Nato allies Urged to bring back military service

Rain trickles down the lenses of newly recruited soldier Toivo Saabas, tracing paths over the green and black face paint that serves as his camouflage.

Lying low on the damp ground, he peers through the sight of his gun, his breath barely noticeable in the frigid Estonian forest air.

Suddenly, a thunderous command to advance echoes through the woods.

With adrenaline coursing through his veins, the 25-year-old leaps to his feet, joining his comrades in a swift movement towards the Russian border.

Amidst the clamor of simulated combat, Saabas, a mechanical engineering graduate from Southampton University, knows that these training exercises may one day become grim reality.

“We’re preparing for any potential threat,” he asserts.

“We stand ready to defend Estonia against any challenge that may arise.”

Toivo, hailing from the capital city of Tallinn, is part of the current cohort of young Estonians fulfilling their military service—a duty required of all men over the age of 18. For women, participation is voluntary.

While the end of the Cold War and improving relations with post-Soviet Russia led to the discontinuation of conscription in many European countries during the 1990s, Estonia has retained this practice. The memories of occupation and deportation are still fresh in the collective consciousness, making conscription a vital component of national defense.

In the wake of President Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, conscription is undergoing a revival and expansion across Europe. Countries situated near Russia’s borders are urging their NATO allies, including the UK, to follow suit.

Norway announced this week that it would bolster the number of conscripted soldiers, following Denmark’s decision last month to extend conscription to women and prolong the duration of service. Similarly, Latvia and Sweden recently reinstated military service, while Lithuania reintroduced it following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“It’s been incredibly challenging,” remarks Toivo, soaked from the rain, describing the training as the most rigorous experience of his life.

“Ultimately, it’s about serving your country. Being ready for any eventuality is preferable to trying to avoid this responsibility.”

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