Which nations have necessary National Service – and the way it works

A National Service programme has not run in Britain since the 1960s. But that could soon change.

As the Tories propose bringing it back for 18-year-olds, we look at how it works in other countries.

In the UK, compulsory national service required all physically fit British men, aged between 18 and 26, to serve in the armed forces.

It offered several roles at home, such as clerical work, and abroad, including fighting on the frontline.

Students and apprentices could defer until they had completed their education or training.

Rishi Sunak calls for a general election in the rain

The announcement has been widely mocked
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According to the World Population Review, 80 countries globally currently have some form of national service or conscription in place. In total, 66 counties have made military service mandatory.

  • In Switzerland, 18 weeks of military service training is mandatory for all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 30, as well as yearly refresher courses. Those who object can take part in civilian service, which is longer, and focuses on social welfare, healthcare and environmental protection.

  • In Sweden, all citizens must complete a military enlistment form after turning 18 and, if selected, enrol in basic military training.

  • Conscription in Denmark is mandatory for all physically fit men over the age of 18. Only around 5,000 undergo basic training, but people remain eligible for further conscription until the age of 50.

  • In Estonia, men aged 18-27 must partake in mandatory military or government national service. The duration is eight to 11 months, depending on a person’s education and rank. Reservists must attend military training courses every five years.

  • In 2015, the Lithuanian Armed Forces reintroduced compulsory military service for men aged 19-26. Conscripts must serve for a minimum of nine months.

  • All men in Russia aged between 18 and 30 must complete twelve months of military service or join the ‘alternate civil service’ for 21 months in jobs such as nurses, cleaners, and postal workers. Conscription takes place twice a year during spring and autumn.

  • Norway has technically had compulsory military service since 1907, with men and women aged between 19 and 44 (or 18 to 55 in times of war) ordered to complete nineteen months of service. But it is highly competitive in reality – in 2023, 9,840 people were accepted – just over a quarter. Citizens who aren’t medically fit, or are conscious objectors are exempt.

  • All able-bodied men in South Korea must serve between 18 to 21 months in the armed forces by the time they are 28. The length varies per branch, with those in the Army or Marines serving 18 months, conscripts in the Navy or firefighting service serving 20 months, and any conscripts in the Air Force required to serve 21 months. Conscientious objectors struggle to gain employment and can be forced to carry out 36 months of service working in the prison system

  • Most Israeli men and women must enrol in military service at 18. Men are expected to serve a minimum of 32 months and women a minimum of 24 months.

Celebs who have served

  • Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, 39, served two years of national service in the Israeli army as a combat fitness instructor.
  • In Norway, Princess Ingrid Alexandra who is second in line to the throne, was conscripted in January this year. The 20-year-old is serving as an engineer.
  • Tottenham forward Son Heung-min, 31, only had to do four weeks’ service as a reward for helping South Korea win football gold at the 2018 Asian Games.
  • Meanwhile, all the members of the K-pop group BTS – one of the world’s top-selling bands with millions of fans – are currently serving in South Korea’s armed forces and plan to reunite in 2025. In 2020, the South Korean parliament passed a bill allowing the group to delay their compulsory military service until the age of 30. The eldest member, Jin, joined in December 2022, followed by J-Hope a few months later. Suga and RM, the group’s leader, joined near the end of December 2023, followed by Jimin and Jungkook. Currently, Suga is fulfilling his requirements as a social service agent, while the rest of the group is serving in the army.