This brings us to the first factor as to why conscription has come to be a successful nation-building strategy in Switzerland: geographic vulnerability. 

Initially, Switzerland was a small territory with a small population and greater, more powerful and populated neighboring countries. This left Switzerland vulnerable and open to the repercussions of any major conflict in Europe. The threat of a common external enemy and the potential end to political sovereignty and freedom obliged this league of small states to come together in agreement. While most modern states were shaped by contesting the particularism of their different segments, Switzerland deviated from such a pattern. In contrast, Switzerland arose by the preservation and development of the autonomy and character of each of its constituents. Since the cantons were no longer under a feudal structure and the power of protection it is obliged to provide, the cantons were required to depend on themselves to settle any conflicting interests and disputes among themselves. While external aggression and collective security was definitely an incentive for cooperation, the establishment of their alliance was further reinforced by the defense of a common set of principles such as self-governance, liberty, autonomy and democracy; the same set of principles that the current Swiss nation is founded on. Thus, with the need to preserve these principles, Switzerland collectively rose unified and resistant against external control. 

Their practice of collective security overshadowed existing differences and directed the focus on common political values between the different linguistic groups. Thus, it is their resistance against foreign powers that led to the focus on common nationalistic goals rather than the prevalence of trans-ethnic features (Wilner, 2009). Consequently, an environment conducive to conscription was established. Their reliance on conscription was needed to accumulate a dependable fighting-force that would deter threats and defend their independence. The establishment of a citizen’s militia made it every Swiss citizen’s responsibility to defend the state regardless of group identification. Thus, Switzerland’s geostrategic vulnerability and the potential threat of invasion established a defensive military-style culture with an all-encompassing social duty to defend the nation (Wilner, 2009). This created a national identity separate from sub-group identification that emphasized and relied on the common values of self-governance and political liberty. In light of the historical competition between foreign powers and the security problem it poses, the cooperation of the Swiss cantons, for the sake of political (rather than ethnic) values, eventually grew into a federal union. Despite the region’s current stability and scarce number of aggressors, conscription is still a policy that is culturally and politically needed to preserve Switzerland’s democratic values and its traditional security-strategy of deterrence (Stringer, 2017).

Geo-strategic vulnerability is one of the conditions for the successful implementation of conscription as a nation-building strategy. However, it can be easily met in a world characterized by anarchic global relations. For that reason, it is important to note how the condition was utilized in a way that would, or would not, provide an environment stable for nation-building. This can be seen in the fact that most countries wreaked by divisions — such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria — were and remain to be geo-strategically vulnerable to invasion and interference and yet a national identity outside of their group’s interests is yet to be properly formed. This could be largely attributed to a lack of political consensus (Salamey, 2019) on the general goals of society which is, in contrast, evidently present in the case of Switzerland. For the sake of collective security, the compromise and social bargaining of the different polities in Switzerland resulted in their socio-political cooperation. For that reason, they were (and continue to be) aligned with a broader political community that has eventually manifested itself into a politically tolerant culture and identity. Such a community would not have come to place without the integratory push of external pressures and threats. This push acted as a consolidating force and was actualized through the cooperation of conscripts of different linguistic and ethnic backgrounds, united by the collective need to protect their independence.  

Neutral Foreign Policy 

Another factor that has paved the way for conscription as a successful nation-building tool is related to Switzerland’s foreign policy. Switzerland’s renowned principle of armed neutrality has led to a foreign policy that has resulted in an exceptional lack of conflict from the late 1700s onwards (Kwok, 2014). This neutrality goes all the way back to the Peace of Westphalia when it was officially recognized in 1648 (McComas, 2016). However, Switzerland was still sought after for its great geo-strategic territory especially with respect to the Alpine region which consisted of several European transit routes. For that reason, such recognition was not essentially actualized as demonstrated by the French occupation of Switzerland in 1798 and its transformation into a battle-zone between the European powers in 1799. It was the Napoleonic wars that provided a glimpse of the threatening impact a non-neutral Switzerland would have. Consequently, neither of the neighboring states would tolerate an opposing power dominating Switzerland. Thus, after Napoleon’s defeat, recognition of Switzerland’s neutrality was renewed at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 (McComas, 2016). 

Switzerland’s position of permanent neutrality towards other powers meant that they are not allowed to engage in warfare nor may their territories be — to any extent — the stage for warfare. This neutrality served both external and internal functions. Switzerland’s ‘designation’ as a buffer zone protected its independence and freedom from that of external affairs. It also stabilized Europe’s fragile balance-of-power as outlined in the Treaty of Paris, 1815; the neutrality and independence of Switzerland would “enter into the truest interests of the policy of the whole of Europe” (Schindler, 1998). While neutrality was initially a condition — imposed by European powers — for Switzerland’s independence, it eventually became a moral virtue from which Swiss national identity was built on. This brings us to the internal function of neutrality that has provided the means to promote internal integration. Due to the lack of homogeneity with respect to religion, linguistics and culture, neutrality provided a common and non-instigating identity to associate with. A policy that proved to be both important and sturdy in contrast to the power of ethno-nationalization that was prevailing in Europe (Schoch, 2000). Being free and separate from external pressure not only strengthened internal integration but also preserved Swiss unity throughout several major events. Swiss neutrality managed to prevail throughout the Reformation and the following decades of religious conflict that crippled the rest of Europe. It also persisted throughout two highly destructive World Wars. 

While Switzerland did uphold its state of armed neutrality in WW1, it proved to be difficult as its neighbors were a mix of Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) and Entente Powers (France and Italy). This stirred up conflicting sympathies as German-speakers felt emotionally attached to the German empire and the French-Italian speakers to that of France and the Entente. This was the first time in Switzerland’s history that alliances were made according to the aspect of language (Wilner, 2009). While this did cause some internal conflict, Switzerland still managed not to take sides or partake in the war. By WW2, Switzerland was more prepared. Although the military threat was essentially larger, the internal language-based divisions were not as important. As the Axis powers gradually began to represent anti-democratic forces that opposed Swiss traditions and values, there occurred a decrease in Swiss-German loyalty (Kerr, 1974). This demonstrates the positive aftereffect of establishing political values that align with a broader community. 

