NATO member reinstates conscription
Latvia voted on Wednesday to reintroduce compulsory military service, effective immediately. Lawmakers in Riga approved the measure by a 68-11 vote. The Baltic state had abolished the draft by unanimous consent in 2006, but former defense minister Artis Pabriks proposed reinstating it due to the fighting in Ukraine.
The law creates a State Defense Service (VAD) and provides for both military and civilian alternative service. It requires men born after January 1, 2004 to report for duty within a year of turning 18. Anyone between the ages of 18 and 27, including women, can report voluntarily. The first call-up is scheduled for July 1.
A recruiting center in Riga will be open to volunteers through May 15, according to state media. By January 2024, the government will send summons through “random selection.” Conscription will be extended to Latvian citizens living abroad in 2027. The new law makes evading the mandatory service a criminal offense.
Volunteers will have a choice of serving 11 months in the regular military, five years in just the National Guard – with at least 28 days every year for drills – or enrolling in a five-year reserve officer candidate school. There are also provisions for full-time service in a civilian capacity.
Conscripts will receive a salary of €300 a month as well as food, uniforms, and lodging. Volunteers are also eligible for a €1,100 bonus at the end of their 11 months. Those who fail to answer the summons, however, will be fined up to €350.
The law provides exemptions for those who fail the health exam, sole guardians of minor children or caretakers of dependents, dual citizens who served elsewhere, police and prison guards, and persons convicted of a “serious or especially serious crime.”
The former Soviet republic joined the EU and NATO in 2004 and abolished conscription by unanimous vote in 2006. Its armed forces were repurposed to serve in US-led overseas expeditions, including Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. With a population of 1.82 million, it currently has less than 17,000 active-duty personnel, with a reserve estimated at 36,000.