Norway is the first NATO country to have Universal Conscription

This article will present some opinions in short about the system where women now are obliged to do service in the Norwegian Armed Forces (the Norwegian name: Forsvaret). There are also opposite opinions from competent hold about “Conscription as an ideology”, about how the training is organized, how it affects the operational readiness when a significant portion of the time spent on training soldiers is done at a standing military unit and not at a separate recruit training camp, but that’s another story.

Conscription

The conscript system is a mainstay in the defence of Norway. In a sparsely populated country with large areas of land and a special long coastline, Norwegian security depends on that whole generations are supporting the Armed Forces. The law: Every state citizen is generally equally committed for some time to protect the Norwegian home land, irrespective of birth or fortune, Constitution law, § 119. Conscription ensures the Armed Forces operational capability through general conscription and service duty. Conscription is ensuring the Armed Forces appropriate manning, and facilitates that soldiers can be used so that the Armed Forces national and international’s tasks are accomplished and it safeguards the conscripts and those for compulsory service. The law applies to compulsory service in the Armed Forces and the rights and obligations attached to it. Anyone who has conscription, military employees and others who have signed a contract for service with the Armed Forces, has service duty. Compulsory service is the duty of Norwegian citizens and foreign nationals in accordance with § 6 to serve in the Armed Forces if the Armed Forces in peace and war, if they are found to be fit for duty. Service obligation is the obligation of peace and war to perform the tasks the Armed Forces assigns, in the position and at the point the Armed Forces decides.

The mandatory military service for men is from the age of eighteen to forty-four years of age (from eighteen to fifty-five years of age for officers); seventeen years of age for male volunteers and from sixteen years of age in wartime. Conscription is 19-month service with 12-month basic military service obligation. When the conscripts have completed their basic military service, they are transferred to the Army conscripted reserves (for the Army’s part). Here they are listed for three years before passing on to the Home Guard. The Army conscripted reserves constitutes a trained soldier pool that the Army can draw personnel from if crisis or war occurs in an “unfavourable” time in relation to the training level of those already in military service. The first year in the Army conscripted reserves, the soldier will be earmarked for the last service position he or she had. For example, soldier no 111, done the basic military service as a driver on an Infantry Combat Vehicle, will, if he/she had to be called back from the Reserve the first year, he/she will be ordered straight into his/her old vehicle as the driver. In year two and three he/she stands in the Reserve as driver (for then there is a soldier who still has less experience than no 111). All soldiers in the Army are listed in the Army conscripted reserves. That is not the same as a mobilization force, because the volume is not bigger than one brigade totally. If needed, the Armed Forces could keep a greater depth in the organisation than what is directly on the paper. Around 50% of the conscripts are enrolled in the Home Guard, for a 7-month period of service duty, spread out over many years.

Women in the Armed Forces

The Norwegian Parliament approved a law in 1951 that women could be trained in special services, but not in the use of weapons. A woman “Armed Forces Committee” was in 1953 established in order to adapt the service for women. The organisation proposal for the adaption of the service of women was approved in 1957. In 1978, the former voluntarily organisation “Women in the Armed Forces” was transferred to ordinary military personnel service. An amendment of the law in 1979 resulted in that women, who voluntarily chose to serve in the Armed Forces, also were imposed to meet for mobilization and service duties. Profession gender equality was introduced in the Armed Forces in1985. All restrictions on women’s service were removed, and all schools in the Armed Forces were opened to women. Women, who wanted to do ordinary military service, had to sign a separate declaration of acceptance, after which they received conscript status equal with men.

On 14 June 2013, exactly 100 years after Norway introduced full voting rights for women, the Norwegian Parliament voted to adopt conscription for women as well as for men. –

