Except for a few, countable sovereign states, most countries have standing armies and militaries; they are the first line of defense against foreign invaders and internal conflict. However, what varies is how different countries from around the world have various methods of filling in ranks in the military. Most countries use voluntary enlistment, where citizens freely choose to be employed by the army. In other countries, however, military service is mandatory. That is, all males and sometimes females, of a particular demographic are required by law to offer military service for a selected duration. Below is a list of the countries with such rules.

1. Eritrea

All male and female Eritreans aged 18 to 40 must compulsorily serve the national military service for 18 months. During this period, they get six months of military training. They spend the remainder of time performing civilian and military tasks.

The mandatory military service in Eritrea is so strict that, according to Human Rights Watch, the authorities punish the families of draft invaders. Also, there have been reports that the conscripts’ service may continue for many more years.

2. Israel

Israel has a very robust military. This is partly because all Israeli citizens under 18 must serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. The term limits vary across the different genders. Men serve for 32 months, whereas women serve for 24 months.

Like most countries, Israel has exemptions, such as those who are medically unfit, religious women, and Israeli Arabs. A good number of those exempted opt to volunteer in the military.

3. North Korea

Military service is compulsory for all citizens of North Korea. Most people are usually enlisted immediately after finishing high school from age 17 to 18. The men serve for ten years, and the women serve for seven years. Those enlisted as the Supreme Leader’s bodyguards serve for 13 years.

High school graduates accepted by the university serve after finishing their studies and for half the time they originally would (5 years). Unlike most countries where military service revolves around preparing for war, in North Korea, the recruits are subjected to hard labor, such as working on farms or coal mines.

4. South Korea

The tension between the Koreas is always at an all-time high. One of South Korea’s measures to safeguard its borders is to require national military service. All males, as long as they are physically able, must participate in at least 18 months of military service in the Army, Air Force, or Navy.

The recruits can also serve in the fire department, Coast Guard, or special military departments. However, there is an exception for males who win sports awards, such as gold in the Olympics. Also, women have the option of voluntary enlistment.

5. Switzerland

Like South Korea, conscription is compulsory in Switzerland for all able-bodied men, but voluntary for Swiss women. Young men must join the mandatory military service when they turn 18 and are liable for national service until they reach 25. The first year of conscription usually entails military training.

In 2013, Switzerland held three federal referendums to abolish compulsory military service, but it was rejected.

6. Brazil

According to Brazilian law, all males must provide mandatory military service from the first day of January of the year they turn 18 to December 31 of the year they turn 45. This duration is subject to change depending on the needs of the country. 17-year-old males can enlist in the army as volunteers.

Clergymen and those who are unwell are exempted from the above law. Also, university students can delay the conscription until they finish their studies. Despite being mandatory, in some years, the authorities have to turn down some young men because they have more recruits than they need.

7. Syria

All Syrian males are required to enlist in the national military when they reach the age of 18. Initially, they were required to serve for 21 months. However, in 2011, President Bashar al-Assad reduced the term limit to 18 months.

Syria has severe laws regarding conscription. Abandoning this national duty can lead to a 15-year jail term. Also, state workers risk losing their jobs by avoiding the mandatory military service. Recruitment extends to men who are 42 years old.

8. Turkey

All Turkish males aged between 20 and 41 are required by law number 1111 of 1972 to serve in the military for 6 to 12 months. Unlike other countries that favor university students, in Turkey, the conscripts must serve their country for the above duration irrespective of their education degree.

Besides being compulsory, military service in Turkish culture is considered a sacred duty. Therefore, very few men flee from their duty. Also, because of their geographical location in the Middle East, the Turkish military has to stay on guard.


Mandatory military service for all Iranian males aged above 21 was introduced by Reza Shah in 1925, but was lowered to 18 later on. The recruits are required to offer their services for 14 months, down from the original 24 months. The eligibility for conscription in Iran extends to men who are aged 49. This law exempts men who may have severe health conditions.


Male citizens aged between 18 and 30 are legally required to enlist for mandatory conscription in Egypt. Depending on their education level, they can serve their country for a duration ranging from 1 to 3 years. Recently, Egypt’s conscription laws have faced many issues due to migration.

In 2021, a survey showed that more than 14 million Egyptians lived abroad. Egypt has a requirement to exempt men who live abroad from compulsory military service as long as they pay $5,000. It was introduced in 2023.

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Last Update: July 5, 2024