04.05.2012, Juhan Kivirähk
This was the fifth time that the survey to gauge opinion on the Estonian Defence Forces was conducted among conscripts and reservists. The survey covers questions about the attitudes towards the Estonian Defence Forces and conscription among conscripts and young men who have completed their service, their expectations about their impending service experience or their satisfaction with their completed service, their opinions on the organisation of the call-up process, their knowledge of conscription and national defence, and their willingness to become professional members of the Defence Forces or to enrol at educational institutions for national defence.
Estonia’s national defence rests on our initial independent defence capability and on NATO’s principle of collective defence. The initial independent defence capability is secured by a well-trained reserve force based on conscription. Compulsory military service and the will of the Estonian people to defend their country therefore hold a central role in our national defence. The motivation of reservists and the future number of professional members of the Estonian Defence Forces depend on how satisfying conscription is. It is during conscription that many young men become interested in national defence. Their attitudes towards the Estonian Defence Forces and conscription start to be shaped already at the beginning of enlistment – during registration as conscripts, medical examination, distribution across units and transportation to units, not to mention the very process of service itself.
Both the Estonian public and the target group of the survey find conscription necessary. The proportion of those who volunteer for conscription has been growing steadily.
28% of the respondents were pleased to be conscripted; 44% of them did so out of a sense of civic duty. 20% said that, if possible, they would have preferred not to be conscripted and 5% were conscripted completely against their will. There were no significant differences in the attitudes of conscripts and reservists. If conscription were voluntary, half of the respondents would still have been willing to undergo conscription.
The younger a conscript is when called up, the more willing he is to be conscripted. The respondents considered the time right after graduation from upper secondary school to be the best period to go through conscription.
When young men enter conscription, the attitudes prevalent in their immediate social environment play a crucial role. While their parents and friends are usually positive and supportive about conscription, there are positive and negative attitudes in equal measure among their employers.
Two thirds feel completely or generally satisfied with their compulsory military service in the Estonian Defence Forces after its completion. Satisfaction ratings do not differ significantly across education, age or native language groups of reservists, but across training centres. Satisfaction is the lowest in units where everyday and training facilities are inadequate.
Two thirds of reservists have a positive attitude to potential reserve training; one third would prefer not to participate in reserve training. There is a clear link between such attitudes and the experiences gained during conscription: those whose memories of their conscription period are unhappy do not exactly welcome future reserve training either.
9% of the reservists to whom offers were made to take up service as professional members of the Estonian Defence Forces had reacted positively to such offers. The younger a reservist, the more likely he is to consider a professional career in the Estonian Defence Forces. The key factors affecting such a decision are good relations with unit commanders and fellow servicemen, a handsome salary, and self-improvement and career opportunities.
Most of the respondents are satisfied with the work of the Defence Resources Agency during the call-up process – 23% are completely and 53% generally satisfied. The work of medical committees receives a similar positive reaction.
More than 60% of the respondents feel that their prior knowledge of conscription is extensive or very extensive. While 62% of the young men who enter conscription think that their knowledge is extensive and 32% that it is limited, only 49% of reservists consider their knowledge to be extensive and 47% deem it to be limited. This means that as a result of the service experience actually gained, knowledge is reassessed as having been rather more limited. Certain circumstances which future conscripts were not aware of and which they could not take into account before conscription must have emerged during their service.
The key source for obtaining information about conscription is friends – information from friends is definitely obtained by 60% of the respondents and to some extent by 34%. This source is followed by the information provided by the Defence Resources Agency via its webpage, information leaflets and medical committees. Those who participated in the National Defence Course at school rate this course as the second source for obtaining information after friends, while members of the National Defence League give second place to the information received through their organisational channels.
The National Defence Course taught at school is showing a clearly positive trend: back in 2007 only 27% of the respondents had the course included in their curricula; this survey revealed that the figure has risen to 37%. 77% of the respondents think that it is definitely or probably important to have the course included in school curricula.
7% of the young men surveyed are members of the National Defence League; 35% of those who are not are willing to join the organisation in the future. Their membership in the National Defence League or their aspirations to join it constitute a key factor that is positively correlated with their attitudes towards conscription and also with their readiness to become military professionals in the future.