“This is an historic day for equality and for our armed forces”, said Norway’s Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide. “With that decision, Norway is the only European country with an active practice of gender-neutral conscription. This is important for two reasons. Male-only conscription is out of synch with the rest of society. All citizens shall have the same rights and obligations, regardless of sex. Secondly, in order to secure our operational capabilities in the future we need to recruit the best, and we need diversity. Therefore we cannot limit our recruitment to the male half of the population”, said the Defence Minister. This does not, however, mean that all women must serve in the military. Norway’s armed forces have an annual requirement for 8-10.000 conscripts out of a total of 60.000 men and women in the relevant age group. Recruitment is already high and increasing, and the number of applicants each year exceeds the needs of the Armed Forces. “We do not adopt conscription for women because we need more soldiers, but because we need the best, no matter whom they may be”, said the Defence Minister, and added: “High-tech equipment alone does not make for a modern military; we also need a modern and diverse organisation with different people, skills and perspectives”. (It’s every year more conscripts than the military service need. Therefore, there is a large part of conscripts who never do service. They are still conscripts, and they can be called into the Armed Forces if Norway is in a situation of crisis or war.) Military service in the Norwegian Armed Forces for women was until 2014 voluntarily in peacetime. Norway like many other countries, has already plenty of experience with female fighters, having opened the Armed Forces to women volunteers 35 years ago, but Major General Kristin Lund, was the United Nations’ first-ever female peacekeeping force commander. She was one of the first women to enlist in 1980.

In 2014 the Special Forces also created an all-female troop, called Jegertroppen (Hunter platoon). This is a test project, but the experiences so far are very good. The project has also attracted a lot of attention from Norway’s partners and allies. 14 October 2014 Parliament passed the new law, making conscription for both genders; and the Norwegian law as of January 2015, gave Norwegian men and women equal rights and duties when it comes to protecting Norway. Norway is the first NATO country to do so. “The new law means equal rights and duties for men and women. In this way the Armed Forces will reflect the Norwegian society in a better way,” says Norwegian Chief of Defence, Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen. He says female conscription will strengthen the Armed Forces: “Now we have twice as many people to choose from. This will make it easier to direct motivated personnel and the right expertise to our different tasks and positions,” said Bruun-Hanssen, and added: “Women in the Norwegian Armed Forces are nothing new, so for us this is only a natural development. For several years we have worked to increase the share of women, and with great results. I am sure the new law will speed up this process”, said the Chief of Defence.

From the beginning of 2015, the Norwegian Armed Forces Personnel and Conscription Centre (Forsvarets personell- og vernepliktssenter) had an exceptionally hectic schedule, sending out conscription letters not just to the usual 32,000-odd 17-year-old boys but to their female contemporaries as well. As mentioned before, by conscripting girls, the Armed Forces get double the number of potential soldiers, which means sending conscription letters to all 63,000 Norwegian 17-year-olds, inviting them to complete an online questionnaire. So of course that enables a better selection. Based on the results, the armed forces invite 20,000 boys and girls for interviews as well as physical and psychological tests; of them, it will be selected 10,000 to train as soldiers. While the young women accounted for only 17 per cent of those who completed the common military service in 2015, the universal conscription this year has pushed the share up. Today 14 per cent of the soldiers in the initial military service are women. This percentage is set to grow over the next years. In this year’s summer attendance, the biggest in the Armed Forces, women constituted 33 per cent of all the conscripts. It’s really quite logical, and it emphasizes that in the Armed Forces it is not just about physical challenges and testosterone. In the Armed Forces it is as much about use of wisdom and good solutions. In 2016, the Armed Forces also established a new personnel system for non-commissioned officers, the specialist corps. The specialists follow a rank scale from OR1 to OR9 – comparable to the NATO structure. The new system has been described as the greatest change in the Armed Forces since the creation of the Army in 1628.

July – August 2016 the first mixed-gender conscripts

In the July and the August session, 4131 conscripts were summoned for initial service, 2834 for the Army, 590 for the Navy and 707 for the Air Force. 32.7 per cent of the nineteen years young persons that meet were women, including all age groups, that means about 26 per cent women. That percentage was clearly a higher proportion than the Armed Forces had imagined. The young women that were showing up are to do service in the military police, in His Majesty the King’s Guard (an Infantry Battalion with 160 employees and 1200 conscripts), in the Navy, in the Air Force and other duties in the Army; plus some more. The infrastructure is not built for all this, in some units the girls have to share the room with boys. Experience shows that’s no problem. In the field there are no differences whatsoever.

Present and retired top ranking officers are in unison enthusiastic for women in the Armed Forces

These include formers Commander of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, Vice Admiral Jan Reksten (ret.), and Major General Gullow Gjeseth (ret.), who said: “It was at high time when the female conscription came. This is a positive development for the Armed Forces which I rejoice” .

