Mandatory Military Service: A Look at Benefits

Mandatory Military Service in The UAE

This research argues that mandatory military service should be abolished because it has adverse effects on the society as well as mental and physical health of the conscripts. The UAE introduced this program in 2014 for all male high school graduates from 18 to 30 years of age. However, this program compels conscripts to adjust to stressful hierarchical military organizations. Furthermore, combat situations are traumatizing because they subject military officers to severe mental and physical injuries. It further impacts the society because it reduces the probability that the youth would complete higher education. In the UAE, male representation may decrease further in the presence of this program because young people are already underrepresented in institutions of higher learning. As a result of lack of higher education, the economic well-being of conscripts worsens since they earn fewer wages than non-conscripts during their working age. However, the program benefits both the youth and the country because it enhances creativity and critical thinking, fosters patriotism and nationalism, and provides creation of the army reserve to protect the country’s resources. Unfortunately, it increases the rate of crime among conscripts with pre-service criminal behavior. All arguments considered, mandatory military service should be replaced with a voluntary program.

Many countries compel young men and sometimes young women to provide mandatory military services for a period before employment. Young people still face the prospect of compulsory military conscription in more than 60 countries (Hjalmarsson & Lindquist, 2016, p. 2). In 2014, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) introduced mandatory military service for all 18 to 30-year-old male high school graduates (Daleure, 2016, p. 97). However, mandatory military service is criticized for its harmful effects on youths. For example, it is argued that it compels youths to take up military duties, which means that they waste their time that could otherwise be spent on pursuing both career and professional goals. With mandatory military service gaining controversy, there is a need to conduct research on its effects on the millions of youths in the world so as to realize whether this policy is helpful or harmful. This type of military service is now a hotly debated topic as some countries, such as Germany, Sweden, France, and Italy opt to abolish it (Hjalmarsson & Lindquist, 2016, p. 2).

For this purpose, this research aims to answer the question:  What effects does mandatory military service have on its participants?

While compulsory military service is not widely adopted in many developed nations, this study proposes that it is not a beneficial policy. Therefore, mandatory military service should be discontinued because it has adverse psychological, physical, and social effects on conscripts.

Adverse Effects on the Mental Health of Conscripts

Young people conscripted into mandatory military service experience adverse mental health outcomes. First, they are forced to adapt to the hierarchical structure of military organizations, which is something a stressful experience. For example, Sasson-Levy (2007, p. 482) investigated how this compulsory program impacted women in Israel. The study found that apart from being forced to perform military service, Israeli women were compelled to occupy administrative positions unless they agreed to participate in military operations upon request. Such experience is stressful for conscripts who do not want to take part in any kind of services in the military system of their country. Sasson-Levy (2007, p. 501) further found that women faced severe forms of gender discrimination in the military environment. Thus, women were excluded from work gatherings and were further treated according to traditional gender roles. Exclusion and subsequent subjection to stereotypes led to severe frustration and depression, which had negative consequences for women’s mental health.

Stressful working conditions in the military service increase the risk of mental disorders among conscripts. In their research, Taal, Vermetten, van Schaik, & Leenstra, (2014, p. 1) found that deployment of military personnel enhances the risk of mental health problems by 80% and 30% in their first and second year of deployment respectively. The conscripts of mandatory military service are also likely to suffer these challenges further in their work. While studying new Brazilian recruits of the mandatory military program, Martins and Kuhn (2013, p. 1809) found similar results to those of Taal and the colleagues. The scholars investigated the impact of mandatory military service on the incidence of common mental health challenges. New recruits showed up to five times higher prevalence of mental health conditions than the older personnel. It is justifiable to conclude that mandatory military service increases the likelihood of developing mental health problems among conscripts.

Additionally, deployment of conscripts to disasters or combat situations increases the probability of developing mental adjustment problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to Stevelink et al. (2015, p. 244), deployed military personnel are likely to suffer from physical impairments, which, in turn, increase the risk for common mental health disorders, such as depression. For instance, US military personnel demonstrate a two to four-fold increase in PTSD prevalence compared to civilians due to exposition to conflict and disaster situations (Richardson, Frueh, & Acierno, 2010, p. 5). Adjustment disorders, PTSD, and anxiety disorders are usually diagnosed in deployed military personnel rather than in non-deployed ones (Taal et al., 2014, p. 7). Consequently, conscripts who participate in the battle field get traumatized show increased likelihood of suffering from mental health conditions. Exposure to combats among military officers can further trigger the occurrence of mental disorders among mandatory military service conscripts when predisposed to risk factors. Some of the risk factors include early conduct problems, childhood adversity, family history of mental illness, etc. (Richardson et al., 2010, p. 4). Therefore, mandatory military service for the youth is harmful due to its adverse mental health consequences.

