Qatar Today - - COVER STORY -

The strength of a coun­try has been mea­sured in re­cent decades by the size of its pop­u­la­tion. The big­ger the pop­u­la­tion, the big­ger the de­ter­rent it pro­vides to any threat from a hos­tile re­gional power. This was what coun­tries like Iraq, whose one­mil­lion-strong armed forces which was rated the fourth big­gest in the world, used to brag about. Such cri­te­ria was cur­rent un­til re­cently; and it was the rea­son why coun­tries that lack this ad­van­tage, such as the GCC coun­tries, re­sorted to other means to curb ex­ter­nal threats. We found that these coun­tries opt to build up large ar­se­nals of ar­ma­ment and forge coali­tions with Arab and in­ter­na­tional pow­ers to meet their se­cu­rity re­quire­ments. For­eign fleets be­came a com­mon pres­ence in a large num­ber of states along the Ara­bian Gulf. Some Arab coun­tries like Jor­dan and Egypt are at the fore­front of coun­tries that re­ceived eco­nomic as­sis­tance in re­turn for the se­cu­rity ser­vices they pro­vided, while coun­tries like Iraq and Egypt with large pop­u­la­tions gained distin­guished lever­age in the re­gion in­spite of their re­ced­ing eco­nomic con­di­tions.

The ab­sence of com­pul­sory con­scrip­tion in the GCC coun­tries in­evitably leads to the lack of re­serve forces needed to con­front ex­ter­nal threats. Con­trary to this, for in­stance, is the sit­u­a­tion in Iran – the tra­di­tional source of threat to these coun­tries – which has a strict com­pul­sory con­scrip­tion sys­tem, and a large base of ca­reer re­serve forces with wide rang­ing di­rect or in­di­rect com­bat ex­pe­ri­ences and du­ties.

De­pend­ing on an ex­ter­nal power for se­cu­rity has its po­lit­i­cal cost that no Gulf state may wish to con­tinue to pay, es­pe­cially when there is an agree­ment be­tween these ex­ter­nal pow­ers and the threat­en­ing re­gional side. The re­cent agree­ment be­tween the USA and Iran has con­trib­uted to forc­ing some Gulf States to adopt com­pul­sory con­scrip­tion for the first time in their his­tory. These coun­tries are seek­ing – amid re­gional threats and rapid in­ter­ac­tions in the re­gion – to op­ti­mise the ben­e­fit of their fi­nan­cial and ar­ma­ment-ad­van­tage by adding qual­i­fied and trained re­sources to their mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties to con­front Iran, the neigh­bour with an am­bi­tious strat­egy to dom­i­nate the Ara­bian Gulf re­gion.

Re­gional threat could be a ma­jor part of the new doc­trine of mo­bil­i­sa­tion in the Gulf re­gion as the GCC couldn't, through­out decades of its his­tory, meet the se­cu­rity re­quire­ments of its mem­bers and GCC mem­bers were con­cerned about the wave of the Arab spring rev­o­lu­tions that had struck many large Arab republics. How­ever, they viewed com­pul­sory con­scrip­tion as a means to “build a gen­er­a­tion of dis­ci­plined youths”, and to “up­grade and op­ti­mise the util­i­sa­tion of hu­man po­ten­tial through en­grain­ing good val­ues and de­vel­op­ing pos­i­tive be­hav­iour pat­terns among the youth so that they can sup­port the armed forces in crises and emer­gen­cies”. These coun­tries used to re­cruit im­mi­grant work­force in var­i­ous units of the armed forces, which poses a long-term threat to the so­cial fab­ric es­pe­cially when the pop­u­la­tion of this work­force ex­ceeds the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion, let alone the prob­lems this may cre­ate due to di­vided loy­alty on the part of these re­cruits.

The rea­sons for in­tro­duc­ing the com­pul­sory con­scrip­tion ser­vice (the ser­vice of the flag) vary from one coun­try to another. All coun­tries, how­ever, agree that this ser­vice con­trib­utes to ful­fill­ing the re­quire­ments of the so­ci­ety and the coun­try. Jor­dan, for in­stance, is plan­ning to re­in­state the ser­vice, and the law has re­cently been passed by the par­lia­ment. It con­sid­ers the na­tional ser­vice a re­form mea­sure and a means to serve

so­ci­ety, con­tain so­cial vi­o­lence and re­con­firm the state def­er­ence through up­grad­ing the re­spect for the state's in­sti­tu­tions and the armed forces and safe­guard­ing the fab­ric of so­ci­ety amid gen­uine threats to na­tional unity. Some Gulf coun­tries view the ser­vice as a means to de­velop the po­ten­tial of the youth. They tend to re­in­state the ser­vice not for po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity rea­sons as much as a means to re­fine the char­ac­ters of the youth and solve the prob­lems orig­i­nat­ing from idle­ness and un­em­ploy­ment, most of which are at­trib­uted to the fail­ure of govern­ment de­part­ments to plan and study the re­quire­ments of the work mar­ket proac­tively, and the ab­sence of suit­able pro­fes­sional train­ing. As a re­sult, a large por­tion of im­mi­grant work­force took the place of the na­tional work­force in the work mar­ket. For these rea­sons, rather than se­cu­rity and po­lit­i­cal ones as in the case of Is­rael, the gov­ern­ments of the re­gion are in­tro­duc­ing the na­tional ser­vice.