The non-alignment policy also played an important role in Switzerland’s defense strategy. Given that neutral countries are not allowed to favor or assist any other countries, the opposite also applies. Thus, conscription and the security/deterrence it provides becomes a necessary strategy for the lack of protection under neutrality. In fact, an empirical study was conducted on the determinants of conscription’s decline between the timeframe of 1970-2010 (Hall & Tarabar, 2016). Membership in military alliances was found to be related. As countries increasingly partake in strategic and protective alliances, they feel less threatened and consequently reduce their military force. Considering Switzerland does not have such privileges, it had and still has to be as self-sufficient as possible with respect to its defensive capabilities. 

Despite the region’s current stability and scarce number of aggressors, Swiss conscription is still a relevant policy that remains necessary in a neutral country that has no military alliances. While the original reason behind conscription was largely militarily, history shows that it is a representation of collective security that has been anchored, alongside the principle of neutrality, in the political identity and practice of the Swiss state. In other words, the purpose of conscription has changed and become essentially more political. This would explain why a recent Swiss referendum on the abolition of conscription reflected an immensely popular level of support for conscription, despite the lack of external motive (Reuters Staff, 2013).

Direct and Consociational Democracy

The successful maintenance of conscription does not only have to do with the particular conditions from which Switzerland developed, but also with the complex institutional-structure of the current federal state. Referendums are part of an important institutional feature that impacts Switzerland and its wide-range of decisions, including that of conscription and consequently nation-building. This feature is known as direct democracy. The Swiss model has granted a high level of participation and self-determination to its citizens allowing them to be more involved in the formation or alteration of Swiss law. In fact, at least one-third of all the referendums held at the national-level worldwide have occurred in Switzerland (Kaufmann, 2019). Thus, the extent to which Switzerland has provided its citizens with a direct voice in their own affairs is beyond compare to any other country. Indeed, like any other average representative system, most of the political decisions are made by the legislative and executive branches. However, with respect to the most important of issues, especially related to the constitution, the people have the final say by means of referendum. Thus, direct democracy controls and regulates the power of the political elites while also giving these important political decisions high rates of approval and legitimacy. Despite criticism of maintaining conscription in a stable region, in 2013, Switzerland rejected a referendum on the suspension of conscription – for the third time in 25 years. 73% of voters from all across the twenty-six cantons rejected the abolition while only 27% were in favor (Reuters Staff, 2013). Evidently, Switzerland’s semi-direct democracy has over and over again provided conscription a legitimate foundation for its application in a world where all-volunteer forces (AVF) are the trend. 

Yet, it is not the only institutional feature that impacts conscription; Switzerland’s mixture of both direct democracy and power-sharing is what makes its system so distinct. Within this government type, rather than the application of majority decisions and a ‘winner takes it all’ structure, each group gets something. As aforementioned, Switzerland did not replicate its neighbors’ inclination towards unification and homogenization. It did not encourage the identity of one specific group at the expense of the other. Instead, it formed a state that preserved the cantonal autonomy of the different group identities. Rather than focus on the establishment of cultural, linguistic, and religious homogeneity, Switzerland accepted its pre-existing diversity and built its institutions on it. This can be seen in the consociational structure of the government and its emphasis on shared decision-making and group inclusion. However, it is important to note that Swiss institutions, as seen through a glimpse of its history, were already accepted and functioning at all levels (Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, 2008). This explains why a broad political identity — preaching common political values — was able to simultaneously emerge. This would also explain why, in contrast, countries with weak and politically contested institutions are unable to incite a sense of identity. Even if only one group were to challenge the state’s institutions and its credibility, such institutions will not be able to serve as the basis of an overarching and shared political identity. Yet, in the case of Switzerland, political institutions and values have proven to be able to establish a communal sense of belonging, distinct from that of individual ethnic and cultural bonds. 

It also must be pointed out that Switzerland is not a country that has experienced prolonged internal conflict as popularly seen in ethnically-diverse countries (mainly due to its neutrality). While it did experience civil war in 1847, it was short only causing a small number of casualties. In other words, it did not trigger a great level of suffering. For that reason, Switzerland does not have an ‘emotionalized’ population nor are they represented by ‘emotionalized’ elites (Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, 2008). The inter-ethnic interactions between the different ethnic groups are not as delicate as popularly seen in ethnically-diverse countries. Thus, not only is there a certain level of trust and tolerance among different groups but there is also a concentrated effort by these elites to establish and support a shared national identity. This is supported by Wilner who claims that in 1917, the elites from different ethno-linguistic groups “very quickly moved to an appeasement policy in attempt to realign political sentiments along the nationalist axis that they had designed in previous decades” (Wilner, 2009; Wimmer, 2011). Another example is the creation of the term “Geistige Landesverteidigung” in 1938 by elites in the Federal Council.  Equivalent to “spiritual national defense”, this term promoted Swiss political/cultural ideas and values in order to diminish rising ethnic pressure and counter the propaganda of surrounding countries (Wilner, 2009; Ormes, 2011). Evidently, the continuing trust between both groups and elites have created an environment conducive to the institutional accommodation of different cultural groups. Switzerland’s situation is exceedingly unlike countries that implement power-sharing as a temporary means to avoid ethno-political conflict. 

The combination of direct citizen participation, the institutionalization of common political values, inclusive decision-making, and the lack of emotionalization at all levels has paved the way for an institutional structure that is trusted by the people. Evidently, such a strong and complex institutional structure has created an atmosphere which is not only conducive to conscription but to the military as a whole. The Swiss military has been and continues to be, in essence, a cultural institution. Not only does it represent Swiss culture and history but it also embodies an overarching political identity in which promotes trust, tolerance and diversity. For that reason, the citizens’ perception of the military and other institutions is a positive one that continues to encourage the establishment of a national identity. This positive perception towards state institutions, especially the military apparatus, is not commonly seen in countries divided by ethnic divisions.

