Juhan Kivirähk, ICDS, 28.02.2013
The sixth consecutive annual survey on conscripts’ and reservists’ attitudes to the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) confirmed that young men continued to view conscription and their completed service positively – they find conscription necessary and are mostly satisfied with their service.
The proportion of those who volunteer for conscription has been growing steadily. In 2008, 9% of conscripts volunteered for service; in 2012, the respective figure was as high as 33%.
27% of the respondents were pleased to be conscripted; 44% enrolled out of a sense of civic duty. 22% would have preferred not to be conscripted if possible and 4% were conscripted completely against their will. If conscription were voluntary, half of the respondents would still have been willing to be conscripted.
The younger a conscript is when called up, the more willingly he is conscripted. Consequently, the majority of the respondents think that the best time for conscription is right after graduation from upper secondary school.
The very first stage for shaping young men’s attitudes to the EDF and conscription is at the beginning of enlistment – during their registration as conscripts, medical examination, distribution across and transportation to units. The Defence Resources Agency’s performance during the call-up process is mostly viewed positively – 23% are completely and 53% generally satisfied with it. In addition, 23% are completely and 43% fairly satisfied with medical committees. The two ratings have consistently maintained high levels all through the years.
Prior knowledge of conscription plays a key role in its successful completion. The survey demonstrates that young men who enter conscription think their prior knowledge is more extensive than reservists who have completed their service: prior knowledge is rated as good by 63% of conscripts and by 44% of reservists. This means that real service experiences make them reassess their knowledge as having been rather more limited – it is probable that during their service certain circumstances emerge that future conscripts are not aware of and cannot take into account beforehand.
Before enrolment, the respondents would like to have more information on training activities and the specifics of different units of the EDF; on restrictions and recommendations concerning items to be taken along; on general everyday arrangements, accommodation facilities and daily schedules; on what they should expect to happen during conscription; on conscripts’ rights and how to defend them.
The key source for obtaining information about conscription is friends and acquaintances – information from them was definitely obtained by 59% and to some extent by 34%. This source is followed by information flows coordinated by the Defence Resources Agency: its webpage, information leaflets and medical committees. The webpage of the EDF is also a crucial source of information. The National Defence Course is rated as the second source of information by those who had this course at school, while members of the National Defence League give second place to information received through this organisation.
Attitudes towards conscription are largely shaped by the EDF’s general reputation among future conscripts and their perception of the key functions of compulsory military service. In general, both conscripts and reservists view the EDF positively – it is thought to be a well-disciplined organisation that offers vital skills for life and good military training. A lower rating is given to the EDF’s up-to-dateness and its innovation-mindedness. The respondents are also more critical of its technical equipment.
During conscription, the respondents base their highest hopes on the acquisition of survival, team-work and driving skills, while Russians also hope to improve their Estonian language skills. When asked to list key skills and experiences gained from conscription in open-ended questions, the respondents stress in particular military knowledge and various military skills (19%); physical development and coping in tough situations (15%); team-work skills and the ability to show consideration to others (12%); leadership skills and experience (11%); car driving and working with different kinds of mobile equipment (11%); learning discipline and making better use of time (10%). Most reservists feel more confident and physically stronger after conscription; more than half also think that they have become wiser.
Skills and knowledge acquired during conscription certainly come in handy in civilian life too. This is why both conscripts and reservists think that certificates attesting to their training should be issued – these should serve as certificates of professional competence when applying for a job after conscription. 70% of the respondents are definitely convinced that this kind of certificate is necessary and 23% think that it is rather necessary.
69% feel completely or generally satisfied with their compulsory military service in the EDF after its completion. The figure for 2012 is slightly higher than for 2011 (65%), but still lower than for 2007, for 2008 or for 2010.
The respondents could express their reasons for dissatisfaction in open-ended questions. In total, 36% of reservists did so. The most frequently mentioned reason for dissatisfaction is disorganisation in military service and wasting of time (43% of the respondents who answered to this question); the incompetence of superiors and their condescending attitude towards conscripts come in second place (36%).
One of the key results of this year’s survey is the closing of the gap in satisfaction between conscripts who serve in different military units – there are no units where dissatisfaction exceeds 35%. In previous years, there have been some units where more than half of conscripts were dissatisfied with their compulsory military service.
High satisfaction ratings ensure that the EDF will have strongly motivated reservists. If conscripts have unhappy memories of their service period, they do not exactly welcome future reserve training either. A fifth of reservists would be pleased to participate in reserve training in the future; 39% would be ready to fulfil their duty. More than one-fourth of the respondents would not participate in reserve training if possible and 10% would find it completely unacceptable.
In addition to preparing conscripts for manning reserve units, conscription offers a breeding ground for future professional members of the EDF. Every respondent was asked how he would respond to an offer to take up service as a professional member of the EDF after conscription. 5% of both reservists and conscripts would definitely accept such proposals. Moreover, half of conscripts and more than one-third of reservists would be willing to consider these kinds of offers, depending on their conditions.
Opinions on the Estonian Defence Forces before and after conscription – 2012