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I have a world in which several neighboring countries are in an ongoing long term military conflict. The style of conflict fluctuates between a cold war USSR vs US, current North vs South Korea and actual modern land battle near the borders.

As a result I want to have a compulsory military service that all citizens in these countries have to undertake. This would mean not just undertaking training but seeing active duty in the conflict area, so that each citizen can take their turn being involved. Not sure if this would be equivalent to one tour?

Since there are projects undertaking in this world I would like the compulsory service to be as realistically short as possible so that citizens that are involved in these projects before service can return to them on completion to continue to assist with infrastructure and the economy. I know that in the past and at present some countries have compulsory service of 1-2 years. Would this be realistically long enough to include both infantry training and see active duty?

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    $\begingroup$ You're only going to have fresh recruits at the front at all times, I'm not sure this is the best approach for your army in general. $\endgroup$
    – RancidCrab
    Dec 3 '21 at 11:02
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe I've misunderstood you, but I thought having compulsory military service was quite commonly used in many countries today, or is there something I'm missing? worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/… $\endgroup$
    – FrontEnd
    Dec 3 '21 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ Most countries have started to rely on armies made of professionals, as the time of "who has more cannon fodder to throw on the battlefield wins" seems to have passed, for regular conflicts $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Dec 3 '21 at 11:20
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    $\begingroup$ Just four years (1914-1918) of "modern land battle near the borders" between France and Germany killed more than one million French and one million German soldiers. For comparison, that is roughly the number of boys born in three consecutive years. And that was with no effective aviation, no missiles, no thermobaric bombs etc. One shudders to think what would have happened if the war had been prolonged for the "long term". $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 3 '21 at 13:13
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    $\begingroup$ "UAE (3 years, for High school dropouts)" "Chad (3 years men, 1 year women." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… - those are the only countries with "longer than 18 months". If you lived in a country that IS going to draft for 4 years, wouldn't you get your kids TF outta there? $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Dec 3 '21 at 22:19
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2-3 years

Israel is a country that has mandatory conscription that lasts 2 years minimum for women and two and a half years for men. Israel is a developed country that is very nice to visit. There are great universities, stunning historical sites, and clearly marked bomb shelters in the case of missile attacks. Israel straddles the line between first world country and active war zone, and their conscription program mirrors that reality perfectly.

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    $\begingroup$ Not so much though, because Israel's enemies today are mostly armed with rocks and suicide bombs (if they're armed at all). Training for compulsory military service is enough to fight off children throwing rocks, but it's not the same as training a modern soldier for a modern warzone where the other side has similar equipment to you. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Dec 4 '21 at 1:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Graham Nobody likes armies fighting children, but it should be obvious that that is not the only purpose of Israel's army. They have been attacked by neighbours several times, which is what the multi-year training is mostly protecting against. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Dec 4 '21 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark 50 years ago, sure. As much as that's invoked as a reason, it doesn't actually stack up against current politics, nor current military reality. Afghanistan shows us that conscripts can win against a modern army - but only with space to fight a guerrilla war of attrition, and only at massive cost in lives. It's merely an "us and them" team-building exercise, in the same way as every peace-time national service system ever. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Dec 4 '21 at 21:02
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Give meaningful training

Certain countries have or had armed forces whose primary purpose was to train the reserves. They were not in a shooting war, but they feared one to come without time to train new recruits. Arguably, Switzerland for most of the 20th century and West Germany during the Cold War could be characterized that way. Of course there would still be an active-duty force, and many long-term regulars, but training recruits was one of their primary peacetime tasks.

Call it one year to give a recruit basic training and a simplified specialist training, enough to become a tank driver or an infantry machine gunner. After that, a little bit of time to "settle" in their role and to reinforce those lessons, before they are allowed home to university or vocational training. Plus regular reserve exercises, several weeks at a time, spread over the following decade or two.

Perhaps 1.5 years for the initial hitch, plus ten reserve exercises, for a total of 2 years.

Individual combat tours

Time and again countries had the idea to send individuals on their tours of duty, and to rotate them out again when their time was up.

Bad idea.

Instead, after 12 months of training and 6 months of additional-on-the-job-training, some recruits are not yet released, instead their unit gets 6 more months of pre-deployment training and an one-year rotation to a combat zone. The unit, not the individual.

Either recruits are asked after basic if they "would like" to extend their draft with a combat tour, and then posted to a unit with is scheduled for a combat rotation, or the service bureaucracy decides for them. Either way, the tasking of their unit can change according to the needs of the service, with little consideration for individual career plans.