The Artificial Shaping of the Singaporean Nation 

Singapore is a small city-state made up of one main island and more than 60 small islets. It has 4 major ethnic groups according to the CMIO model of ethnic classification; the Chinese, the Malays, the Indians and the others which include nationalities mostly from Central Asia and Europe.  However, the sizes of these different groups, with respect to each other, are in no way proportional. The Chinese in Singapore form the ethnic majority as they make up 75% of the population while the Malays, the constitutionally-recognized indigenous people of Singapore, amount to around 13.7%. The Indian ethnic group is at 8.7% leaving a remaining 2.6% for other nationalities (Ortmann, 2009). Evidently, Singapore’s diverse ethnic composition makes it difficult to establish a common feeling of identity. However, the success and development of Singapore as a city-state shows that peaceful coexistence and effective governance was able to be attained and differences surpassed. 

In 1965, Singapore was removed from Malaysia and was forced to become an independent and sovereign state. An independent and sovereign state with a Chinese majority squished between the larger and more populated Malaysia and Indonesia; neighbors that are predominantly Muslim. The establishment of its fragile independence within a potentially threatening territory had consequently established national survival as the main goal of Singapore. This was clearly stated and recognized by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee in 1965:

“We want peace simply because we have not the capacity to make war on anybody. We are surrounded by bigger and more powerful neighbors with whom we cannot afford to settle disputes by force of arms. My country is well aware that it is situated in a region of the world which has traditionally been the battleground of big power conflict. Singapore itself, by virtue of its location, has attracted the attention of nations who wish to dominate Southeast Asia” Moore, 2017

Not only did its geographic location pose a threat to this newly created state but also the structure of its society. Its society is fragmented by its increasingly different ethnic composition as each group identifies with a different language, religion and culture.  Differences that were clearly seen and manipulated in the communal tensions that led to the separation of Singapore from Malaysia. Thus, the amount of investment in the state’s relations with any one of the groups is highly sensitive and restricted by its relations with the others. Evidently, after independence, Singapore was faced with both internal and external conditions of vulnerability impacting every level of society. Thus, in order to lessen such vulnerabilities, Singapore moved towards the method of securitization (Chang, 2019). This led to the prioritization of policies focused on countering and securing their vulnerabilities. This was actualized be a range of security measures taken. For instance, in 1965, Singapore passed a security proposal that would establish the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) responsible for the protection of national defense. In 1967, it introduced the National Service policy as an ‘exceptional’ security practice for securing their vulnerability.  Its implementation played and continues to play a dual role of military defense and nation-building respectively targeting both external/geographic and internal/social vulnerabilities. This was followed up by another security policy, in 1984, known as the Total Defense Doctrine. Implemented to “unite all sectors of society in the defense of Singapore”, the Total Defense Doctrine tackles military defense, economic defense, civil defense, social defense, digital defense etc.  These different areas of defense are conveyed to be, individually and collectively, dependent on the effort of all of society in deterring potential aggressors. Additionally, in 1970, the Ministry of Defense was divided into two ministries, the Ministry of Defense (MINDEF) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Each ministry became responsible for external and internal security respectively (Chong, 2020).

The continuous state of anxiety about the state’s survival has created an insecure environment that has reoriented the people to accept such securitization policies, especially that of conscription. The implanting of Singapore’s vulnerability as a prevalent discourse — reinforced by the implementation of security policies — has created a positive and exceptional attitude towards conscription. In fact, in Lee’s memoirs, he highlights the need to tailor people in a way that they would accept how essential it is to have “a people’s army” (Yew, 2000, p. 33). Thus, by the constant appeal to the people’s fear, vulnerability has been deeply-rooted in people’s perception consequently leading to a defensive and militarized mentality — a mentality that reflects the fusion of civil-military relations. As Brown claimed, Singapore legitimized its rule through “an “ideology of survivalism” (2000) which has been continuously used to compensate for the lack of national identity. The discourse of national survival became the means from which to mobilize the population and incite national consciousness. It has been further actualized and reinforced through conscription for the greater purpose of national integration —  a purpose that remains to be an issue for an import-dependent country within a region made up of its very close, larger and more populated neighbors.

Meritocracy and Elite Governance

The obstacles facing this young nation provided great incentive for an ideology of survivalism, however, it could not be exclusively depended on as a long-term resource. Although Singapore’s independence and expulsion from Malaysia left it scarce of both human and natural resources, it was capable of achieving significant growth as GNI/capita measured an increase from $34,576 in 1990 to $83,793 in 2018 (a 142.3% increase) (UN, 2018). Singapore’s remarkable economic and social advancement, in a relatively short period, hindered the credibility of the survival discourse making it no longer compelling enough for the mobilization of its people. As a young state made up of immigrants coming from different ‘native lands’, such as China, India and Malay states, it is consequently lacking in shared historical and cultural roots. Due to this weak foundation from which to construct a national identity, the government turned to different alternatives. One of which was elitism. With the rise of democracy and the idea of political legitimacy, elitism was left behind in the 20 th century. However, Singapore remainsan exception (Skrbis & Barr, 2008).

Considering the dynamics of Singapore’s composition, establishing a sense of national identity required an active, adaptable and leading government. For that reason, from the time of its independence, the issue of national identity was largely a governmental project. This goes to show that nation-building was not a naturally occurring process but rather ‘artificially’ developed through the policies implemented by a selected elite administration. An administration that has directly tied the survival of the state to its own existence. This is mainly reinforced by the government’s support for meritocracy, which is largely an elite-building process. Established as a foundation of Singapore’s national identity, the meritocratic approach promoted a system grounded on the tendency of achievement rather than that of ascription. From a highly competitive educational system, top performers are selected and trained into a ruling elite that would pragmatically guide and reform society from above. For that reason, the country’s investment in nation-building is largely intertwined with the investment going into elite formation. While this top-down approach certainly has an alienating effect, this elitist approach to politics — founded on that of meritocracy — has become crucial to Singapore’s national identity. This is largely due to the influential role of elites’ in shaping national and political discourse according to their principles. In other words, Singapore’s national identity is the product of the elites’ direct and active role they play, from above, in actualizing and institutionalizing pragmatic ideas and practices that would ensure coexistence. 

