James Pattison

Conscription and the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach

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Conscription and the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach

For some defenders of a civic republican vision of the armed forces, citizens must perform military service since this comprises a central part of their civic responsibility.37 Military service to protect the state, along with paying taxes and voting, is a crucial element of being a good citizen. On this view, the performance of such civic duties is valuable because the health of the democratic institutions of the state depends on its citizens participating fully in all aspects of the state. This version of the civic republican account appears to imply, then, a citizen-soldier model of the soldier, where conscripted citizens perform compulsory military service.38 In what follows, I examine—and repudiate—the case for the conscripted citizen-soldier model of the armed forces according to the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach.

First, the effectiveness of a conscripted force is doubtful.39 A conscript on a short term of duty does not have much time to be trained properly, which is particularly a concern when it comes to more complex military operations. A longer term of duty may allow for greater training, but will reduce the number of those drafted overall, which impacts on the case for tackling the civil-military gap, and, given that it is longer, will be potentially worse in terms of the undermining of individual autonomy (I discuss these two points further below). In addition, a system of universal or random conscription cannot select the personnel most likely to be able to perform effectively military operations. In fact, it can be expected to conscript many wholly unsuitable individuals. In addition, as I will discuss shortly, conscription can lead to more and worse wars.

Nevertheless, for defenders of obligatory military service, one of the central advantages of conscription is that it leads to a smaller civil-military gap.40 This is because, the argument runs, when citizens are made to perform military service, they will become more educated in military matters and therefore will be able to appreciate, as well as to question, the demands made by the military on society. Yet, in response, most modern armies are much smaller than the number of young adults who would be eligible for military service. As a result, only very few individuals would gain experience of military matters. To minimise the gap, a much larger and potentially more unwieldy conscripted army would have to be maintained.41

It is also claimed that conscription enhances transparency and participation, and therefore helps to achieve good governance. To that extent, Deborah Avant and Lee Sigelman argue that individuals become more interested in foreign policy matters if they have to bear the burden of carrying out foreign policy themselves.42 Furthermore, governments will be more responsive to their citizensviews on foreign policy matters, since citizens will demand transparency and that their opinions on foreign policy are taken into account. It also follows, according to this argument, that conscription reduces the number of wars fought since any hawkish tendencies of the polity soon dissipate when citizens have to do the fighting themselves. More specifically, conscription reduces the number of unjust wars launched, but not the number of just wars. Citizens may be willing to fight in wars of a defensive nature (which are the wars typically viewed as just), but not to engage in foreign interventions (typically viewed with more scepticism). Indeed, there often exist constitutional and political obstacles to using a conscripted force to fight in wars that are not clearly defensive, such as foreign interventions.

If it were true that a conscripted army is less likely to fight unjust wars, this would present a major reason in favour of this way of organising the military. In this context, John Rawls, who is generally sceptical about the justifiability of conscription, argues that if conscripted armies are less likely to engage in unjustified foreign ventures, conscription may be justified on this basis alone, despite the fact that it infringes upon the equal liberties of citizens.43 Yet it is simply not true that conscription leads to fewer unjust wars. On the contrary, conscripted armies can generally be expected lead to more unjust wars. In his comparison of conscripted and volunteer forces, Jeffrey Pickering finds that once the other variables have been controlled, a state that relies on a conscripted force is 58% more likely to use belligerent force (which may be more likely to be unjust), 39% more likely to engage in operations other than war (OTTW), and 227% more likely to use force against nonstate actors than a state with an AVF.44 In addition, Pickering notes that there is little statistically significant evidence to suggest that conscripted armies are any more likely to engage in humanitarian operations (which may be more likely to be just). He suggests that the belligerency of states with conscripted armies seems to stem from the fact that they have a ready supply of labour.45 By contrast, maintaining a volunteer army requires keeping it as a desirable option. In short, if wars are continually waged, individuals will not want to sign up. Furthermore, the ready source of soldiers that conscription provides may mean that wars may be more destructive with a conscripted army. Leaders will be less worried about the deaths of their own soldiers and so be more willing to take on casualty-heavy operations.

