UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Wednesday he would “love” to see Britain emulate Finland and Sweden by bringing back military conscription.
Britain scrapped national service for all young men in 1960. And occasional calls for its return have been confined to right-wing politicians and media.
Wallace, a former army officer, was briefing reporters alongside Swedish Defence Minister Pal Jonson. About Sweden and Finland’s bids to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine.
He conceded that “a different cultural thing” was at play after both Nordic countries persisted with conscription in the decades since World War II. Albeit with a seven-year break for Sweden.
But Wallace said: “I think we’re all envious of both Sweden and Finland, in (their) reserves.”
He said reservists were especially important given the reliance of modern armed forces on specialists. For example in cyberwarfare, who could be activated in time of need.
“And I think we’ve got to recognise that again the lesson of Ukraine is how do we work on our resilience. And part of that is about reserves,” he said.
“I would love to have a model like that.”
He said earlier the army had been “hollowed out” over 30 years and the Ukraine war had “exposed our vulnerabilities”.
Mr Wallace said he wanted a bigger budget, amid reports he is asking for a £10bn rise.
UK and European officials have raised concerns over the state of the British armed forces.
Malcolm Chalmers, a British defence expert who advises MPs on national security, told the BBC the UK military “would run out of ammunition in days if we faced a war, such as the ones the Ukrainians are facing right now”.
When asked his reaction to those concerns, Mr Wallace said the UK government was going to spend £34bn on modernising the army.
The defence secretary said the UK military was “not any less ready than others”. But added: “We just need to make sure we get back to spending on our defence properly.”