This is exemplified by the establishment of the Ministry of Culture, in 1959, to drive cultural programs that would foster a sense of pride, loyalty and national identity across a population that initially had no roots in Singapore. It launched the first national symbols — its new red and white flag, the state crest and state anthem. It created events and activities that explicitly promote nation-building and improve “inter-cultural awareness, racial understanding and bonding among the four main races” (Ministry of Communications and Information, 2018). It also established Singapore’s National Day Parade (NDP) which maintains, to this day, a military theme. The parade is continuously presented as a symbol of Singapore’s capabilities with respect to the country’s citizen army. In fact, quite recently in 2018, the Minister for Defense, Dr. Ng Eng Hen, reminded citizens of the significance of participating and sponsoring in the NDP:

“Because we can forget what it is about, we can think it is just a parade show. But as a relatively young and independent country, each NDP that we hold every year is about a nation still establishing itself, and not least through a common identity” …. “the NDP reminded us of the struggles in our past and that we can be stronger helping one another as a community” Min Zhang, 2018

This highlights their continuous manipulation of anxiety with respect to the country’s uncertain future. This consequently reinforces the relevance of conscription and the need for a citizen-army. In fact, a study was done on the previous PM, Mr. Lee Kuan Yews and the speeches he gave at 26 different National Day Rallies between the timeframe of 1959-1990. The identification and expression of threats in the environment turned out to be a very common theme found throughout most of the speeches (Tan & Wee, 2002). Evidently, elites play a significant role in their indirect integration of ideas into national and political discourse —  discourse that is consistent in reflecting a certain and consistent perspective of the nation. This is exemplified in the constant promotion of ‘national’ principles: economic growth, multiracialism, equal opportunity and upward socio-economic mobility for all citizens regardless of their ethnicity in Singapore’s constructed nation-building myth.

This has been established as a necessary tactic to develop a shared identity that can cut across ethnic and cultural lines. A tactic that has succeeded in reshaping the people’s sense of identity with a nation not defined by race but rather by political factors. Not only does this demonstrate that national identity is actually a social construction but it also highlights the important role of the elites in establishing and reinforcing it. Despite some claims of meritocracy being the means and justification for the ruling party’s continuous hegemony, Singapore has one of the most trusted governments. Not only did it rank 6 th among 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index but it was also one of a few countries classified by Edelman’s Trust Barometer as enjoying high levels of public trust (Li Sa et. Al, 2018). This is most likely due to the effectiveness of the government in its commitment to the creation and application of ‘pragmatic’, rather than ideological, policies. This is more than supported by Singapore’s consistently high ranking on the Worldwide Governance Indicators (Governance in Singapore, n.d). The results of these different indices can be seen in the fact that decades have passed and the current meritocratic leadership continues to be re-elected. This has occurred in parallel to the practice of conscription which has also been maintained for decades with its abolition never being an election issue. Evidently, as long as the current system of governance is effective, it will continue to be upheld. Thus, the principles it reinforces, including the citizen-army mentality, will be preserved and consequently conscription will continue to be embraced. In other words, the maintenance of conscription is largely intertwined with the existence of the elites and their principles that have largely shaped national and political discourse.

Comparative Analysis

Both Singapore and Switzerland, among the richest and most politically-stable nations in the world, were built on their highly diverse ethnic composition. A diversity that they both embraced, institutionalized and executed. However, the product of each country’s historical roots and social conditions was an inverted style of governance. In the case of Switzerland, a bottom-up system is applied in which the local/canton level is involved in policy making. This is reflected by the emphasis on a high level of local/canton autonomy that can be traced back all the way to Switzerland’s origin. However, in the case of Singapore, a young state forced into independence with no common cultural and historical roots, a top-down approach was adopted. As a response to the lack of substance for a national identity (and the risk of conflict), the state applied strong political direction and governance in order to make national decisions that would filter down and shape lower levels. Yet, in both case studies, conscription as a tool for nation-building is successfully being applied. Thus, in comparing Switzerland’s consociational and direct democracy with that of the Singapore’s elitist ‘democracy’, the form of government can be dropped as one of the potential causes and conditions for the maintenance of conscription.

Despite the difference in political systems, both countries have strong institutions that are consistently ranked high in their performance and quality. One of which is the military. Both have developed a system institutionally strong enough to manage and prevent the polarization of factions. Their ability to do so has legitimized the authority of state institutions. It is also important to highlight that both states have created a government in which legitimacy is not founded on the sensitive power of ideologies. In the case of Switzerland, the government’s legitimacy is derived from the people and their high level of participation. In the case of Singapore, it is derived from merit. Therefore, their state institutions give legitimacy to the acts of the government as a whole, rather than the choices of a specific leader or party. In other words, their strong state institutions legitimize the authority and structure of the government consequently legitimizing their implementation of policies, including conscription. Accordingly, strong institutions seem to be a necessary precondition, and an essential foundation, for the role of conscription in national integration.

Another factor common to both countries that, in fact, brought about their existence- is their extensive vulnerabilities, both geographic and social. As both are small states surrounded by larger, more powerful and populated neighbors, the need to self-sufficiently secure their independence and survival was of upmost importance. This factor is not only common to Switzerland and Singapore but to most small states as they are the most susceptible to invasion or attack, in an international system perceived to be anarchic. For that reason, it is also important to highlight the response to such vulnerability. With respect to the case studies, both states have successfully adopted a strategy of deterrence, a strategy that has lost its significance and necessity after the Cold war.  However, both Singapore and Switzerland have continuously adjusted their policies to the type and level of threat present. In doing so, they continuously reinforced and actualized the idea of their potential vulnerability. This created an environment that was (and had to be) unifying, rather than divisive, in order to survive. In the case of Switzerland and its historical policies of neutrality and non-alignment, it gradually established a politically tolerant and accommodating culture. In the case of young Singapore and its securitization policies, it established the means from which to mobilize the population and incite national consciousness. Despite applying different tactics, both states have adopted strategies of deterrence and seek to preserve it through conscription, as it mobilizes the forces needed to assert these policies.  

