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Denmark - Total Defence - Conscription

Since 1975 the defence forces have consisted partly of personnel appointed on contract, and partly of conscripts. The defence forces on full mobilisation number c. 45,000 men. The army's peacetime size is c. 15,500, civilians included. The wartime strength of the air force after mobilisation is c. 9,500. Its peacetime strength is c. 6,050, civilians included. After mobilisation the wartime strength of the navy is c. 7,300. In peacetime the navy accounts for c. 5,300.

A volunteer force of c. 59,000 constitutes the Home Defence forces, which in peacetime are under the command of the Home Guard Command. The force includes the military home defence forces, organised in territorially defined home defence companies which in wartime form part of the forces of the military regions, and the naval home defence force, which supports the navy, and finally include the air force home defence force supporting the air force Surveillance and Early Warning group by monitoring low-altitude air space, assisting with surveillance tasks, etc.

On an annual basis c. 6,400 are conscripted, corresponding to c. 20% of a given year. National service, which only applies to men, entails 4-12 months service, depending on the duties to which the conscript is assigned. For certain medical duties there is a four-month service, for ordinary military service the period is 8-9 months, whereas infantry soldiers serve for 10 months; the Royal Lifeguard and the Household Mounted Squadron serve for 12 months. Women can undertake voluntary military service on a contractual basis or under conditions similar to those applying to men doing their compulsory military service.

Conscription is a subject of debate with the public, academics, and politicians. This became clear during the preparations of the Danish Defence Agreement for 2005-2009, and over the years, conscription has been a subject of interest to both politicians and the press. Views in the political world range from the Social Democrats' wish to discontinue conscription. Skeptics note that because professional forces can perform a greater number of and more complex tasks than conscripted forces, it is even more important for politicians to progressively and clearly define the role of the armed forces and to ensure there is balance between ways and means.

By the end of 2009, the Danish Armed Forces had approximately 2,300 vacancies. Balancing the books so far had been possible only through redirecting the payroll savings to cover the gap. However, this is not sustainable indefinitely, as the strain on the soldiers who remain in the Danish Armed Forces will just become even heavier.

Conscription is enshrined in art. 81 of the 1953 Constitution, which states: "All men able to bear arms are under the obligation (...) to the defence of the nation"1. The present basis of conscription is the 2006 National Service Law (Vrnepligtsloven). The length of military service is between 3 days and 14 months, depending on the branch of the armed forces and the rank attained. Most conscripts perform a 4 months' military service. All men between the ages of 18 and 30 are liable for military service. The selection of conscripts is by balloting, as the number of young men available for military service is much greater than the number considered necessary by the Danish National Forces. Selection involves drawing lots during medical examination, which takes place during newly introduced "Danish Defence Days" (Forsvarets dag). The lots are actually not drawn by the conscripts themselves but by the military authorities.

Conscription may be purported, as by Hans Christian Bjerg, as having "stood out for 150 years as the link between the Danish people and their defense". Conscription has been there, he argues, in order to provide an outlet for a will to defend oneself, thereby constituting "a natural part of the Danish society". Hans Engell views conscription as "a piece of Danish people's culture and an expression of the determination to pursue a defense as embedded in the people". Yet another voice depicting conscription as integral to Danishness consists of Thomas Thaulow who perceives the conscription-based forces and the people as a unified entity.

But the history of Danish conscription seems to confirm that the concept should not be taken for granted in the first place. Rather than having acquired an uncontested and sedimentary status, it has been a source of debate, bitter discord and sometimes even revolt. King Fredrik VI (due to his absolutist leanings) was a formidable opponent of the concept of 'citizens in arms'. Conscription was was also more broadly opposed by the upper echelons (particularly by the land-owners).

In opposing a standing army N.F.S. Grundtvig, the founding 'father' of the Danish nation-state, was hesitant about the introduction of a system of general conscription. He acclaimed: "no general conscription equal with serfdom, but an arming of the people with freedom". Pertti Joenniemi notes "With the people seen as the key entity to be protected, a Swiss type of militiabased system premised on the idea furnishing the 'people' with abilities and equipment allowing them to defend themselves enjoyed considerable support in the debates that took place towards the end-1840s and even later on .... This looked mandatory if one was to safeguard that the system remained defensive ('an arming of the people') in character rather than turned into an offensive ('a standing army') one with power political inclinations."

