Georgia Promises To End Military Conscription -- Again
Georgia's new defense minister has said the country will eliminate military conscription and move to an all-professional army within four years, reports Civil.ge:
“We plan to move fully on professional army in four years. The term of compulsory military service will be gradually reduced [from current 15 months] to 12 months, and then we will fully move to a contract-based army,” said [Irakli] Alasania, who is also the first deputy PM.
“We should not be forcing anyone to be enrolled in the army,” he said, adding that only professionals with relevant education should be serving in the army.
Professionalization is one of the key steps in moving from a Soviet-style military to a Western-style one, but it's much easier said than done, and countries in the ex-communist world invariably take much longer to fully professionalize than they plan. To take just one example, in 2007, Georgia said it would move to a fully professional army by 2009. All of the former Soviet states, except the Baltics, still have compulsory military service, though Ukraine just announced today that it will end conscription this year.
And just a few months ago (while the previous government was still in power), Georgia actually increased the term of conscription from 12 months to 15. From IWPR:
The moves seem to mark a pause, if not a halt, in the trend towards building an entirely professional army. Conscription numbers have been falling as more volunteers sign up for the military, under reforms designed to bring the armed forces more into line with the NATO model of highly-trained professional soldiers, rather than the old Soviet conscript army.
Experts say the change comes down to a failure to recruit enough volunteers, the burden of contributing troops to the international force in Afghanistan, and a sheer lack of funding.
According to Teona Akubardia, head of the non-government Civil Council for Defence and Security Issues, “The increase in numbers of conscripts and the extension of the term of service is taking place against the backdrop of falling numbers of professional units.”
Those behind the bill acknowledge that funding is an issue. It is much cheaper to pay conscripts a pittance than to hire professionals at wages that start at 800 laris, around 470 US dollars, a month.
“Shifting to a completely professional army would be a luxury,” Sukhishvili said. “It would require massive budget spending, and the government doesn’t currently have the ability to do that.”
Alasania didn't appear to give any details about what might be different now, that would allow Georgia to move to a professional army. So we'll believe it when we see it.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.