The final common factor that explains the successful application of conscription as a nation-building strategy is the establishment of a common civic identity. Despite the different sequence in establishing a civic identity (whether before or after applying conscription), both states have created a common national identity that simultaneously respects and recognizes poly-ethnicity. They did not embrace ethno-linguistic nationalism, but rather promoted a common civic culture founded on distinct political features; features that were politically (and rhetorically) tied to the survival and independence of the state. In the case of Switzerland and its rich history, the cooperation of the cantons originally began as a way to defend a common set of political principles such as self-governance, liberty and democracy.  This need for civil defense paved the way for the need for conscription. The same set of principles that held the Swiss polity together at the time have come to characterize Swiss culture today. This establishment of a broader community based on civic and political values is also apparent in the case of Singapore. However, Singapore, as a recently-established state, established its civic identity after (and through) applying conscription. In contrast to Switzerland’s natural and historical process, Singapore has artificially planned and developed a civil culture to continuously promote and reinforce. Meritocracy is at the core of this as it has established a system running on hard work, merit, and achievement, rather than that of ascription. Such an approach has been embedded and propagandized in the educational, political and economic structure of the state, alongside the values of multi-racialism and religiosity. Thus, in both case studies, political and civic values have been used as a means to align and encourage an outward-looking perspective that would redirect groups’ allegiance towards the broader community that they are a part of.  A well-established community that conscripts, regardless of their linguistic and ethnic background, would be willing to defend and protect. It is important to note that the building of a common identity was facilitated by the fact that both countries do not have an ‘emotionalized’ population nor are they represented by ‘emotionalized’ elites. This largely refers to the fact that both countries have not experienced any prolonged and major internal conflicts. Therefore, the inter-ethnic interactions between the different ethnic groups are not as delicate or sensitive as popularly seen in ethnically-diverse countries.  


While the military might have been originally used for the sake of state formation, it is evident that it is no longer limited to such a technical purpose. Offense and defense are still the major functions of the military; however, they are being executed alongside another function, nation-building and cohesion. This is a social function clearly exemplified by countries that still apply conscription in a globalized and interdependent world dominated by all-volunteer forces (AVF).  

The study of Singapore and Switzerland has not only reflected the positive impact of conscription on inter and intra-ethnic interactions, but also its ability to further strengthen sub-groups’ allegiance towards the national community. In both cases, the states were aware that without internal cohesion, they would become more vulnerable and susceptible to invasion. Thus, their ability to form a state that surpassed the continuous threat of their heterogeneity was largely the result of the simultaneous building and reinforcement of the nation. In other words, since the absence of a common identity would hinder the building of a national community that is essential for effective state-formation, nation-building and state-building became a double-task that had to occur at the same time. A double task that conscription was able to tackle. This not only breaks the ‘stereotype’ associated with the idea of forced military service but also reframes our understanding of the military as a social institution. The military has the ability to be a coercive institution and also a social one with evident short-term and long-term influences on social attitude, behavior and consequently, nation-building. Such influences can be seen in both case studies today as their support for the conscription policy — in a stable and interdependent region —continues to be consistent throughout the years. 

Conscription has a potentially unifying impact on society. However, that potential and whether or not it can be actualized is dependent on the context in which it is occurring. By comparing case studies that have successfully implemented mandatory military service as a nation-building tool, I was able to extract 4 common factors needed to create a context in which maximizes the unifying potential of conscription: strong state institutions, geographic and social vulnerability, the adoption of a deterrence approach, and finally, the establishment of a civic identity. These conditions could be used to provide other countries, especially ones wreaked by division, with comparative lessons from which to learn from and use. Such lessons can be especially derived from Singapore, a young state with no common historical/cultural/political roots, that was able to successfully establish both a state and a nation in a short-period of time. Switzerland, on the other hand, is largely the product of its rich history and the certain circumstances from which it arose and developed. This makes Singapore more of a relatable and pragmatic model to follow and learn from than that of Switzerland.  

This research was based on case studies that have implemented conscription and succeeded in inciting a national identity. Thus, further research should be done on the existence/absence of the aforementioned conditions in countries that have implemented conscription but failed to incite a national identity. Also, considering that Singapore and Switzerland are among the most developed countries in the world, it would be more realistic to analyze the satisfaction of these conditions, or lack of, in fragile or deeply-divided countries. For instance, in the case of sectarian Lebanon and its weak state, it does not satisfy most of the conditions. Thus, unlike Switzerland and Singapore, would state-building policies need to be applied prior to the concerns of nation-building policies? Accordingly, is conscription only successful in developed countries that have already established a strong state foundation? In other words, can conscription impact extremely fragmented societies that have undermined the state? Would it not be possible for a strong and legitimate military to have a unifying impact in the presence of a weak state? Considering the implication that conscription cannot flourish in all types of environments, such questions should be pursued in order to provide more insight on when and where to use military conscription as a tool for building a cohesive nation. 

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Israeli government votes to extend mandatory military service

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men protest against attempts to change government policy that grants them exemption from military conscription, in Jerusalem on April 11.

Israel's government on Sunday approved a plan to temporarily extend compulsory military service for men to 36 months, up from 32, as the war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip strains manpower.

Should it pass, the 36-month service will be effective immediately, for a period of five years, according to a copy of the bill posted online.

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Government OKs IDF service extension; attorney general calls decision 'unconstitutional'

Mandatory military service extended to 36 months, retroactively applying to those currently serving; decision comes as government continues to take no action on recruiting ultra-orthodox; reservists with families will receive extra benefits in summer.

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The oldest member of BTS Kim Seokjin, also known as Jin, carried the Olympic torch Sunday near Paris’ Louvre Museum after recently completing his mandatory military service. (AP video/Nicholas Garriga)

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He is dangerous in word, deed and action

He puts self over country, he loathes the laws we live by, donald trump is unfit to lead.

The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values . It is separate from the newsroom.

Next week, for the third time in eight years, Donald Trump will be nominated as the Republican Party’s candidate for president of the United States. A once great political party now serves the interests of one man, a man as demonstrably unsuited for the office of president as any to run in the long history of the Republic, a man whose values, temperament, ideas and language are directly opposed to so much of what has made this country great.

It is a chilling choice against this national moment. For more than two decades, large majorities of Americans have said they are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, and the post-Covid era of stubborn inflation, high interest rates, social division and political stagnation has left many voters even more frustrated and despondent.

