What The Military Conscription In Norway Is Like (Is It Really Optional?)

Norway is part of NATO, and has a pretty big budget for the military. But despite this, military conscription in Norway is very different from what people in other countries are used to. So let’s take a close look at what the military conscription is like in Norway, who gets drafted to serve in the military, and other special things about it.

Norway has a mandatory military conscription where all 19 year old men and women are required to meet at a military base for a muster. Around 15 % of all of these are drafted to join the military for 12 to 19 months for unpaid military service.

There are roughly 60,000 new potential recruits every year, and about 8,000 to 10,000 of these get drafted. So around 15 % of all available 19 year old men and women are called in to actually serve. Some of these get sent home again after being considered unfit to serve, and on average over 7,500 people actually end up serving on a yearly basis.

A Norwegian soldier
A Norwegian soldier. Photo published with permission.

Most people can choose not to join the army

Since only about 15 % of all the potential teenagers are called in to serve in the military, it’s usually possible to choose not to join. When going in for the mandatory health checks at the muster, you will be asked if you are motivated to join the armed forces or not.

If you say no, they will be less interested in making you join. They typically have more than enough willing to join, so they don’t need to draft many people from the list of people who do not want to join.

That said, the military can force anyone to join. If you are is very good physical conditions, they might think that they need you, and force you to join the armed forces despite your will. There are some examples of people who get drafted against their will, but it’s somewhat rare.

There’s also cases where it’s the other way around. People who really want to join the military do not get called in for service despite really wanting to. In these cases the military has simply decided that they don’t need this person. Some common reasons for this is because of minor medical issues.

Both males and females are required to conscript

Both males and females are equal when it comes to the mandatory military service in Norway, and it has been this way since 2014. Despite this, only around one third of all the mandatory military service positions are female.

The reason behind this is that more females say that they are unmotivated to serve in the military than males. From what I understand, the military aims to have an equal distribution between males and females in the future, and they are working hard to motivate females to want to join.

What it’s like for people who get drafted

So, what’s life like for the 15 % that do get drafted into the military? The short summary is that they are looking at a 12 to 19 month long stay with a department of the Norwegian armed forces. This time is called førstegangstjeneste, which can be translated to “first time service”.

At the beginning of their time, the recruits go trough a lot of different tests to weed out people that are not fit to service. These get sent home, often because of small medical issues that are considered non-issues in the rest of society.

The tests also help choose which department to put everyone in, since life is very different for a medic in the army compared to an air mechanic in the air forces. Norway’s military is divided into the army, the air forces and the naval forces. The recruits cannot really choose where to go, but their opinions will be taken into consideration.

Garden outside the Royal Castle in Oslo is part of the Norwegian military
“Garden” outside the Royal Castle in Oslo is part of the Norwegian military. Photo published with permission.

The next 12 to 19 months will pretty much be a long learning period where the soldiers learn all they need to know to be able to defend Norway from foreign forces.

After serving their time, the soldiers can choose to apply for an extended stay to begin a military career, or go back to join the civilian life. The entire service is unpaid.

It’s rare for soldiers from the førstegangstjenesten to be sent into actual war, but it can in theory happen.

Why don’t Norway force everyone to join the military?

Back before 2000, pretty much all 19 year old men without any health issues were forced to join the military for 12 months of service. Since then, fewer and fewer people have been drafted due to budget costs.

The thing is that Norway simply don’t have the equipment to handle any more recruits as of right now, and accepting 10,000 new recruits each year is already pushing their limits.

The Norwegian military also operates with a “quality over quantity” dogma. They are among one of very few armies that only get highly motivated recruits. Because you have to be pretty motivated to wanting to spend a year doing this for absolutely nothing in return.

This means that the military don’t need to spend as much energy and time on getting the recruits to accept the drafting and breaking them down to blindly follow orders, and can rather focus on training these highly motivated soldiers.

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