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Military For Members

EXPLAINED: Is national service compulsory in Denmark?

Emma Firth
Emma Firth - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: Is national service compulsory in Denmark?
The government wants to change the rules of national service in Denmark. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Denmark's government plans to significantly increase the number of young Danes doing military service. But what does conscription involve in Denmark and who has to do it?

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What's the current law?

Men in Denmark are required to register for conscription (værnepligt) following their 18th birthday, while registering for conscription is optional for women. 

While the law in Denmark permits the Armed Forces to compulsorily enlist male soldiers, the vast majority of young people taking conscription training have chosen themselves to do so and there is actually competition for places in the 20 barracks around the country.

In 2022, 4,616 people completed their military service, all of them voluntarily, with just under 27 percent of them female. The standard service is four months, while specialised units (like the horse squadron) can serve up to 12 months. 

What's the process?

Men are automatically invited to a National Defence Day (Forsvarets Dag) in the year they turn 18 through their digital mail if they have permanent residence in Denmark. A health questionnaire is included and if they pass this, the 18 year olds are required to go along to the assessment day.

If they do not attend, they are reported to the police and if there is no good reason for not attending, they are fined 1,000 kroner on a first offence and 2,000 kroner if it happens a second time. If they still don't turn up, the police can issue an arrest warrant and take the person physically to the assessment.

The National Defence Day is a chance to find out more about conscription, undergo health checks and discuss a person's interest in joining. 

Women are also invited through digital mail when they turn 18, but for them it is always voluntary if they want to go along to the assessment day. 

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What are the government plans to extend conscription?

Due to the war in Ukraine and recent demands on the Armed Forces during the pandemic, Denmark has plans to extend conscription requirements. The Defence Ministry says there is a need for conscripts to support the Armed Forces, to release soldiers for operational tasks, and for conscripts to be available to civil society.

This would involve extending the period in which the conscripts serve, creating more equality between men and women and "a stricter pull on cohorts which could potentially reduce the degree of voluntariness in conscription".

In 2023, the Minister of Defence Jakob Ellemann-Jensen and eight political parties voiced their support to extend conscription to women in Denmark after trade unions representing Danish soldiers called for the change.  

In March 2024, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced the government's plan to boost the number of young people in military service by extending conscription to include women and increasing the service duration from 4 months to 11 months for everyone.

"We do not rearm because we want war. We are rearming because we want to avoid it," Frederiksen said, adding that the government wants "full equality between the sexes."

According to the government, the new system would require a change in the law, which is expected to occur in 2025 and take effect in 2026.

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What about foreign and dual citizens in Denmark?

Dual citizens are also subject to national military service, provided they are Danish residents and there is no agreement with the other country of which they are a citizen that prevents such a service.

Foreign residents who are not Danish citizens are not automatically summoned to conscription. However, it possible to apply for conscription as a foreign citizen, so long as the person applying has an adequate level of written and spoken Danish. 

In addition to residence in Denmark, the armed forces will also take into consideration whether a person has a connection to Denmark and whether they have applied for or intend to apply for Danish citizenship. 

Conscription does not exempt someone from any service obligations in their home country.

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Is conscription common in Europe? 

Most of the 28 EU member states have abolished military conscription. The UK, for example, made their armed forces fully professional in 1963 and France in 2001. 

Sweden reintroduced conscription in 2017 and 18 year old men and women now have to undergo a military assessment to see if they are suitable to carry out national service. However those selected remain a fraction of the population of 18 year olds. 

Conscripts in Sweden have to serve for nine to 12 months and the aim is to encourage them to either become military professionals or to join the reserves.

Norway has compulsory military service as part of its constitution. All men and women in Norway are required to meet the military for something called a muster at the age of 19. Here, they undergo health checks and answer questions about joining the military. 

In most cases, if any 19 year old isn't interested in the army, the army isn't interested in them because the Armed Forces in Norway can typically conscript enough interested recruits. Only around 15 per cent of 19-year-olds are actually called up for military service after the muster. Still, some candidates are called up against their wishes and are required to undertake national service. 

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