It is also not true that a state that is based on conscription is likely to be more reflective of its citizenswishes in its foreign policy. Although occasionally the draft is universal, in general it is only the young who are conscripted, and the young are likely to possess far less political sway than their older, perhaps more hawkish, fellow citizens. Moreover, citizensinterest in foreign policy does not depend on them taking on the burdens of war fighting. For instance, in the UK an estimated one million protested in London about the Iraq War on 16 February 2003.46 Citizens are, then, often highly exercised by foreign policy and potential wars, even if they do not have to do the fighting themselves. Governments are also often responsive, at least partially, to the demands of their non-fighting citizens. Consider, in this context, the general importance given to the 慍NN effectand 慡omalia syndrome both of which depend on the premise that leaders are influenced by civiliansbeliefs and opinions on foreign policy (including when the state does not rely on conscripted armed forces). Thus, the claims that conscription reduces the civil-military gap and encourages its citizens to get involved in democratic politics (and therefore increases democratic control) are mistaken.47

Conscription also does poorly in regard to the proper treatment of military personnel. In most cases, a policy of conscription undermines several freedoms. It potentially violates self-ownership, since the individual抯 body is used in a manner that they do not choose. In addition, it denies freedom of occupational choice and freedom of movement, which are restricted during the period in which the individual is conscripted. If conscientious refusal is not permitted, conscription may also threaten an individual抯 freedom to select the wars in which they participate and, potentially, their freedom of religion.

Civic republicans may respond that compulsory military service does not violate their conception of freedom as nondomination as long as the method of conscription is not unfair.48 I will shortly raise doubts about whether a policy of conscription is likely to be fair in practice and therefore not be arbitrary. More fundamentally, it seems odd to say that military service does not violate individual freedom, since it seems to be such a clear case where it does. Forcing individuals to fight in wars, often against their wishes and at significant risk of death, appears to be an obvious contravention of an individual抯 freedom. Although I cannot pursue the matter further here, if civic republicans want to deny that this is a restriction on individual freedom, then it may be that their conception of freedom as nondomination is implausible.

It may also be replied that in some states where conscription is practised, military service is only one of several options; citizens who do not want to fight can instead choose to perform other civic services. Thus, conscription does not violate individual autonomy since there is a choice whether to perform military service. Moreover, certain states allow their conscripts a right of conscientious refusal to participate in a particular war.49

The problem with this response, however, is that, first, a right of conscientious refusal does not reduce the general problem of the violation of conscriptsautonomy. This is because conscripts would still be required to undertake peacetime terms of service where their freedom is restricted. The second problem with the response is that although the transgression of individual autonomy seems less serious with compulsory civic service (e.g., because individuals are not forced to fight in wars where their lives may be at stake), their individual autonomy is still violated. Individuals are forced to work in hospitals, care homes, and so on, without their consent, in violation of individual self-ownership and freedom of occupation.

This is not to deny that individuals do possess some duties to take part themselves in collective projects; forcing them to perform these duties is not a violation of their individual autonomy since they are obliged to perform these morally important actions anyway (even if they do not consent to do so). These duties include a duty to perform military service when there is no other reasonable way of fighting a just war or of responding to an unjust threat, such as in cases of an unjust mass invasion by a foreign power (an effective response to which requires civilians to take up arms), and some civic duties, such as jury service and the payment of taxation. A full consideration of collective civic duties is beyond the scope of this article. Notwithstanding, it is at least questionable whether individuals have obligations to perform themselves military service and the sort of roles in civic service programs, given that reasonable alternatives exist to achieve the ends of the civic service without relying on these individuals. For instance, the market could be used to hire people to work in care homes.

It should be noted here that accepting that conscription can be permissible when there is no other reasonable way of fighting a just war or of responding to an unjust threat does not mean that in general a policy of conscription is morally permissible. When these conditions are not met, a policy of conscription is morally problematic. That is, when the purpose of conscription is unjustifiable (e.g., to fight unjust wars) or when there exist other reasonable options to fight just wars or to deter unjust threats that do not transgress individual consent (such as using or developing an AVF), a policy of conscription is problematic for the reasons outlined above.
Nonetheless, defenders of a system of conscription claim that this is a fair way of deciding who should bear the burdens of taking up arms.50 This is because conscription seems blind to privilege. By contrast, a volunteer system, such as the AVF or the use of PMSCs, allows for serious inequities in selection because it recruits from the market. In particular, those from the poorer sections of society typically make up the armed forces in a volunteer system. The well off, the argument runs, can choose simply not to participate.