Coun­tries such as Qatar and the UAE con­sider it im­por­tant to pro­vide a mil­i­tary train­ing to con­scripts or vol­un­teers for a few months in order to re­fine and shape their char­ac­ters and in­te­grate them into mil­i­tary life. In ad­di­tion, the ab­sence of a na­tional cul­ture leads to lost or weak­ened loy­alty or sense of na­tional be­long­ing, which in turn will re­gen­er­ate the eth­nic or sec­tar­ian sub-iden­ti­ties re­spon­si­ble for most of the cases of un­rest in some Gulf States, like in Bahrain, Saudi Ara­bia and Iraq. In Jor­dan we can see this phe­nom­e­non in the uni­ver­si­ties where vi­o­lence reached un­prece­dented lev­els. To en­hance a uni­fy­ing na­tional iden­tity some sug­gest chang­ing the phrase “the ser­vice of the flag” to “the na­tional ser­vice”.

As a way of com­bat­ing un­em­ploy­ment, these gov­ern­ments con­sider that pre­par­ing univer­sity grad­u­ates pro­fes­sion­ally, tech­ni­cally and tech­no­log­i­cally even af­ter com­plet­ing their mil­i­tary ser­vice is re­quired to qual­ify them for a pro­fes­sion, es­pe­cially in the most needed jobs, in the work mar­ket. Voic­ing eco­nomic as­pect as a main rea­son for re­ject­ing the re­turn of the na­tional ser­vice can be by­passed in the so­ci­eties of the Ara­bian Gulf States where the re­turns re­alised from oil and gas can be used to strengthen and en­cour­age the na­tional ser­vice. In the coun­tries that suf­fer from eco­nomic dif­fi­cul­ties, fi­nan­cial re­quire­ments for com­pul­sory con­scrip­tion can be se­cured through part­ner­ships be­tween the armed forces and the pri­vate sec­tor to sup­port train­ing with ex­pe­ri­enced hu­man re­sources. The cur­rent ten­dency to­day among the gov­ern­ments that want to re­in­state or in­tro­duce the na­tional ser­vice for the first time is to adopt this new con­cept so that the ser­vice may not be seen as an un­nec­es­sary fi­nan­cial bur­den by gov­ern­ments. At the same time, some gov­ern­ments are think­ing about re­duc­ing the term of the ser­vice to just six months of train­ing, or start train­ing the stu­dents from se­condary school and count that pe­riod as part of the reg­u­lar ser­vice term that the conscript is ready to start af­ter com­plet­ing this stage of ed­u­ca­tion.

For ex­am­ple the Jor­da­nian govern­ment is head­ing to­wards re­in­stat­ing the na­tional ser­vice and re­duc­ing its term from two years to only six months of mil­i­tary and vo­ca­tional train­ing. A large num­ber of the officials sup­port­ing the re­turn of the ser­vice of the flag in Jor­dan as­so­ciate it with the Arab-Is­raeli con­flict. Some of them think that as long as no state is es­tab­lished on the other bank of the river (a Pales­tinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip), this sub­ject should not be ig­nored. The threat is still there and the cur­rent strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment should be un­der­stood in a holis­tic con­text.

Other gov­ern­ments think the du­ra­tion should be as­signed in ac­cor­dance with the cir­cum­stance of in­di­vid­ual coun­tries. The se­cu­rity side should not be ig­nored when con­sid­er­ing serv­ing the so­ci­ety and em­pha­sis­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity as parts of the na­tional ser­vice. For ex­am­ple Al­ge­ria lim­ited the ser­vice of the flag to 18 months, three of which are spent in mil­i­tary train­ing, and one month in driv­ing train­ing. Con­scripts af­ter that are grouped in ac­cor­dance with their spe­cial­i­sa­tions and com­pe­tence to re­train them vo­ca­tion­ally. It, how­ever, raised the term dur­ing the 10 years of un­rest, ter­ror­ism and chaos that Al­ge­ria ex­pe­ri­enced through dur­ing the 1990s to 24 months with­out ig­nor­ing vo­ca­tional train­ing.

In light of all this the ser­vice of the flag is an im­por­tant ac­tiv­ity. How­ever, we should not look at it only as a mil­i­tary or be­havioural train­ing. It is that, and also a vo­ca­tional and pro­fes­sional prepa­ra­tion. If this no­tion is not part of the process, the whole ac­tiv­ity can be in vain.

RA'ID FOUZI EHMOOD Re­searcher and Gen­eral Man­ager Third World In­sti­tute for Re­searches and Stud­ies, Jor­dan

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