2.3.3 Reserve obligations in practice

The performance of obligatory military service is frequently followed by a number of years in which the former conscript is listed in the armed forces reserves. The final column of Table 5 shows for different countries the age until which this requirement persists. What it involves in practice, however, varies enormously from one case to another.

At one extreme is Switzerland, where the initial period of basic military training is of between 18 and 21 weeks, but this is followed by an almost equal length of service in the form of six or seven refresher courses of a maximum of seventeen days each spread over the following ten years or so until each conscript has served a total of 260 days. During this time the reservist keeps and maintains his military equipment, including rifle and ammunition, at home.

Similarly in Sweden, reserve service includes refresher training, which outside conditions of mobilisation can amount to more than 34 days in no more than two periods in any one year, and no more than 240 days in total. The total of basic training and refresher training cannot exceed 700 days (approximately 23 months). Moreover, on completing basic training, conscripts are given a wartime assignment, which is valid for not more than ten years from the end of full-time service.[1] Short of wartime mobilisation, there is however a further level of preparedness which may for any one conscript involve being recalled to service for a maximum of 180 days in one or more periods.

In other instances, however, - Poland is just one example - the fact that names remain on the reserve list until the age of 50 (60 for officers) does not imply that in practice they may expect to be called upon to perform any duties, at least in times of peace. 

Between the two extremes are many instances where there is provision for occasional call-up of reserves for refresher purposes on an ad hoc basis.

In many countries, the reserves are classified by various degrees of readiness, which may however only become of significance in a time of general mobilisation. In Paraguay, for example, until 32 years of age men form part of the permanent reserve (Reserva Permanente), from the age of 33 to 44 the National Guard (Guardia Nacional) and from 45 to 50 the Territorial Guard (Guardia Territorial). It is not, however, reported that reserves have in practice been called upon to perform any duties in at least the last twenty years.[2]

  • [1] Act on Liability for Total Defence Service, paragraphs 4.4 - 4.6 and 3.12 - 3.15
  • [2] SERPAJ (Servicio Paz y Justicia)-Paraguay (1995), Los niños-soldados de Paraguay: Investigación sobre los soldados menores de edad (Unpublished case study for the United Nations' study on the impact of armed conflict on children (the Machel Report).