Europe

Austrians Vote to Keep the Draft

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Sixty percent of Austrian voters decided yesterday to continue forcing 18-year-olds to perform six-month stints in the military. Some 22,000 men are conscripted each year. Thousands more do nine months of compulsory work in ambulances, senior centers, and other civilian-service jobs.

Via Reuters:

"I'm happier having people of all psychological types in the army, not just people who are really into it," said Andreas Gorbach, a 53-year-old advertising consultant who voted for the draft despite saying he did not enjoy his own time in the army.

…Many voters were swayed by warnings from emergency services organizations such as the Red Cross, who had said they would not be able to cope without the 14,000 young men who opt for community service each year.

Petra, a 39-year-old lawyer casting her vote in favor of ending conscription in Vienna on Sunday, disagreed.

"Community service clearly borders on forced labor," she said. "We should pay for this work more fairly and should only let it be done by those—men and women, and of whatever age—who actually want to do it and are interested."

Perhaps the Red Cross could contact its offices in Germany, Sweden, or Italy—which have all recently scrapped conscription into military and civilian service—to see how they are coping without coerced labor.

Other voters were concerned that moving to a professional army would be expensive. But, says Reason columnist Steve Chapman:  

The draft doesn't reduce the cost of carrying on a war. It merely shifts it from taxpayers at large to able-bodied males, a saving for the federal budget but an enormous burden on conscripts. That's why the journalist Nicholas von Hoffman once urged, "Draft old men's money, not young men's bodies."

[Moreover] it's a colossal waste to cycle large numbers of people, many of them poorly suited to military service, through the ranks for a couple of years just so they can bail out at the first opportunity. The all-volunteer force provides a far bigger return on training dollars, while enlisting men and women who want to do what soldiers do—including combat.

Voters in Switzerland will decide whether or not to keep the draft later this year. Click here and here for more Reason coverage of mandatory service.