According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Mongolia is one of 73 countries that have some form of conscription, or mandatory military service. Currently, the ages for compulsory and voluntary military service are 18 to 27. All males have a one year conscript service obli-
gation in armed or air forces, or in law enforcement.
Men’s conscription in the modern era started in 1912, a time when the country (under the rule of Bogd Khan) was trying to maintain its newfound independence. After 1911, the value of the military, and conscription as a byproduct, increased. During the threat of Japanese militarism in the 1930s, the role of the military was as important as ever. This all came to a head with the Battle of Khalkhiin Gol in 1939. However, the role of the military has dwindled since then, with the last active engagement of the army being in 1948. Mongolia’s national security has depended on diplomacy rather than militarism. With countries with two of the world’s largest armies for neighbors, Mongolia is limited in its capacity to protect its border in the event of a foreign invasion. Even though it is important for a country to have a military, building one up by conscription does not seem to be ideal for Mongolia.
One of the main arguments used for conscription is the potential character building that military service entails. Many people tend to be of the mindset that serving in the military makes a person more mature and stronger. While this can be true for some, mandatory military service in the country has been seen by many people as both physically and mentally damaging. The amount of hazing and “tough love” discipline that takes place in the military is common knowledge and, to a certain extent, is accepted. In previous years, there have been several reports of soldiers dying while carrying out their mandatory military service. Some reports even indicate that soldiers have been beaten to death by their superiors. There is potentially a myriad of unreported cases of abuse that have not been disclosed due to protecting state secrets. The problem seems to be that since every male is conscripted, individuals who are physically ready but not psychologically or mentally fit for service are still enlisted.
Conscription has also been unfairly and unevenly imposed on individuals. Since it is possible to make a payment to the government to dodge the mandatory one year of service, those who are in higher socioeconomic classes have the opportunity to avoid it. It is also possible for university students to opt out. Young men who are not able to pay are required by law to serve. This creates an inequality gap, in which young men from low income groups with no higher education are forced to serve in the military. The military could potentially offer opportunities to those men to improve their lives, but when service is forced upon them, it can be detrimental.
Aside from the negative aspects conscription has for many soldiers, it can also have a negative effect on the country’s workforce. Men with higher education, who could be contributing to the economy and society in other ways, are wasting their time in the military. Realistically, young men are risking their mental and physical health, and their future careers as an extension, when fulfilling their mandatory service. Austria, for instance, has mandatory military service, but also offers alternate ways to fulfill their service, including opportunities in the civil sector. This allows individuals to choose how to fulfill their civic duty depending on their own preferences and abilities. It is a way of serving their country without having to enlist in the military. Reforming conscription to a system like Austria’s could be an alternative to abolishing it outright.
To be frank, there aren’t many solid arguments for conscription to continue. In a democratic country which prioritizes human rights, forcing a group of the population to serve in the military is unfair and not conducive to the ideals of the country. While some people might argue that many developed countries technically still practice conscription, such as Austria, a large number of them do not enforce conscription and their armies are primarily composed of volunteers. The most ideal path for Mongolia is to abolish conscription during peacetime, while increasing the salaries of volunteers. Building an army of volunteers creates a much more efficient and professional army, one capable of protecting the country. Abolishing conscription during peacetime still leaves the opportunity to change the system in the event of war. This, coupled with the reform of military standards, will help fully modernize the Mongolian Armed Forces.