Conscription is resurging across Europe. Is that a good thing?

Does conscription mean sending poorly trained, disgruntled young people into battle, or can it encourage civic duty and help defend Europe?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 shocked Europe into taking a long hard look at its defences.


With peace in the region no longer a given, many Western capitals began asking if conscription was a solution to their security fears, at times igniting firey debate.

German and British politicians have suggested reviving compulsory military service, while countries already with conscription, such as Denmark and Lithuania, want to extend their drafts.

But is conscription the right approach to Russian aggression? What impacts could its revival have on Europe? Will it prove counterproductive or help defend the region?

“Europe’s armed forces, particularly those on the border with Russia, now realise they don’t have enough manpower,” said Vincenzo Bove, professor of political science at Warwick University, who specialises in conscription. “They clearly see conscription as a solution to that.”

“Whether this is a good idea in terms of deterring a potential Russian invasion, we’re not really sure,” he continued, suggesting there was a lack of evidence about the effectiveness of conscript armies compared to regular forces.

Owing to the complexity of modern warfare, Bove questioned if conscripts could be properly trained to use the advanced equipment or tactics employed today in the short time available.

“Just look at what is happening now in Russia with conscripts… They’re not highly motivated. Young men are being forced to work. The majority of them would rather be doing something else.”

A former Wagner mercenary in July told Euronews that while he served in Ukraine one of his main duties was to ensure Russian conscripts – “barely 21-years-old” – would not run away, as they were so reluctant to fight.

Canon fodder?

Besides economic concerns about the inefficiency of compulsory military service – with massive numbers of people prevented from doing something where they could be more productive – Bove raised ethical concerns about sending civilians into battle with little experience.

Having served in the Italian Navy for 15 years, he said: “Three years isn’t enough to teach the basics of warfare… even using basic weapons requires a lot of training.”

“Some countries are talking about three-month programmes… that’s nothing. They won’t even learn how to salute,” Bove added in jest.


Tucked on Russia’s border via the small enclave of Kaliningrad, Lithuania recently began drafting reforms to its conscription system, which could see people living and studying abroad called up.

One option in the proposals is to enlist recruits voluntarily for one-month training sessions every summer for three years. They would in theory then be ready for battle.

Along with Lithuania, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Latvia, Austria, Greece and Estonia currently have some form of compulsory military service, alongside warring parties Ukraine and Russia.

Still, others were supportive of conscription – with caveats.

Critical of “performative acts” where “every man and woman is herded into military service”, Elisabeth Braw at the American Enterprise Institute told Euronews selective systems can “work really well”.


The defence analyst pointed to the “incredibly successful” example of Norway, where citizens are called up en masse, but only between 30 and 50% are chosen for training.

“The army gets the best and the brightest, and on top of that service is an asset on a conscript’s CV,” she explained, with passing selection a mark of prestige.

In 2015, Norway became the first European country to introduce compulsory military service for both men and women. It still retains a professional military, providing the bedrock of its defence.

Braw offered a note of caution about conscription, however.

“Troops must be equipped with meaningful skills. It has to be time well spent,” she said. “The Kremlin isn’t going to be frightened by a conscript model that’s not thought through, with young men and women sitting idle in barracks.”


Enlisted civilians could be put to use beyond defence, Braw continued.

“Keeping a country safe is about more than the armed forces. It’s about public health, infrastructure protection, and healthcare. Young people can be called up when they are needed to help protect the country from crises or disasters.”

“There are so many societal problems the government alone cannot solve.”

France in 2019 launched a form of soft conscription, with young people offered voluntary civic service. Macron billed his pet project as a way of developing patriotism and social cohesion, though opponents say it diverted money for the wider education system.

Some Studies show conscripts are more likely to face unemployment when their service finishes, while there are doubts if acquired skills are transferable to other sectors or learned at all.

Does military service breed patriotism?

One reason Europe is resorting to conscription – where men and women are typically legally obliged to fight – is that conventional recruitment drives aren’t working.

The German army, for example, is failing to attract new soldiers, despite a vast initiative to strengthen itself amid the Ukraine war, the country’s Ministry of Defence announced in August.

Why exactly people don’t want to serve is unclear.

An argument by experts is militaries cannot compete with private sector wages and conditions, with army jobs often difficult and dangerous.