Adverse Effects on the Physical Health of Conscripts

Military training among has adverse effects on the physical health of conscripts. First, it can cause severe health problems in the lower extremities of the body, including knee joints, ankle and other injuries. Military training increases the incidence of ankle and knee joint sprains in hypermobile individuals (Azma, Mottaghi, Hosseini, & Nouraei, 2014, p. 639). This assertion shows that mandatory military service compels the at-risk individuals to undertake strenuous training programs, which predisposes them to injuries. The most commonly diagnosed physical conditions attributed to military training among recruits include muscle strains, stress syndrome, stress fractures, ankle sprains, and most importantly, overuse knee injuries (Mohammadi, 2013, p. 790). Physical health complaints rise once recruits join the military force. According to the study by Boroujeni, Yousefi, Moayednia, & Tahririan (2014, p. 1), the rate of lower extremity complaints substantially increases following eight weeks of military training. Therefore, military training increases the risk of lower extremity injuries, especially knee and ankle injuries, among the conscripts of the mandatory military program.

On the other hand, there is no strong damaging effect of short military training on lifestyle conditions, such as excessive weight and obesity; however, exercise plays an important role in health promotion and lifestyle disease prevention. Aerobic exercises improve body fat distribution, which helps reduce central obesity through the promotion of weight loss among the overweight and obese people and maintain healthy bodies (Mikkola et al., 2012, p. 96). However, exercises should be regular and be conducted throughout life, which means that exercises among mandatory military service conscripts are not beneficial in promoting healthy lifestyles in life because they are temporary. Jay, Mateo, Squires, Kalet, & Sherman (2015, p. 2) explain that the prevalence of obesity among veterans is higher (37.4%) than in the general population (54.9%), which predisposes them to chronic diseases. Hence, their findings show that obesity is a considerable threat after cessation of physical exercises due to retirement or quitting from military services. Therefore, conscripts cannot benefit from their training concerning promotion of healthy lifestyle.

Furthermore, military service predisposes individuals to situations with a greater risk of injury and adverse health outcomes. Conflicts and deployment of army officers in both Iraq and Afghanistan caused many physical and mental health problems. More than 33,170 soldiers were wounded, with pain being the most reported symptom, and many officers died on the battlefield as a result of these military operations (Kline et al., 2010, p. 277; Kelty, Kleykamp, & Segal, 2010, p. 182). The main causes of physical injuries received during military operations are improvised explosive devices, gunshots, and artillery, with traumatic amputations and burns being the most common injuries. By August 1, 2008, at least 1,200 service members in Iraq and Afghanistan wars had suffered amputations while hundreds had sustained severe burn wounds (Kelty et al., 2010, p. 182). These consequences of war can befall mandatory military program conscripts once they are deployed in war zones.

Adverse Consequences for the Society

Mandatory military service also has negative implications for the society. First, it limits the ability of conscripts to receive higher education. Hubers and Webbink (2015, p. 2) investigated the relation between military service and education using the data from longitudinal surveys carried out in Netherlands from 1990 to 2001. The study concluded that mandatory military programs have a negative impact on education attainment because conscripted individuals are less likely to receive higher education. Thus, mandatory military service reduces the proportion of university graduates by 1.5% from the 12.3% baseline, and further reduces the probability of conscripts obtaining university degrees by about 4% (Hubers & Webbink, 2015, p. 13). Therefore, the adverse influence of this program on the society is undeniable because it limits conscripts’ ability to acquire higher education.

Moreover, many factors reduce students’ desire to continue education once they become conscripts; hence, abolition of compulsory military service can result in increased number of higher education students. Military service decreases personal returns to human capital, and it takes recruits more time than non-conscripts to complete higher education because of the time wasted in the provision of services (Keller, Poutvaara, & Wagener, 2009, p. 1). Furthermore, previously acquired academic knowledge and skills can decrease when in the military, and recovery would require extra time and education. Keller et al. (2009, p. 1) further explain that an individual has less time for making a job choice when some time is lost in the military. All these factors are likely to lead to a lack of motivation among conscripts, resulting in the reduction of desire to acquire education. Abolition of this program can restore and improve the education situation since more people will receive a chance to complete higher education. For instance, abolition of compulsory military service in the United Kingdom (UK) increased school attendance among men of at least 18 years of age (Di Pietro, 2013, p. 621). It is evident that this mandatory program negatively affects the desire to attain higher levels of education, and thus the only solution is to eliminate it.

