Analysis calls for expansion of Estonia's compulsory alternative service

Incoming new EDF conscripts in Jõhvi. October 2020.
Incoming new EDF conscripts in Jõhvi. October 2020. Source: Marina Loštšina/EDF

Estonia currently lacks the capacity to summon all call-up selectees — eligible men between the ages of 17-27, inclusive — for conscription, leaving thousands each year untapped for service in the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF). An analysis by the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences (EASS) recommends compulsory alternative service be expanded to include call-up selectees unable to be called up for conscription.

In recent years, a total of 63 call-up selectees have chosen alternative service in lieu of conscription in the EDF. A recent EASS analysis, however, recommends expanding compulsory alternative service to everyone who doesn't serve conscription. This could include an estimated 3,000 men a year.

"Alternative service is still systemic service that would be a part of broad-based national defense, and in the course of which those who complete [alternative service] will have also undergone national defense training, albeit not the parts involving the use of weapons," said Raul Savimaa, editor-in-chief of the editorial board at EASS' Research and Development Center.

"This would provide a unified framework for both national defense training as well as broad-based national defense," he continued. "These same people can then be employed during future training or in crisis situations in already familiar crisis roles."

Those entering alternative service could first and foremost be directed into rescue, police or border guard work, but also trained as ambulance drivers or paramedics. Other countries' experience suggests that this can help address internal security staffing concerns.

"[Someone in alternative service] has completed this thing semi-compulsorily, so to speak, to a certain extent but up to a year, and if they see that they actually like it, then they'll end up staying on in this field," Savimaa said.

According to the editor-in-chief, there's no need for concern that expanding alternative service could reduce young selectees' interest in serving in the EDF.

"Maybe even on the contrary, because right now, if someone for some reason manages to avoid conscription, they don't even have to do anything," he highlighted.

According to Defense Resources Agency (KRA) Director Anu Rannaveski, the idea has merit, but there is one big "but."

"The framework for alternative service is provided by the Constitution, and only those who refuse military service for religious or ethical reasons may participate in it," Rannaveski explained. "It can't be called alternative service, but the idea is that one subcategory of military service should be national defense service, regardless of what we end up calling it."

Alternative service reserve already being established

While the EASS is only just starting to toy with this idea, several significant changes involving alternative service will be entering into effect on April 1 already. For example, starting that month, people can complete alternative service at hospitals and the Estonian Center for Defense Investments (ECDI), but also the EDF, either in IT or warehouse keepers.

More significantly, new changes will establish a reserve for alternative service as well. Previously, someone who completed their compulsory 12 months of alternative service was thereafter released from national defense obligations. Going forward, their obligation before the state won't end there.

"If the Rescue Board wants to organize training, they will have to attend training; should a crisis hit, they will have to go support the Rescue Board," Rannaveski said.

The authors of the analysis published last week plan on introducing its results to decision-makers in the near future.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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