Yet, Bove said this claim cannot explain what is happening in areas of Europe with high unemployment, such as southern Italy or Spain. Here civilians still don’t want to join up.

Another explanation is cultural, with civilians spurning the army because they don’t share its “overarching goals and purposes,” he told Euronews.

Devastating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have left “long-lasting” negative attitudes towards the military, with Bove doubting that throwing cash at the problem could improve recruitment.

Arguments exist that conscription can boost patriotism and a population’s willingness to defend itself against an aggressor.

“Conscript service has a long history in Finland and has broad support in society,” said Elina Riutta, Chairperson of the Finnish Conscripts Union, in a statement sent to Euronews.

“The Russian threat has always been known in Finland, so the war in Ukraine does not in itself change things regarding conscript service, but rather emphasises its purposefulness.”

“The will to defend the country among conscripts and the entire nation is currently at a record high,” she added.

Finland is in a unique position geographically, sharing a long border with Russia that it has fought in the past. Its example is not necessarily applicable to other countries.

Research by Bove and his colleagues Riccardo Di Leo and Marco Giani found conscription actually can create a gap between people and their government.

“Conscription makes people identify with the armed forces, but his loyalty clashes with that towards other democratic institutions, causing people to trust the authorities less.”

“If you’re worried about the increasing distance between younger generations and the state, then conscription is not the answer. It’s actually counterproductive,” he added.

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What sparked the violent struggle to control Sudan’s future?

Tensions have been brewing for weeks between Sudan’s two most powerful generals, who just 18 months earlier jointly orchestrated a military coup to derail the nation’s transition to democracy.

Over the weekend, those tensions between the armed forces chief, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the head of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, erupted into an unprecedented battle for control of the resource-rich nation of more than 46 million people.

Both men, each with tens of thousands of troops deployed in the capital of Khartoum alone, vowed not to negotiate or ceasefire, despite mounting global diplomatic pressure. It is a deadly setback for a country at the crossroads of the Arab world and Africa, which four years ago ended the rule of a long-time dictator in part through largely peaceful popular protests.

Here’s a look at how Sudan, a country with a long history of coups, reached this point and what is at stake.

What preceded the fighting?

In recent months, negotiations had been underway for a return to the democratic transition that had been halted by the October 2021 coup.

Under mounting international and regional pressure, the armed forces and the RSF signed a preliminary deal in December with pro-democracy and civilian groups. But the internationally brokered agreement provided only broad outlines, leaving the thorniest political issues unsettled.

During tortuous negotiations to reach a final agreement, tensions between Burhan and Dagalo escalated. A key dispute is over how the RSF would be integrated into the military and who would have ultimate control over fighters and weapons.

Dagalo, whose RSF was involved in brutal crackdowns during tribal unrest and pro-democracy protests, also tried to fashion himself a supporter of the democratic transition. In March, he slammed Burhan, saying military leaders were unwilling to relinquish power.

Analysts argued that Dagalo is trying to whitewash the reputation of his paramilitary force, which began as brutal militias implicated in atrocities in the Darfur conflict.

How did the situation escalate?

On Wednesday, the RSF began deploying forces around the small town of Merowe north of the capital. The town is strategic, with its large airport, central location and downstream electric dam on the Nile River. The next day, the RSF also sent more forces into the capital and other areas of the country, without the army leadership’s consent.

On Saturday morning, fighting erupted at a military base south of Khartoum, with each side blaming the other for having initiated the violence. Since then, the military and the RSF have battled each other with heavy weapons, including armoured vehicles and truck-mounted machine guns, in densely populated areas of the capital and the adjoining city of Omdurman. The military has pounded RSF bases with airstrikes.

By Monday, dozens of people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the fighting.

The clashes spread to other areas in the country, including the strategic coastal city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea and eastern regions, on the borders with Ethiopia and Eritrea. Fighting was also reported in the war-wrecked Darfur region, where UN facilities were attacked and looted. The UN says three employees with the World Food Program were killed in the clashes there on Saturday.

What are the prospects for a cease-fire and a return to dialogue?

The prospects for an immediate ceasefire appear to be slim. Burhan and Dagalo have dug in, demanding that the other surrender. The intense nature of the fighting also might make it harder for the two generals to return to negotiations.

