Government proposes scrapping military service

Half a billion kroner could be saved by ending compulsory military service for 18-year-olds but opposition parties oppose the move

Compulsory military service may be suspended in order to help the Ministry of Defence find the 2.7 billion kroner of cuts it has promised to make.

The news comes ahead of the start of negotiations today between the government and the parties that voted in favour of the last defence budget that expires in two years time.

Compulsory military service is written into the Danish constitution, making it difficult to abolish. That is why the government has instead proposed to suspend the tradition.

The negotiations to cut the defence budget will have consequences for the future capacities of the Danish military. According to Berlingske newspaper, most of the negotiations have so far been held in private.

Reports suggest that the preliminary negotiations seem to have found about two billion kroner of cuts, while suspending military service is hoped to save an additional 500 million kroner a year.

Almost all 18-year-old Danish men – and a small number of women – serve at least four months of military service once they complete upper secondary school.

The tradition started in the middle of the 19th century and is now considered a rite of passage for most men while also providing the Danish military with a large recruitment ground for its professional army.

As a result, right-wing parties the Konservative (K) and Dansk Folkeparti (DF) are against suspending it.

“We believe that military service creates a good recruitment ground for the military and ensures a good connection between society and the military,” DF’s defence spokesperson, Maria Krarup, told the Ritzau news bureau. “I hope that we won’t need a lot of soldiers in the future, but we can’t see into the future. If we do suddenly need more troops, it would be easy to increase their numbers if we had a national service.”

K's defence spokesperson, Lene Espersen, has completely ruled out supporting any new defence budget that suspends national service.

“We want to keep national service and will not agree to a defence budget that de facto abolishes it,” Espersen told Ritzau. “This is an ultimate demand and we will not compromise.”

Traditionally, parliamentary agreements about the defence and the military are made with as broad consensus as possible.

DF’s and K’s opposition to ending military service therefore complicates the job of the government and the defence minister, Nick Hækkerup (Socialdemokraterne), who has long argued in favour of suspending national service.

Opposition party Liberal Alliance (LA) is for getting rid of it though.

“National service belongs to the past,” LA's defence spokesperson Villum Christensen told Ritzau. “It’s a very expensive way to educate soldiers. We would rather have a professional army.”

The suspension of compulsory military service will probably result in the closure of barracks across Denmark, bringing with it job losses. Which barracks will be closed and which jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts will be determined through the government negotiations.

Factfile | Military service

  • 5,067 people served in national service in 2011. Only 9.5 percent were women.
  • All Danish men residing in Denmark are automatically called into an introduction day when they turn 18, where they take a test and have their health tested.
  • Those that are considered suitable to join can choose to pull a number to see if they have to serve the national service. If the number chosen is above a predetermined threshold, they do not have to serve.
  • If you choose to join voluntarily without picking a number you can choose where to serve in the country, otherwise you are assigned a department –  either navy, army or air force.
  • The national service is a minimum of four months.

(Source: Forsvaret / Ritzau)