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The Republican Party once pursued electoral power in service to solutions for such problems, to building “the shining city on a hill,” as Ronald Reagan liked to say. Its vision of the United States — embodied in principled public servants like George H.W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney — was rooted in the values of freedom, sacrifice, individual responsibility and the common good. The party’s conception of those values was reflected in its longstanding conservative policy agenda, and today many Republicans set aside their concerns about Mr. Trump because of his positions on immigration, trade and taxes. But the stakes of this election are not fundamentally about policy disagreements. The stakes are more foundational: what qualities matter most in America’s president and commander in chief.

Mr. Trump has shown a character unworthy of the responsibilities of the presidency. He has demonstrated an utter lack of respect for the Constitution, the rule of law and the American people. Instead of a cogent vision for the country’s future, Mr. Trump is animated by a thirst for political power: to use the levers of government to advance his interests, satisfy his impulses and exact retribution against those who he thinks have wronged him.

He is, quite simply, unfit to lead.

The Democrats are rightly engaged in their own debate about whether President Biden is the right person to carry the party’s nomination into the election, given widespread concerns among voters about his age-related fitness. This debate is so intense because of legitimate concerns that Mr. Trump may present a danger to the country, its strength, security and national character — and that a compelling Democratic alternative is the only thing that would prevent his return to power. It is a national tragedy that the Republicans have failed to have a similar debate about the manifest moral and temperamental unfitness of their standard-bearer, instead setting aside their longstanding values, closing ranks and choosing to overlook what those who worked most closely with the former president have described as his systematic dishonesty, corruption, cruelty and incompetence.

That task now falls to the American people. We urge voters to see the dangers of a second Trump term clearly and to reject it. The stakes and significance of the presidency demand a person who has essential qualities and values to earn our trust, and on each one, Donald Trump fails.

Moral Fitness Matters

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Presidents are confronted daily with challenges that require not just strength and conviction but also honesty, humility, selflessness, fortitude and the perspective that comes from sound moral judgment.

If Mr. Trump has these qualities, Americans have never seen them in action on behalf of the nation’s interests. His words and actions demonstrate a disregard for basic right and wrong and a clear lack of moral fitness for the responsibilities of the presidency.

He lies blatantly and maliciously, embraces racists , abuses women and has a schoolyard bully’s instinct to target society’s most vulnerable. He has delighted in coarsening and polarizing the town square with ever more divisive and incendiary language. Mr. Trump is a man who craves validation and vindication, so much that he would prefer a hostile leader’s lies to his own intelligence agencies’ truths and would shake down a vulnerable ally for short-term political advantage . His handling of everything from routine affairs to major crises was undermined by his blundering combination of impulsiveness, insecurity and unstudied certainty.

This record shows what can happen to a country led by such a person: America’s image, credibility and cohesion were relentlessly undermined by Mr. Trump during his term.

None of his wrongful actions are so obviously discrediting as his determined and systematic attempts to undermine the integrity of elections — the most basic element of any democracy — an effort that culminated in an insurrection at the Capitol to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power.

On Jan. 6, 2021, Mr. Trump incited a mob to violence with hateful lies, then stood by for hours as hundreds of his supporters took his word and stormed the Capitol with the aim of terrorizing members of Congress into keeping him in office. He praised these insurrectionists and called them patriots; today he gives them a starring role at campaign rallies, playing a rendition of the national anthem sung by inmates involved with Jan. 6., and he has promised to consider pardoning the rioters if re-elected. He continues to wrong the country and its voters by lying about the 2020 election, branding it stolen, despite the courts, the Justice Department and Republican state officials disputing him. No man fit for the presidency would flog such pernicious and destructive lies about democratic norms and values, but the Trumpian hunger for vindication and retribution has no moral center.

To vest such a person with the vast powers of the presidency is to endanger American interests and security at home as well as abroad. The nation’s commander in chief must uphold the oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” It is the closest thing that this secular nation has to a sacred trust. The president has several duties and powers that are his alone: He has the sole authority to launch a nuclear weapon. He has the authority to send American troops into harm’s way and to authorize the use of lethal force against individuals and other nations. Americans who serve in the military also take an oath to defend the Constitution, and they rely on their commander in chief to take that oath as seriously as they do.

Mr. Trump has shown, repeatedly, that he does not. On numerous occasions, he asked his defense secretary and commanders in the American armed forces to violate that oath. On other occasions, he demanded that members of the military violate norms that preserve the dignity of the armed services and protect the military from being used for political purposes. They largely refused these illegal and immoral orders, as the oath requires.

The lack of moral grounding undermines Mr. Trump even in areas where voters view him as stronger and trust him more than Mr. Biden, like immigration and crime. Veering into a kind of brutal excess that is, at best, immoral and, at worst, unconstitutional, he has said that undocumented immigrants were “ poisoning the blood of our country ,” and his advisers say he would aim to round them up in mass detention camps and end birthright citizenship . He has indicated that, if faced with episodes of rioting or crime surges, he would unilaterally send troops into American cities. He has asked aides if the United States could shoot migrants below the waist to slow them down, and he has said that he would use the Insurrection Act to deploy the military against protesters.

During his time in office, none of those things happened because there were enough people in military leadership with the moral fitness to say “no” to such illegal orders. But there are good reasons to worry about whether that would happen again, as Mr. Trump works harder to surround himself with people who enable rather than check his most insidious impulses.

The Supreme Court, with its ruling on July 1 granting presidents “absolute immunity” for official acts, has removed an obstacle to Mr. Trump’s worst impulses: the threat of legal consequences. What remains is his own sense of right and wrong. Our country’s future is too precious to rely on such a broken moral compass.

Principled Leadership Matters

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Republican presidents and presidential candidates have used their leadership at critical moments to set a tone for society to live up to. Mr. Reagan faced down totalitarianism in the 1980s, appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court and worked with Democrats on bipartisan tax and immigration reforms. George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act and decisively defended an ally, Kuwait, against Iraqi aggression. George W. Bush, for all his failures after Sept. 11, did not stoke hate against or demonize Muslims or Islam.

