Erkki Koort Estonia's missed opportunity: have the British lost their minds?

Erkki Koort
, security expert
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Alternative service performed in lieu of military conscription is often associated with work in medical institutions; however, global practice shows its broad applicability across many sectors.
Alternative service performed in lieu of military conscription is often associated with work in medical institutions; however, global practice shows its broad applicability across many sectors. Photo: cliff1126/Pixabay
  • The British aim to restore conscription and establish alternative service.
  • Alternative service reduces risk-taking behavior.
  • In crises, we need both the front line and the rear.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has proposed a plan under which the Tories aim to restore conscription and establish an alternative service. Erkki Koort, a security expert at Postimees and the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences, discusses why alternative service is beneficial for Estonia.

For years, Estonian society has overlooked a solution that offers numerous possibilities for comprehensive national defense and also helps make society stronger and more resilient. A few days ago, Juhan Kivirähk wrote an excellent article on the shortcomings of comprehensive national defense. We were in a relatively similar situation five years ago, and the events in Ukraine have not awakened us.

Full-scale war has been ongoing in Ukraine for three years now, providing us with the opportunity and time to learn. As a society, we have undoubtedly learned, but we have focused mainly on aspects related to purchasing shells and other means of military defense. Even when buying shells, we do not ask if we are equally purchasing radars to detect enemy artillery. Hopefully, these questions are being asked behind closed doors because shells alone do not accomplish much.

The experience in Ukraine shows that society cannot be sustained in a crisis through military means alone; it requires a comprehensive approach, which can be supported by alternative service.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has proposed restoring conscription in the United Kingdom, which previously existed from 1947 to 1960. When the chief of the general staff, Sir Patrick Sanders, recommended this in January 2024, the idea did not gain political support, and even Sunak's own team was skeptical. However, due to snap elections, the idea has become a campaign topic, and political opponents have already criticized it. The Labour Party described it as a desperate plan without funding, currently estimated at 2.5 billion pounds.

In addition to conscription, the British plan to create an alternative service. This would primarily be in the rescue, police, and healthcare sectors. According to the proposed plan, the service would last 25 days a year, allowing individuals to live at home, work, or study while contributing to society, for example, on weekends.

The British have highlighted that conscription and alternative service have other benefits beyond national defense. This initiative would help young people learn real-world skills, try new things, and contribute to their community and country. Additionally, the British Conservatives believe it would ensure that young people who are not working, receiving education or in training, or who are at risk of falling into crime, enter the labor market and reduce their risk-taking behavior.

Worldwide, alternative service has shown great potential in integrating people more closely into society and teaching them new skills. Their risk-taking behavior decreases, and their ability to help improves. This leads to a slowdown in the rapid growth of healthcare costs and, in some cases, even a reduction.

Our current focus is entirely on military defense, and we tend to reject other topics. There is no doubt that we need strong weapons against existential threats. However, the experience in Ukraine shows that society cannot be sustained in a crisis through military means alone; it requires a comprehensive approach, which can be supported by alternative service.

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