The adverse effect of mandatory military service on the acquisition of higher education is especially harmful in case of the UAE, a country whose male population already has a limited participation in higher education. Women in the UAE gained access to education two decades earlier than their male counterparts (Abdulla & Ridge, 2011, p. 125). This may explain why they still outdo men both in terms of presence and performance in secondary and tertiary education. Abdulla and Ridge (2011, p. 126) reiterate that at the secondary level of education, females outperform their male peers in most subjects and institutions of higher education. Moreover, females account for more than 70% of university students in the country. The presence of mandatory military service is likely to worsen the already diminished male representation in higher education institutions.

Moreover, mandatory military service conscripts are less likely to earn equal wages as non-conscripts. One of the reasons why they may earn less than those who did not join the military program is the lack of an education degree. By contrast, increased education raises the earning capacity of an individual (Torun & Tumen, 2015, p. 2). This means that most conscripts tend to earn less than non-conscripts because of their low level of education. In their research study, Hubers and Webbink (2015, p. 9) argue that abolition of mandatory military service might increase individual earning by 1.5%, which may be as a result of the reduction of the negative consequences of this program on the pursuit of higher education. After 18 years of conscription, men who served as recruits still earn about 4% less than non-recruits (Hubers & Webbink, 2015, p. 9). This statistics implies that throughout their life conscripts earn less than non-conscripts.

Benefits of the Military Service to Conscripts

Although mandatory military service has many harmful effects on conscripts, it can still offer them some benefits. First, military service enhances critical thinking and creativity. In military organizations, service priming is one of the crucial cues that influence creativity (Chiu & Tu, 2014, p. 517). Chiu and Yau (2010, p. 141) explain that army priming contributes to cautious, critical thinking and carefulness at the level of semantic activation. This may explain why service priming contributes to creativity. The scholars reiterate in their study that air force priming also improves performance creativity among participants (Chiu & Tu, 2014, p. 518). It is especially beneficial for mandatory military conscripts who may wish to sharpen their creativity. Further, Fang and Chiu (2009, p. 173) assert that stereotypical thinking of army personnel activates semantics of alertness, carefulness, and mistake avoidance, which adds value to critical thinking. Therefore, it is imperative that the military program fosters creativity and critical thinking and thus has irrevocable benefits to both the conscripts and their country.

Moreover, compulsory military service fosters nationalism among youth conscripts. Reilly (2014) explains that Emirati youths are committed to both the government and their nation through the provision of military services. Countries that have adopted this program enjoy a high level of patriotism among the citizens because of their commitment to national issues. In the army service culture, selfless service and loyalty to the country are among the highest ideals, which form the basis of patriotism (Chiu & Tu, 2014, p. 517). Moreover, another undeniable benefit of this type of military program is that it provides an army reserve which can be utilized during the times of war and conflict. Having an army reserve for the UAE is beneficial since it will help the country protect its people and wealth from the neighboring nations. Although the UAE has strong ties with the United States of America and many European nations such as Germany and the United Kingdom, it requires protecting both its sovereign power and wealth without entirely relying on its allies (Reilly, 2014). Mandatory military service is instrumental in realizing these goals since the UAE is located in the midst of countries that are on the brink of war.

Also, this program reduces delinquent tendency among conscripts who have a clean criminal record during the pre-service period. Military training and the subsequent engagement of the youth gives them the desired social qualities and thus reduces the probability of criminal behavior among them (Hjalmarsson & Lindquist, 2016, p. 3).However, military service increases the likelihood of committing post-service crimes for young men with criminal history. Hjalmarsson and Lindquist (2016, p. 3) reiterate that apart from being under influence of peers with criminal behavior, having a pre-service criminal behavior increases the risk of committing a post-service crime by 9%. Therefore, the program is good enough to reduce crime among the youth but unable to deter delinquency among conscripts who exhibited criminal behavior before joining the military.


Mandatory military service has adverse effects on both mental and physical health of conscripts. It increases the occurrence of mental disorders because of stressful work, especially during traumatizing combat situations. Additionally, military training enhances the probability of suffering lower extremity injuries, particularly knee and ankle joints injuries. Apart from causing injuries or even death on the battlefield, short military service training in conscripts does not promote lifestyle changes to prevent adverse health conditions, such as obesity. Additionally, the military program negatively impacts the society because it limits conscripts’ pursuit of higher education, which is harmful to the UAE since the country has low male representation in higher education. Furthermore, conscripts earn fewer wages than their non-conscript counterparts. On the other hand, mandatory military service increases creativity and critical thinking and fosters nationalism. Although military service reduces crime prevalence in conscripts, it increases the occurrence of post-service crime among youths with pre-service criminal behavior.

Therefore, mandatory military service should be abolished because of its numerous adverse psychological, physical, and social effects. This research recommends voluntary military joining for the youth in place of mandatory military programs.