As a candidate during the 2008 race, Mr. McCain spoke out when his fellow conservatives spread lies about his opponent, Barack Obama. Mr. Romney was willing to sacrifice his standing and influence in the party he once represented as a presidential nominee, by boldly calling out Mr. Trump’s failings and voting for his removal from office.

These acts of leadership are what it means to put country first, to think beyond oneself.

Mr. Trump has demonstrated contempt for these American ideals. He admires autocrats, from Viktor Orban to Vladimir Putin to Kim Jong-un. He believes in the strongman model of power — a leader who makes things happen by demanding it, compelling agreement through force of will or personality. In reality, a strongman rules through fear and the unprincipled use of political might for self-serving ends, imposing poorly conceived policies that smother innovation, entrepreneurship, ideas and hope.

During his four years in office, Mr. Trump tried to govern the United States as a strongman would, issuing orders or making decrees on Twitter. He announced sudden changes in policy — on who can serve in the military , on trade policy, on how the United States deals with North Korea or Russia — without consulting experts on his staff about how these changes would affect America. Indeed, nowhere did he put his political or personal interests above the national interest more tragically than during the pandemic , when he faked his way through a crisis by touting conspiracy theories and pseudoscience while ignoring the advice of his own experts and resisting basic safety measures that would have saved lives.

He took a similar approach to America’s strategic relationships abroad. Mr. Trump lost the trust of America’s longstanding allies, especially in NATO, leaving Europe less secure and emboldening the far right and authoritarian leaders in Europe, Latin America and Asia. He pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, leaving that country, already a threat to the world, more dangerous, thanks to a revived program that has achieved near-weapons-grade uranium.

In a second term, his willingness to appease Mr. Putin would leave Ukraine’s future as a democratic and independent country in doubt. Mr. Trump implies that he could single-handedly end the catastrophic war in Gaza but has no real plan. He has suggested that in a second term he’d increase tariffs on Chinese goods to 60 percent or higher and that he would put a 10 percent tariff on all imported goods, moves that would raise prices for American consumers and reduce innovation by allowing U.S. industries to rely on protectionism instead.

The worst of the Trump administration’s policies were often blocked by Congress, by court challenges and by the objections of honorable public servants who stepped in to thwart his demands when they were irresponsible or did not follow the law. When Mr. Trump wanted an end to Obamacare, a single Republican senator, Mr. McCain, saved it, preserving health care for millions of Americans. Mr. Trump demanded that James Comey, his F.B.I. director, pledge loyalty to him and end an investigation into a political ally; Mr. Comey refused. Scientists and public health officials called out and corrected his misinformation about climate science and Covid. The Supreme Court sided against the Trump administration more times than any other president since at least Franklin D. Roosevelt.

A second Trump administration would be different. He intends to fill his administration with sycophants, those who have shown themselves willing to obey Mr. Trump’s demands or those who lack the strength to stand up to him. He wants to remove those who would be obstacles to his agenda, by enacting an order to make it easier to fire civil servants and replace them with those more loyal to him.

This means not only that Americans would lose the benefit of their expertise but also that America would be governed in a climate of fear, in which government employees must serve the interests of the president rather than the public. All cabinet secretaries follow a president’s lead, but Mr. Trump envisions a nation in which public service as Americans understand it would cease to exist — where individual civil servants and departments could no longer make independent decisions and where research by scientists and public health experts and investigations by the Justice Department and others in federal law enforcement would be more malleable to the demands of the White House.

Another term under Mr. Trump’s leadership would risk doing permanent damage to our government. As Mr. Comey, a longtime Republican, wrote in a 2019 guest essay for Times Opinion, “Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from.” Very few who serve under him can avoid this fate “because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites,” Mr. Comey wrote. “Of course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further compromises. You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values. And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.” America will get nowhere with a strongman. It needs a strong leader.

Character Matters

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Character is the quality that gives a leader credibility, authority and influence. During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump’s petty attacks on his opponents and their families led many Republicans to conclude that he lacked such character. Other Republicans, including those who supported the former president’s policies in office, say they can no longer in good conscience back him for the presidency. “It’s a job that requires the kind of character he just doesn’t have,” Paul Ryan, a former Republican House speaker, said of Mr. Trump in May .

Those who know Mr. Trump’s character best — the people he appointed to serve in the most important positions of his White House — have expressed grave doubts about his fitness for office.

His former chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, described Mr. Trump as “a person who admires autocrats and murderous dictators. A person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution and the rule of law.” Bill Barr, whom Mr. Trump appointed as attorney general, said of him , “He will always put his own interest and gratifying his own ego ahead of everything else, including the country’s interest.” James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general who served as defense secretary, said , “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try.”

Mike Pence, Mr. Trump’s vice president, has disavowed him. No other vice president in modern American history has done this. “I believe that anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States,” Mr. Pence has said . “And anyone who asked someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again.”

These are hardly exceptions. In any other American administration, a single cabinet-level defection is rare. But an unprecedented number of Mr. Trump’s appointees have publicly criticized his leadership, opposed his 2024 presidential candidacy or ducked questions about his fitness for a second term. More than a dozen of his most senior appointees — those he chose to work alongside him and who saw his performance most closely — have spoken out against him, serving as witnesses about the kind of leader he is.

There are many ways to judge leaders’ character; one is to see whether they accept responsibility for their actions. As a general rule, Mr. Trump abhors accountability. If he loses, the election is rigged. If he is convicted, it’s because the judges are out to get him. If he doesn’t get his way in a deal, as happened multiple times with Congress in his term, he shuts down the government or threatens to.

Americans do not expect their presidents to be perfect; many of them have exhibited hubris, self-regard, arrogance and other character flaws. But the American system of government is more than just the president: It is a system of checks and balances, and it relies on everyone in government to intervene when a president’s personal failings might threaten the common good.

Mr. Trump tested those limits as president, and little has changed about him in the four years since he lost re-election. He tries to intimidate anyone with the temerity to testify as a witness against him. He attacks the integrity of judges who are doing their duty to hold him accountable to the law. He mocks those he dislikes and lies about those who oppose him and targets Republicans for defeat if they fail to bend the knee.