On the other hand, the military and the RSF both have foreign backers, who unanimously appealed for an immediate halt to hostilities.

The Muslim religious calendar might also play a role. The fighting erupted during the last week of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, with the three-day holiday of Eid al-Fitr marking the end of the fasting month later this week. The population is increasingly strained for necessities and many are homebound by the violence.

Meanwhile, there has been a flurry of diplomatic contacts. The UN Security Council is scheduled to discuss Sudan on Monday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he discussed the developments in Sudan with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Saudi Foreign Minister said he spoke separately by phone with Burhan and Dagalo and urged them to stop “all kinds of military escalation.”

The Gulf Arab monarchies are close allies to the military as well as the RSF.

Cameron Hudson, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank and a former US diplomat, said the Biden administration should get its allies in the region to push for peace.

“Without such pressure, we could find a conflict with the same pattern of the war in Tigray (in Ethiopia),” he said.

Who are the foreign actors and what resources are at stake?

During the decades-long rule of strongman Omar al-Bashir, who was deposed in 2019, Russia was a dominant force. At one point, Moscow reached an initial deal to build a naval base on Sudan’s Red Sea coast.

After al-Bashir’s ouster, the United States and European nations began competing with Russia for influence in Sudan, which is rich in natural resources, including gold but has been mired in civil conflicts and military coups. In recent years, the Russian mercenary outfit Wagner has even made inroads in the country.

Burhan and Dagalo have also forged close ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Sudanese troops drawn from the military and the RSF have fought alongside the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s long-running civil war.

Egypt, another regional power, also has deep ties with the Sudanese military. The two armies conduct regular war games, most recently this month. Egyptian troops were in a Sudanese military base for exercises when the clashes erupted Saturday. They were caught by the RSF which said they would be returned to Egypt.

The military controls most of the country’s economy, but the RSF runs major gold mining areas, a key source of income for the powerful group.

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Power struggle between military rivals leaves more than 50 people dead

Sudan’s military and a powerful paramilitary force battled fiercely Saturday in the capital and other areas, leaving dozens dead and hundreds wounded while dealing a new blow to hopes for a transition to democracy and raising fears of a wider conflict.

The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors posted on Twitter on Sunday that at least 56 people, among them civilians, had been killed and 595 wounded. They said there were many uncounted casualties, including military and paramilitary personnel in the western Darfur region and the northern town of Merowe.

The clashes capped months of heightened tensions between the armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) group. Those tensions had delayed a deal with political parties to get the country back to its short-lived transition to democracy, which was derailed by an October 2021 military coup.

After a day of heavy fighting, the military ruled out negotiations with the RSF, instead calling for the dismantling of what it called a “rebellious militia.” The tough language signalled that the conflict between the former allies, who jointly orchestrated the 2021 coup, was likely to continue.

The fighting erupted early Saturday. The sound of heavy firing could be heard throughout the day across the neighbourhoods in and near the capital, where the military and the RSF had massed tens of thousands of troops since the coup.

Witnesses said fighters from both sides fired from armoured vehicles and from machine guns mounted on pick-up trucks in densely populated areas. Some tanks were seen in Khartoum. The military said it launched strikes from planes and drones at RSF positions in and around the capital.

The military said in a statement late Saturday that its troops had seized all RSF bases in Omdurman, while residents reported heavy airstrikes on paramilitary positions in and around the capital continued into the night. Sounds of gunfire and explosions were still heard in several parts of Khartoum, they said.

‘Fire and explosions everywhere’

Those in Khartoum described chaotic scenes. “Fire and explosions are everywhere,” said Amal Mohamed, a doctor in a public hospital in Omdurman. “We haven’t seen such battles in Khartoum before,” said resident Abdel-Hamid Mustafa.

One of the flashpoints was Khartoum International Airport. There was no formal announcement that the airport was closed, but major airlines suspended their flights.

Saudi Arabia’s national airline said one of its aircraft was involved in what it called “an accident.” Video showed the plane on fire on the tarmac. Another plane also appeared to have caught fire. Flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 identified it as a Boeing 737 for SkyUp, a Kyiv, Ukraine-based airline. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate said earlier in the day that two civilians were killed at the Khartoum airport. Another man was shot to death in the state of North Kordofan, it said. The BBC said one of its reporters was stopped by soldiers, taken to the military headquarters and beaten.