A system of conscription was introduced to suppress the secession of the German-speaking parts of the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. The war between the years 1848-50 ended in victory with the revolting regions (revolting also against military service) remaining part of Denmark. The decision to introduce conscription was written into the constitution in 1849: "Each man eligible is personally committed to contribute to the defense of the Fatherland along lines as laid down in the law in a more detailed manner". In addition to the secessionist war that Schleswig-Holstein waged against Denmark, the positive outcome also pertained to the new king, Frederic VII, who harbored a more favorable attitude towards conscription.

By the 21st Century, total defence encompassed the utilisation of all resources in order to maintain an organised, functional society and to protect the population and the national assets. The threats to be countered by total defence cut across national borders and the domestic administrative domains of various public authorities. As a result, threat containment demands joint solutions and close coordination among the accountable international and national authorities.

One of the benefits for Danish society, from Danish Defence's previous conscript training for the mobilisation-based combat force, is that many persons were trained as conscripts in several disciplines that have now become increasingly relevant. This applies to fields such as surveillance, first aid, emergency response and defensive measures to counter atomic, biological and chemical weapons, etc. In the current situation, other parts of the conventional conscript training for territorial defence has lost much of its relevance, but personnel are still needed to enable Danish Defence to contribute to total defence. The compulsory military service, as stipulated in Article 81 of the Danish Constitution, should therefore be adjusted accordingly.

In other regards, total defence is to be strengthened to the greatest possible extent by integration of national emergency response effort and Danish Defence, in a structure that ensures synergy and simplification. Comparably, the Home Guard is to be integrated into the operational and support structures of Danish Defence - without sacrificing its identity.

In addition, total defence is to be bolstered by establishing a total defence force comprising some 12,000 soldiers who have completed a relevant 700-hour training programme over a four-month period. Within the first three years following completion of the initial joint military training programme, this force shall be at the disposal of Danish Defence for performing total defence tasks for the Danish community, provided that the capabilities of the standing forces of Danish Defence, the national emergency management effort and the Home Guard are insufficient. Total defence force thereby ensures that Denmark has sufficient available capacity to contain threats against the country and to handle large-scale catastrophes.

The needs of the Danish Defence are directly proportionate with the numbers of young people that are called upon to do military service. All young men are required to attend "The Day of the Danish Defence" and all young women are invited to attend it. On this day the Danish Defence introduces itself, presents career opportunities and distributes relevant information. On the basis of this day of presentation and orientation of the Danish Defence the participants then inform the Defence whether they would like to volunteer to do conscription or whether they are interested in another form of employment with the Danish Defence. Subsequently the Defence draws up a contract for voluntary army training and also decides the number of conscripts needed. Finally the suitability of individuals - conscripts as well as volunteers - for army services is evaluated.

Payment as well as other benefits for conscripts will be raised compared to the present pay during the first four months of conscription.

The long-awaited Defence Commission report was published 27 March 2009, highlighting the need for an extra 2,000 soldiers in the armed forces and several billion kroner more in the defence budget. It was expected that the commission would take a hard line on the issue of conscription, which has widely questioned in recent times. However, the report said that conscription should remain, but suggested a 'detailed investigation into the future of conscription'. A broad majority in parliament is prepared to begin including young women who have reached their 18th birthdays in the military's draft board reviews.

On 30 November 2012 the Danish coalition government (the Social Democrats, the Social-Liberal Party and the Socialist People's Party) and the Venstre (the liberal party), the Danish People's Party, the Liberal Alliance and the Conservatives entered into the an agreement regarding the Danish defence for the period 2013-2017.

For the agreement period 2013-2017, the Parties to the Defence Agreement agreed that the national service is retained in all the three services, but adjusted to the current needs of the Danish armed forces. The total number of conscripts in the Danish defence is to be reduced from a total of abt. 5,000 in 2012 to a total of abt. 4,200.

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