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A New Professional Army for France

A New Professional Army for France

National Service: questions to be debated (Part 16)

The choice made by the President of the Republic in favour of professional Armed Forces will imply the almost complete disappearance of conscripts within the Armed Forces. This raises the question of the future of National Service.

1. What would be the objectives of a renovated National Service

Three main objectives could be fixed :

  • contribution towards maintaining the security of persons and goods,
  • ensuring the transmission of democratic values and providing the link between citizens and the Nation,
  • participation in national solidarity and in the reinforcement of social cohesion, particularly by giving a "second chance" to young French people in situations of failure or marginalisation;

2. What type of renovated National Service ?

This type of National Service could be deployed around three main fields : security and defence, fellowship and cohesion, international co-operation and humanitarian action.

Each of these fields could present several types of service :

- the security and defence service could be carried out :

  • in the Armed Forces, either in the environment of the forces, or within the forces in the perspective of an eventual engagement,
  • in the National Military Police Force, as a reinforcement of territorial brigades or to ensure general security missions,
  • in the National Police Force in the form of simple missions of assistance to the population or as auxiliaries in the framework of police activities,
  • in the customs, mainly in port or airport zones,
  • as firemen within the Civil Security Intervention Units, in the Paris and Marseilles Fire Brigades or within the Red Cross,
  • in the National Forestry Office, within territorial communities or in national parks, for the benefit of environmental protection.

- the solidarity service would be of two main types:

  • support to public interest organisations in charge of social reception, insertion and emergencies (in the vane of the "urban affairs", "handicapped" and "homecoming servicemen" services which already exist),
  • the insertion of young men and women in difficulty, prefigured in the present "adapted military service" which could be partly supervised by young men and women having completed a training course.

- the international co-operation and humanitarian action service would enable the reinforcement of France's cultural and humanitarian action, whether for the promotion of the French language, assistance in social development or participation in the improvement of the sanitary conditions of populations.

3. Compulsory conscription or voluntariate ?

Another question to be answered is whether national service should be compulsory or not.

Should we :

  • maintain compulsory conscription within a renovated national service ? or
  • establish a new type of service based on voluntariate ?

The maintenance of a compulsory service enables the construction of a large-scale project to which a significant part of the Nation's strength would contribute. It would enable an easy transition to professional Armed Forces, by gradually reducing the military aspect of national service.

Voluntary service raises certain difficulties but also presents certain advantages.

Two difficulties :

  • it does not guarantee the regularity and the number of staff presently at the disposal of certain ministries (town, national education, police... ) and whose contribution is highly useful ;
  • if the voluntary service system is put into practice before the end of the transition phase (6 years), the reduction in the size of the Armed Forces and the associated restructuration measures will have to be accelerated.

The first difficulty may be overcome by various incentives (length of service taken into account for those intending to enlist, subsidies and compensation systems, valorisation of the professional experience acquired... ).

The advantages :

  • voluntary service ensures perfect equality between men and women ;
  • it favours the types of service based on solidarity, which are most likely to attract young men and women and to meet with their approval.

All these questions and proposals are to be discussed on a national level in the weeks to come, in conformity with the promises made by the Government in Spring 1995.

Sources: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defence

French Embassies in London and Washington.

For more information, go to French National Defense.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).