23 March 2012

Mandatory Military Service: For and Against


Recently, in March 2012 during the election campaign,presidential
candidate, former Chief of the Defence Force, Major General
TaurMatanRuak (TMR) proposed the idea that Timor-Leste needs mandatory national military service.


Taur Matan Ruak: Mandatory military service for young males or female

Monday, 12 March 2012

TMR promised that he would institute mandatory military service if he
is elected president for the period of 2012-2017. He said that the
youth is the nation's strength, therefore it is important to look
after them. Weak youth will lead to a weak nation.

"Military service will be mandatory, whether female or male. Anyone
over 18 years of age must join the military. This is my policy number
5, to pay attention to the youth," TMR said during his rally in

TMR said that he had already made a similar proposal to the National
Parliament and the government between 2007 and 2008. However both
organs rejected his proposal.

Original Tetum story:

Segunda, 12 Marsu 2012

“Tau rMatan Ruak: Joven Feto Ka Mane Sei Tama Militar Obrigatoriu”

Eis Xefe Estadu Major F-FDTL, Taur Matan Ruak promete, atu aplika
sistema military obrigatoriu, bainhira eleisaun hodi fo fiar sai
nu’udar Xefe Estadu ba periode (2012-2017).

Tuir kandidatu numeru 2 ne’e, Juventude maka forsa ne’ebe boot iha
nasaun ne’e, ne’e duni, importante tau matan ba joventude sira, tanba
joventude mak sai forsa nasaun nian hodi nasaun sai forte, Joventude
fraku nasaun namlele.

“Servisu military tenke obrigatoriu, feto ka mane kompleta ona tinan
18 tenke ba tropa, ne’e hau nia kumprimisiu iha ponto 5, tau matan ba
joventude,” dehan taur bainhira hala’o Kampania iha Baucau foin lalai

Taur matan Ruak hateten, iha tinan 2007-2008, bainhira sei assume Xefe
Estadu Major F-FDTL, nia hatama proposta ba Parlamentu Nasional no
Governu hodi aprova politika ne’e, maibe orgaun soberania rua ne’e la

There was an almost immediate criticism of the idea by many quarters
both inside and outside Timor-Leste. The TMR campaign has also been
criticized for putting forward a militarized approach to the campaign
with the use of camouflage uniforms in campaign posters along with
allegations that the military or some of its personnel were assisting
in campaigning. However, the military service proposal was the only
direct policy position on military matters that the candidate TMR put
forward. Most of his campaign platform was very civilian in nature.

Now that TMR has advanced to the second round in the presidential
elections it is important to review this proposal as it now has much
more credibility as there is a now a much stronger chance that TMR
will become President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.

Fundasaun Mahein does not at this stage take a position on the matter
of mandatory military service as it is as yet an unformed and not yet
fully mature policy position. However, such a policy if it ever comes
to a serious discussion at Government levels requires very careful
analysis and consideration of its potentially positive and negative
effects on Timorese society.

Those who are in favour of its application put forward a number of
arguments suggesting it is a positive approach. The below is just a
number of such positions;

1. That it would provide structure and discipline to the youth
2. That it would provide important life skills to the youth
3. That it would provide opportunities for the youth to experience
Timor-Leste beyond the limits of their villages and subdistricts
4. That most 18 year olds want these opportunities
5. That most parents want these opportunities for their children
6. That service of this sort would bind Timorese from all walks of
life together in a nationalist experience
7. That service of this kind would reduce sukuism and regionalism in
Timor-Leste, and contribute to the building of national identity
8. That it would provide skills which would improve future educational
and employment opportunities
9. That it would infuse in youth the sense of participation in
national organizations rather than resistance or opposition to
national institutions.
10. That it would minimize the influence of MAGs, gangs, crime and
drugs etc on the youth

Those who are against the policy of national military service put
forward a number of arguments suggesting it is a negative approach.
The below is just a number of such positions

1. With around 40,000 18 year olds leaving school each year it is
potentially veryexpensive(food, fuel, uniforms, buildings, vehicles
2. That it would create a massive national military infrastructure
which is unhealthy
3. That Timor-Leste does not need a youth population trained in
military skills (ie weapons, warfighting, hand to hand combat)
4. That it would require purchase and therefore management and control
of large numbers of weapons.
5. That mandatory service would possibly be unconstitutional if it
does allow for religious, moral, political or health exceptions
6. That it does not fit into current Government planning either
through the F-FDTL Forca 2020 plan or the AMP Government Strategic
Development plan.
7. That current laws relating to the defence force do not include
provision for such a policy
8. That health, education, infrastructure, economic development are
higher priorities

Of interest is that when we analyse military service in the rest of
the world it is clear that most countries do not have it. But those
that do are a mixture of highly developed western liberal democracy
countries (ie Denmark, and Norway), states in transition (ie Egypt) as
well as a number of long time dictatorships (ie Burma)

Here is a summary

• 19 countries have No defence forces
• 99 countries have No enforced conscription
• 5 countries have Conscription only in special circumstances
• 8 countries have both compulsory and voluntary military service
• 13 countries have Civilian, unarmed or non-combatant service option
• 23 countries have Military service limited to 1 year or less
• 11 countries have Military service limited to 18 months
• 31 countries have Military service longer than 18 months
• 1 countries Conscription to be abolished in the near future

Fundasaun Mahein takes note of the differing positions on mandatory
military service in Timor-Leste and suggests that there may be
compromise, which satisfies those who are both for and against
national military service. Such as making national service a
requirement, but not necessarily through the military exclusively.
For example it could be through your engagement in agriculture, or
infrastructure, or business development as well as through the

Also Fundasaun Mahein suggests that mandatory service for all school
leavers may also not be possible given their large numbers and the
fact that each adult citizen deserves a right to choose what they will
do with their lives. So rather than a mandatory service provision it
may be more suitable to make it voluntary national service.

Fundasaun Mahein recognizes that the political, administrative and
financial issues around this policy are very complicated and urges all
parties not to dismiss or approve such a potentially wide-ranging
initiative without considering all of the positive and negative

Caetano Alves Outreach Unit Fundasaun Mahein
mobile: + 670 733 8969
email: ataymahein@gmail.com
Rua dalan Balide, Dili, Timor-Leste

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