The leaders of the armed forces and the RSF traded blame over who started Saturday’s fighting and offered conflicting accounts of who was in control of key installations.

Burhan accused the RSF of entering Khartoum airport and setting fire to some planes. He also said all strategic facilities including the military’s headquarters and the Republican palace, the seat of Sudan’s presidency, are under his forces’ control. He threatened to deploy more troops to Khartoum.

The head of the RSF, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, accused Burhan of starting the battle by surrounding RSF troops. “This criminal, he forced this battle upon us,” he said.

Dagalo told Al Jazeera that he believed the fighting would be over in “the next few days.”

The RSF alleged that its forces controlled strategic locations in Khartoum and the northern city of Merowe some 350 kilometres northwest of the capital. The military dismissed the claims as “lies.”

The fighting comes after months of escalating tensions between the generals and years of political unrest since the 2021 coup. The tensions stem from a disagreement over how the RSF, headed by Dagalo, should be integrated into the armed forces and what authority should oversee the process. The merger is a key condition of Sudan’s unsigned transition agreement with political groups.

International calls for calm

Pro-democracy activists have blamed Burhan and Dagalo for abuses against protesters across the county over the past four years, including the deadly break-up of a protest camp outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum in June 2019 that killed over 120 protesters. Many groups have repeatedly called for holding them accountable. The RSF has long been accused of atrocities linked to the Darfur conflict.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top diplomats expressed extreme concern over the outbreak of violence. “We urge all actors to stop the violence immediately and avoid further escalations or troop mobilizations and continue talks to resolve outstanding issues,” Blinken wrote on Twitter.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell; the head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat; the Arab League chief, Ahmed Aboul Gheit; and Qatar all called for a cease-fire and for both parties to return to negotiations. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates called on those fighting in Sudan to exercise restraint and work toward a political solution.

Former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was ousted in the 2021 coup, warned of a possible regional conflict if the fighting escalates. “Shooting must stop immediately,” he said in a video appeal to both sides posted on his Twitter account.

Cameron Hudson, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank and a former US diplomat, said the fighting could become wider and prolonged, calling on the United States to form a coalition of regional countries to pressure the leaders of the military and RSF to de-escalate.

Volker Perthes, the UN envoy for Sudan, and the Saudi ambassador in Sudan, Ali Bin Hassan Jaffar, were in contact with Dagalo and Burhan to try to end the violence, said a UN official who asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Chad announced that it is closing its land borders with Sudan.

The clashes also took place in other areas across the country including the Northern province, the conflict-ravaged Darfur region, and the strategic coastal city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea, a military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media

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Russian forces massing in eastern Ukraine and other top stories

Russian forces massing in eastern Ukraine – officials

Russia is mustering its military might in eastern Ukraine, local officials said on Wednesday.

Moscow has begun gathering troops in the Luhansk region of Ukraine, with Kyiv suspecting it is preparing for an offensive in the coming weeks.

Kremlin forces are removing locals living near the front line so that they can’t provide information about Russian troop deployments to Ukrainian artillery, Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai said.

“There is an active transfer of [Russian troops] to the region and they are definitely preparing for something on the eastern front in February,” Haidai detailed.

Military analysts anticipate a new push soon by Moscow’s forces. Late Tuesday, the US-based Institute for the Study of War said “an imminent Russian offensive in the coming months is the most likely course of action.”

The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces also reported today that Russia is concentrating its efforts in neighbouring Donetsk province, especially in its bid to capture the key city of Bakhmut.

Donetsk and Luhansk make up the Donbas, a prized industrial region area bordering Russia that President Vladimir Putin identified as a goal from the war’s outset.

Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian authorities here since 2014.

Donetsk was one of four provinces that Russia illegally annexed in autumn last year, but it controls only about half of it. To take the remaining half, Russian forces have no choice but to go through Bakhmut, which offers the only approach to bigger Ukrainian-held cities.

Russian forces have been trying for months to capture Bakhmut. Moscow-installed authorities in Donetsk claimed Russian troops are “closing the ring” around the city.

US clamps down on global network helping Russia evade sanctions

The United States sanctioned 22 individuals and entities in several countries on Wednesday, accusing them of being behind a global sanctions evasion network supporting Russia’s military-industrial complex.