Believes it will be a better mix

“……. .. said that the Armed Forces become better. That sounds reasonable. When you take in the best, regardless of gender, it is natural that the Armed Forces become better. Women also have other good qualities than men, so overall I think it is a good mix in the Armed Forces “, said General Sigurd Frisvold (ret.). The General was Chief of Defence from 1999 to 2005. However, he has one objection: “The question is what they mean by better. In my view, one must still maintain high physical standard. It has not been easier to be an infantryman or on board a naval vessel or an aircraft. Physical endurance has a great importance,” he said.

Crucial for overseas operations

Major General Opedal, the former Norwegian Army Inspector General, advocated for a gender neutral conscript basic service already in 2012: “My point has been that we do not look at gender in the Armed Forces. It should not have anything to say whether one is a male or a female,” he said. He also believes that more women in the Armed Forces will raise the military standard. “Presence of female soldiers, especially on operations abroad, is crucial. Men do not reach out to large parts of the population in many places, because of cultural differences and other factors. In those cases more women soldiers strengthens clearly the operational quality. I also think it will raise the standard on domestic operations,” said Opedal.

What a journalist wrote

Journalist Sveinung Berg Bentzrød wrote commentary article in one Norwegian newspaper. He was a conscript who met for service in the Armed Forces in 1980. This author uses some of his comments here. He writes that the contrast with his meeting at the recruit camp in 1980 (unofficial market “Men [only]”) is big compared with this summer‘s 2016 – attendance. “One in three of the 1997’s cohort, who met for the start of their military basic service are women. The feelings among them seem to be: Are we good enough? How tough is really the service? What is needed not to be sent home? How many days can we hope for being in the field? We are doing this in order to break some boundaries, learn to know ourselves! They have not struggled to fit for the Armed Forces as an obligatory exercise, or to please their parents; they will enter to test themselves. Many have been fascinated by the advertising for the military service: “On boundless sea. Hidden away in the forest and nature – High up among the clouds. Across Norway makes conscripts an important job to enforce Norwegian sovereignty.” And: “As a soldier in military service, you will get many exciting opportunities … You will gain experience that is sought after in the community.” Greetings from the Armed Forces and the ubiquitous slogan” For all we have. And all we are.” ………..

Expectations

………. . “However, will young women and young men who now meet with their great expectations be excited during military service in 2016/2017? That is not given for sure. For just now, when the availability of the best young human minds is better than ever, the Armed Forces have to save money. With a variety of acute savings, which normally means fewer exercise days and a little fewer live practice firings, it will lead to less activity. Meanwhile, it is also increasingly less room for conscripts in some of the most “action-packed” and exciting roles in the military caused by weapon systems that are so advanced that they are to be handled by professional soldiers. If the service for a soldier, for example at His Majesty The King’s Guard, is filled with pretty boring months, is dominated by guard- and security duties, or the soldier did not get a close encounter with either some spectacular scenery or nature, boundless sea; and also experienced no personal barrier breaking, it could lead to demotivation for further service in the Armed Forces. Well, then Armed Forces have lost. To get the young person motivated to continue service in the military, is from the military side a crucial function by conscription.”

The conscription system in Norway is to be

The Armed Forces have developed a mix with conscripts and several enlisted soldiers. In addition, there is established a specialist corps that is an officer corps on the lower level that will build upon heavy operational experience and expertise. During the military service the conscripts will get a monthly payment of 5,000 Norwegian kroner and a bonus of 32,000 Norwegian kroner after completing the service. Public subsidy for eventual unavoidable housing rental expenses and interest payments, two (2) additional points added to education result and the opportunity to resume subjects from high school. For example the Telemark Bataljon (Telemark Battalion, TMBN) is a mechanized infantry unit of the Norwegian Army. It was established in 1993, and is a part of Brigade Nord and stationed at Rena, Norway. The battalion consists of five companies/squadrons. The battalion is manned with around 470 full-time professional soldiers. Also one field artillery battery is manned with professionals. A full enlisted army would cost at least 1.8 billion more Norwegian kroner per. year. In addition, conscription results in trained personnel to the National Guard and the Army reserve. The Army therefore believes that conscription addresses both the need to recruit and train skilled soldiers who subsequently enlisted – and educating the National Guard and Army reserve which in a short time can be operational if required.

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