What was national service and how does it work in other countries?

If the Tories win the General Election, 18-year-olds could be obliged to carry out a form of national service, according to a recent announcement by Rishi Sunak. The last such compulsory service, requiring all physically fit male British citizens between 18 and 26 years old to serve in the armed forces, was abolished in 1960.

Despite this, a variety of national service procedures continue to operate in several countries globally, including some European nations and South Korea.

Under the proposed Conservative policy, 18-year-olds would choose between a full-time 12-month placement in the armed forces or "volunteering" one weekend per month for a year in their local community, according to the Tories. The Prime Minister stated this policy would provide a "shared sense of purpose" and help unify society amidst an "increasingly uncertain world".#

In what seems like an appeal to older voters, the PM suggested that volunteering could encompass aiding local fire, police, NHS services, and charities that tackle loneliness and support isolated elderly people. After the end of World War II in 1945, the government believed it was essential to sustain high levels of military presence internationally, including areas of the British Empire and Germany.

Responding to this, Clement Attlee's Labour administration passed the National Service Act in 1947. This required all physically fit male British citizens between 18 and 26 years old to serve in the armed forces for 18 months from January 1949.

This compulsory service included varied roles at home and abroad such as fighting on the frontline or clerical work and did not extend to women.

Certain groups including students and apprentices were allowed to defer their service until they had completed their education or training. National service was abolished in 1960 with the last servicemen discharged in 1963.

According to the Royal British Legion, between the end of the Second World War and May 1963, more than two million men took part in national service.

Many countries across the world currently have some form of national service, including military and non-military models. All able-bodied men in South Korea must serve in the armed forces for a period of 18 to 21 months under a conscription system set up in response to the threat from North Korea.

Members of K-Pop band BTS made headlines around the world over the last year as they began to fulfil their mandatory duties.

In Israel, military service is compulsory for the majority of both men and women over 18 years old, with men expected to serve for a minimum of 32 months and women a minimum of 24 months.

In Switzerland, 18 weeks of military service training is mandatory for all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 30, along with yearly refresher courses.

In Sweden, all citizens are required to fill out a military enlistment form in the year they turn 18 and, if chosen, must participate in basic military training. For those who object to military service due to their conscience, an extended civilian service is available, which primarily involves tasks related to social welfare, healthcare, and environmental protection.

Home Secretary James Cleverly confirmed on Sky News' Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme that teenagers would not face imprisonment for refusing to participate in the proposed scheme.

Cleverly explained that the plans were designed to get young people "out of their bubble" and would not include the threat of criminal penalties for non-compliance.

The Labour party criticised the scheme, with Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liz Kendall dismissing the announcement as a "headline-grabbing gimmick".

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