On the plus side, these three-year draftees will become reserve sergeants after their combat tour -- they might not be fully qualified as a regular sergeant, but compared to those who did just 18 months they have plenty of experience. It might even be a precondition for a ROTC scholarship.

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    $\begingroup$ Prussia did this sort of thing after being defeated by Napoleon. The peace treaty limited the size of their army, so they instituted a system where men were conscripted, drilled hard for several weeks to give them the basics, and then "released" to be replaced by another new group, so when war broke out again they had a large base of men who could quickly be mobilized. This worked well enough that the Treaty of Versailles specifically banned the Germans from trying this again by making the volunteers soldiers serve a minimum of 10 years. $\endgroup$ Dec 3 '21 at 18:14
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By nature, if such a system were to function, it would have to be detached from modern notions of warfare and conscription. Beginning with the French Revolution in 1792 and the 'invention' of the levée en masse, a large amount of non-proxy wars between developed powers have been considered 'total wars,' e.g. wars where civilian life is significantly disrupted and civilians are drafted into the military in order to bolster its numbers. This tied in with the French Republic's ideals of citizenship and the resulting obligation of every citizen to defend their nation. Naturally, this state becomes extremely difficult to upkeep after even relatively short amounts of time depending on the exact numbers of your draft, resulting in damage to the economy and by extension the very war machine that fuels the conflict.

Knowing all this, there are a few possible suggestions to offer as an explanation of the perpetual conflict not devolving into a total war:

  1. The war is held by proxy, in a location such as the Middle East or Africa. The major powers, for one reason or another, instill a draft and send these draftees into active combat. The problem with this is garnering domestic political support for a continued war in Lord knows where against an enemy that isn't actively threatening. (see: Vietnam War, War in Afghanistan)
  2. The war does involve direct combat between the two powers, but a gentlemen's agreement is in place. With nuclear weaponry and MAD to enforce it, a form of restricted warfare might be adopted to attempt and avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. Once again, we run into the issue of the war being so drawn out that it may start to lose meaning and both the support of the population and willingness of politicians to not just make peace would be in question.
  3. The powers threw everything but the kitchen sink into the conflict early on, but were so evenly matched that even this resulted in a stalemate or very few border changes. What little remains of their professional militaries now simply has to be bolstered by draftees, and even then is only enough to launch small scale, local attacks that tend to be quickly pushed back. Once again, the question of "why not simply call a truce" is on the table.

All in all, the notions of "modern warfare between major powers" and "taking any longer than a couple of years" are very much opposed, and have been so since at least the early 19th century.

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    $\begingroup$ The Indian-Chinese border since 1962 seems to be an example of suggestion 2, and the situation does not seem to have become meaningless to either side yet. $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Dec 3 '21 at 19:41
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6 month to 6 years

This really depends on the activity of the conflict and population of the country. Real war would require long service, while simmering cold-war tension would be less demanding.

The lower and upper bounds for the length of the service are defined by the time a recruit can be fully trained in modern military and the point at which removing part of population from civilian life would make this arrangement economically unsustainable. Of course if we have a military-run economy in which soldiers build houses and raise crops, upper bound can be higher.

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  • $\begingroup$ Six months isn't long enough to train more than cannon fodder. If you're looking for troops that are actually functional at the front lines, you need a minimum service of a year if you're building reserves for later call-up, or 18 months if your recruits are expected to go into combat immediately after training. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Dec 4 '21 at 0:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark "Six months isn't long enough" - In US Army, Initial Entry Training typically lasts less than 6 month, and after that Reserve/National Guard just go home - their training is complete. Keep in mind, our goal here is not to make Master Sargent out of every recruit. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Dec 4 '21 at 0:47
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It depends on your scenario. Conscription is never necessary - if a country can tax the wealthy, they can recruit a professional force without the training issues. The length of time on the front depends on how many enemy troops have been moved up to oppose them. There may not be any time on the front - for example, Uighur occupational training in Xinjiang, or roughly homologous proposals for compulsory national service occasionally mooted in the United States. The defining characteristic of conscription is that the low-class laborers are required to do what You The Leader tell them to, for however long you want, and you pay them whatever you want. The rest depends on what you want!

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  • $\begingroup$ USA had conscription in the two world wars. Wealthy in usa then were taxed and heavily. Even at a million dollar a month salary you cannot convert your entire able-bodied men into engineers or doctors as much as you can into professional soldiers. As long as any occupation is filled with professionals (skilled volunteers - at high salary you can have more volunteers but there is a natural limit to how much a given person can be skilled in any given occupation) there is an upper limit. $\endgroup$
    – Atif
    Dec 7 '21 at 10:32

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