The appeal to fairness is perhaps the strongest reason in favour of conscription. Yet, the strength of this reason is mitigated by several factors. First, when there is a choice between a fair distribution of the burdens of fighting and one that better respects individual autonomy (e.g., the AVF), it is questionable whether the former should be preferred. We may ultimately think that the moral import of having a distribution of the burdens of fighting that better respects individual autonomy is more important than having one that is fair.

Second, in an unequal society, a policy of universal or random conscription is unfair. The case for conscription largely treats the equal distribution of the burdens of war fighting (in the case of universal conscription) or the equal distribution of the chance of having to take on the burdens of war-fighting (in the case of random selection) as a fair arrangement. The case for equitable distribution appeals to the benefits that individuals enjoy which come from the protection of the state. Since these benefits are equally enjoyed, the argument runs, individuals should make an equal contribution or have an equal chance of contributing towards their performance.51 For otherwise, they would be free riding on the efforts of others. However, in societies that are not equal, the poor and disadvantaged typically receive far less from the state in return for their military service and so the case for equitable distribution is unfair. It would be fairer if those who are advantaged and who maintain the inequality were to take on the burdens of war fighting, but this would contravene the alleged equity of the draft.

Third, there is reason to doubt whether a policy of conscription is likely to be fair in practice. Even in long-standing liberal democratic states, conscription has been unfair, with those from the poorer sections of society tending to bear the burdens of military service rather than their better-off fellow citizens. For instance, in France 78% of those with a university diploma escaped military service.52 Consequently, the alleged fairness of a conscripted system does not present a sizeable reason in favour of this way of organising the military.

Conscription, civic duties, and citizenship

In reply, civic republican defenders of conscription may claim that the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach misses an important normative factor—that of citizenship—and that this gives us reason to prefer conscription to any alterative. That is, military service is a central part of citizenship and cannot justifiably be outsourced. To that extent, William Galston asserts that citizenship is an office, not just a status, and, as such, comprises both rights and duties.53 The problem with the AVF (and presumably the use of PMSCs too), he argues, is that by outsourcing the duties of citizenship to others, it reflects and contributes to the development of what he calls 憃ptional citizenship’—the belief that being a citizen involves rights without responsibilities and that we need to do for our state only what we choose—and 憇pectatorial citizenship’—the premise that good citizens need not be active, but can watch others doing the public抯 work on their behalf. Protecting the state, he says, is something that 搘e ought to do for ourselves, as a self-respecting people and it would be shameful to get noncitizens to do our fighting for us.54 Rather than buying replacements, citizens should be motivated by a deep sense of patriotism to defend their state—to fulfil their civic duty. Moreover, by undertaking compulsory military service, individuals learn to be better citizens as they are inculcated in the virtues of citizenship.

There are several problems with these arguments. To start with, even if we do not question the general thrust of the civic republican claims about the importance of citizenship and the performance of civic duty, it is doubtful whether citizenship requires compulsory military service. In this context, Barry Strauss defends the merits of the citizen-soldier ideal, but claims that this can be achieved in other ways without resorting to compulsory military service, such as Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programmes and the expansion of the National Guard, and such measures can increase the number of (non-conscripted) citizen-soldiers.55 It is also doubtful whether citizenship requires military service. Citizens can perform an array of other civic duties, such as being on juries, voting in elections, paying taxes, and following the government抯 laws, dictates, and requests. These can demonstrate that they accept the responsibilities of citizenship and therefore are not 憃ptionalor 憇pectatorialcitizens. It is unclear why military service should be revered so highly compared to the performance of these other duties, especially since conscription is largely unnecessary in states where the AVF is a feasible alternative.

In fact, the AVF may be more compatible with a demanding notion of citizenship. As Ronald Krebs notes, a sense of duty always outpolls the other reasons—including self-interest—why individuals enlist in the AVF.56 By contrast, it is doubtful whether many of those conscripted would, if asked, agree to do so out of civic duty.57 To put it simply, soldiers in the AVF or private contractors could be said to choose to fulfil their civic duties, unlike conscripts who are forced to do so, and so the former are potentially closer to the citizen-soldier ideal.

More fundamentally, the suggestion that conscription makes for virtuous citizens is problematic. Anna Leander claims that the 憊irtuestaught by the military, such as how to kill people effectively and unquestioning obedience, are not the same qualities that make for a virtuous citizen.58 On the contrary, refusing to serve in the military, if it demands morally indefensible participation in a war or if the military is illegitimate might be required by a good citizen.59

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