The move — which comes as Washington looks to increase pressure on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine — is part of a US push to crack down on sanctions evasion around the world.

They want to limit Russia’s access to revenue it needs for the war, the US Treasury Department said in a statement.

The sanction dodging network is led by Russia and a Cyprus-based arms dealer Igor Zimenkov, who was slapped with sanctions on Wednesday, along with his son Jonatan.

Projects connected to Russia’s military machine, including supplying high-tech devices to Moscow’s forces in Ukraine, have been helped by the group, the Treasury said, alongside state-owned Russian defence companies.

Russia’s embassy in Washington did not immediately comment.

The sanctions, which freeze any US assets of those on the list and bar Americans from dealing with them, mark the latest round of sanctions imposed on Russia.

“Russia’s desperate attempts to utilize proxies to circumvent U.S. sanctions demonstrate that sanctions have made it much harder and costlier for Russia’s military-industrial complex to resupply Putin’s war machine,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in the statement.

Kremlin welcomes bounty put on Western tanks in Ukraine

The Kremlin on Wednesday welcomed a Russian company’s offer of “bounty payments” for soldiers who destroy Western-made tanks on the battlefield in Ukraine, saying it would spur Russian forces to victory.

The Russian company Fores this week offered 5 million roubles ($72,000) in cash to the first soldiers who destroy or capture US-made Abrams or German Leopard 2 tanks in Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian troops would “burn” any Western tanks that were delivered to Ukraine, adding the bounties were extra encouragement for Russian soldiers.

“This testifies to the unity and the desire of everybody to contribute as best they can, one way or another, directly or indirectly, to achieving the goals of the special military operation,” Peskov told reporters.

“As for these tanks, we have already said they will burn. With such incentives, I think there will be even more enthusiasts.”

The Western-made tanks — far more advanced than anything used by Ukraine or Russia in the conflict so far — are unlikely to arrive at the frontlines in eastern and southern Ukraine for several months.

Putin urges military to stop Ukrainians shelling Russia

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia’s military must cease Ukrainian shelling on Russian territory, which he said had left many people homeless or without power.

Putin was addressing a government meeting about restoring destroyed housing and infrastructure in regions of southwest Russia that border Ukraine.

“Of course, the priority task is to eliminate the very possibility of shelling. But this is the business of the military department,” Putin said in remarks published on the Kremlin website.

Ukraine does not claim responsibility for strikes inside Russian territory but has described them as “karma” for Moscow’s invasion.

Many Ukrainian cities have been razed to the ground and Russia systematically targets the country’s energy infrastructure, frequently leaving people without power and water in the depths of winter.

People were facing “very acute” problems, and repairs and compensation were needed, Putin said, detailing that houses had been damaged or destroyed in Belgorod, Bryansk and Kursk, as well as Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine and annexed in 2014

“Many people found themselves in a difficult situation, lost their homes, were forced to move to relatives or to temporary places of residence, faced interruptions in the supply of water, heat, and electricity,” he said.

Putin’s comments signalled Moscow’s frustration at the frequency of attacks in southern Russia, which have included strikes on sites such as electricity substations and depots for weapons and fuel.

‘Cherry on the cake’: Ukraine hails French radar gift

Ukraine’s defence minister said on Wednesday that Ukrainian lives will be saved by a sophisticated radar supplied by France.

The air defence system is powerful enough to spot incoming missiles and exploding drones in the skies over all of Ukraine’s capital and its surrounding region.

The minister, Oleksii Reznikov, was so enthusiastic about what he called Ukraine’s new “electronic eyes” that he quickly coined a nickname for the Ground Master 200 radar — the “Grand Master.”

Speaking through an interpreter at a handover ceremony for the radar with his French counterpart, Reznikov described the French-made GM200 as a “very effective” improvement for Ukraine’s network of about 300 different types of air-defence radars.

Thales, the manufacturer, says the radar detects and tracks rockets, artillery and mortar shells, missiles, aircraft, drones and other threats.

“Because of your support, Ukrainian lives will be saved,” the minister said at the ceremony in Limours, where Thales makes the equipment.

“This radar will be the cherry on the cake,” he added. “That’s why it will be called ‘Grand Master.’”

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