It may be tempting for Americans to believe that a second Trump presidency would be much like the first, with the rest of government steeled to protect the country and resist his worst impulses. But the strongman needs others to be weak, and Mr. Trump is surrounding himself with yes men.

The American public has a right to demand more from their president and those who would serve under him.

A President’s Words Matter

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When America saw white nationalists and neo-Nazis march through the streets of Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 and activists were rallying against racism, Mr. Trump spoke of “very fine people on both sides.” When he was pressed about the white supremacist Proud Boys during a 2020 debate, Mr. Trump told them to “stand back and stand by,” a request that, records show, they took literally in deciding to storm Congress. This winter, the former president urged Iowans to vote for him and score a victory over their fellow Americans — “all of the liars, cheaters, thugs, perverts, frauds, crooks, freaks, creeps.” And in a Veterans Day speech in New Hampshire, he used the word “vermin,” a term he has deployed to describe both immigrants and political opponents.

What a president says reflects on the United States and the kind of society we aspire to be.

In 2022 this board raised an urgent alarm about the rising threat of political violence in the United States and what Americans could do to stop it. At the time, Mr. Trump was preparing to declare his intention to run for president again, and the Republican Party was in the middle of a fight for control, between Trumpists and those who were ready to move on from his destructive leadership. This struggle within the party has consequences for all Americans. “A healthy democracy requires both political parties to be fully committed to the rule of law and not to entertain or even tacitly encourage violence or violent speech,” we wrote.

A large faction of one party in our country fails that test, and that faction, Mr. Trump’s MAGA extremists, now control the party and its levers of power. There are many reasons his conquest of the Republican Party is bad for American democracy, but one of the most significant is that those extremists have often embraced violent speech or the belief in using violence to achieve their political goals. This belief led to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and it has resulted in a rising number of threats against judges, elected officials and prosecutors.

This threat cannot be separated from Mr. Trump’s use of language to encourage violence, to dehumanize groups of people and to spread lies. A study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, released in October 2022, came to the conclusion that MAGA Republicans (as opposed to those who identified themselves as traditional Republicans) “are more likely to hold extreme and racist beliefs, to endorse political violence, to see such violence as likely to occur and to predict that they will be armed under circumstances in which they consider political violence to be justified.”

The Republican Party had an opportunity to renounce Trumpism; it has submitted to it. Republican leaders have had many opportunities to repudiate his violent discourse and make clear that it should have no place in political life; they failed to. Sizable numbers of voters in Republican primaries abandoned Mr. Trump for other candidates, and independent and undecided voters have said that Mr. Trump’s language has alienated them from his candidacy.

But with his nomination by his party all but assured, Mr. Trump has become even more reckless in employing extreme and violent speech, such as his references to executing generals who raise questions about his actions. He has argued, before the Supreme Court, that he should have the right to assassinate a political rival and face no consequences.

The Rule of Law Matters

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The danger from these foundational failings — of morals and character, of principled leadership and rhetorical excess — is never clearer than in Mr. Trump’s disregard for rule of law, his willingness to do long-term damage to the integrity of America’s systems for short-term personal gain.

As we’ve noted, Mr. Trump’s disregard for democracy was most evident in his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and to encourage violence to stop the peaceful transfer of power. What stood in his way were the many patriotic Americans, at every level of government, who rejected his efforts to bully them into complying with his demands to change election results. Instead, they followed the rules and followed the law. This respect for the rule of law, not the rule of men, is what has allowed American democracy to survive for more than 200 years.

In the four years since losing the election, Mr. Trump has become only more determined to subvert the rule of law, because his whole theory of Trumpism boils down to doing whatever he wants without consequence. Americans are seeing this unfold as Mr. Trump attempts to fight off numerous criminal charges. Not content to work within the law to defend himself, he is instead turning to sympathetic judges — including two Supreme Court justices with apparent conflicts over the 2020 election and Jan. 6-related litigation. The playbook: delay federal prosecution until he can win election and end those legal cases. His vision of government is one that does what he wants, rather than a government that operates according to the rule of law as prescribed by the Constitution, the courts and Congress.

As divided as America is, people across the political spectrum generally recoil from rigged rules, favoritism, self-dealing and abuse of power. Our country has been so stable for so long in part because most Americans and most American leaders follow the rules or face the consequences.

So much in the past two decades has tested these norms in our society — the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, the failures that led to the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that followed, the pandemic and all the fractures and inequities that it revealed. We need a recommitment to the rule of law and the values of fair play. This election is a moment for Americans to decide whether we will keep striving for those ideals.

Mr. Trump rejects them. If he is re-elected, America will face a new and precarious future, one that it may not be prepared for. It is a future in which intelligence agencies would be judged not according to whether they preserved national security but by whether they served Mr. Trump’s political agenda. It means that prosecutors and law enforcement officials would be judged not according to whether they follow the law to keep Americans safe but by whether they obey his demands to “go after” political enemies. It means that public servants would be judged not according to their dedication or skill but by whether they show sufficient loyalty to him and his MAGA agenda.

Even if Mr. Trump’s vague policy agenda would not be fulfilled, he could rule by fear. The lesson of other countries shows that when a bureaucracy is politicized or pressured, the best public servants will run for the exits.

This is what has already happened in Mr. Trump’s Republican Party, with principled leaders and officials retiring, quitting or facing ouster. In a second term, he intends to do that to the whole of government.

Election Day is less than four months away. The case against Mr. Trump is extensive, and this board urges Americans to perform a simple act of civic duty in an election year: Listen to what Mr. Trump is saying, pay attention to what he did as president and allow yourself to truly inhabit what he has promised to do if returned to office.

Voters frustrated by inflation and immigration or attracted by the force of Mr. Trump’s personality should pause and take note of his words and promises. They have little to do with unity and healing and a lot to do with making the divisions and anger in our society wider and more intense than they already are.

The Republican Party is making its choice next week; soon all Americans will be able to make their own choice. What would Mr. Trump do in a second term? He has told Americans who he is and shown them what kind of leader he would be.

When someone fails so many foundational tests, you don’t give him the most important job in the world.

From top, photographs and video by Damon Winter/The New York Times (2) and Jay Turner Frey Seawell (5).

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