“At present, the only people going into the army are those who don’t have the money to bribe themselves out of military service. We want to create a modern army,” Vladimir Plahotniuc, the leader of the Democratic Party of Moldova (PD), said back in March. Following the decision of PD, the leading party in the current governing coalition, to replace the current system of mandatory military service with a professional army, the Ministry of Defense launched a project of public consultations on making the country’s army more “professional.” The timeline for implementing this project is two years, and the costs are estimated to be around 10 billion Moldovan lei (510 million euros, or $593 million).

More details emerged yesterday when the Moldovan government approved the project. According to the news site timpul.md, the program, which is called Professional Army 2018-2021, will focus on two aspects: raising the quality of human resources, and restructuring the army to make it an attractive employer for civilians and soldiers alike. The transition process to contract work will happen gradually between 2018 and 2021, during which the number of conscripts will decrease, eventually leading to the complete elimination of obligatory military service. Other aspects of this program are the refurbishment of military infrastructure, buying new military equipment, and reviewing the salaries and the social service packages offered to military staff.   

Below are the comments of various politicians and military officials on PD’s plans, collected earlier in the year when the initiative was first announced.

Gheorghe Raileanu, the mayor of Cimislia, a city in southern Moldova

I don’t think that we are ready to give up mandatory military service. First of all, it’s a matter of costs. For Moldova, I think that it is better to continue using a mixed version of those systems, hiring people on contracts, and the mandatory service [existing together]. Defense professionals should decide on the ideal proportion of these two. And it’s not just about the costs. I admit that, here, those who have money tend to shirk the military service. But that’s not a reason to give up the mandatory military service, which has a component of patriotism, which the contract one doesn’t have, since it’s all about the money. You pay, I fight, you don’t pay, goodbye. And there’s something more. If we scrap the mandatory service we no longer have reserve army personnel, which are an army’s backup. You cannot be a reservist without having undergone mandatory military training. I fought on the Dniester river in 1992 [during Transdniester’s independence war], where only those who had fought in Afghanistan were reservists. The rest were volunteers. And that cost us. We’re in a high-risk zone, with a simmering war zone in our vicinity, close to NATO’s border. So we need to have an operational army.

Ion Costas, former minister of defense

A professional army? We have neither the money for that, nor a good reason to spend it. It’s just nonsense, and money thrown to the winds. Where are the military threats coming from in our case? From Russia. What is Russia’s military potential, and what is ours? Even with an army based on mandatory service, or with one based on professional contracts, we wouldn’t be able to stand up to Russia. As such, what’s the use of new costs? For military parades? So that PD would say that we are on a par with Europe? Yes, but Europe is in NATO. Who is keeping PD from modernizing and perfecting the army we already have? Let’s not forget that, during a year in the army, our youth also learn some notions of military-patriotic education, which a contract army would not be able to offer them. The paid soldier is an employee, not a patriot. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that our schools don’t teach military-patriotic education, or any kind of military training.

Andrei Covrig, Moldovan Army reserve colonel

Every state wants a professional army, meaning a strong one, because a strong army means a strong state as well. This depends, however, on the financial possibilities, on how much a state can afford to invest in the army. It’s a lot of money. It’s about salaries – and not just any salaries, but the social [services] package for soldiers, for their families, and a whole complex of measures, related to the morale of the troops, and, of course, military and technical equipment. Our national army’s existence is in large part the result of technical assistance from Canada, the United States, and other countries. I don’t think that it would be easy for Moldova to implement such a project. But it depends, and we shall see.

Tudor Deliu, member of the Moldovan Parliament from the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM)

You cannot play around with the army. A professional army does not mean only giving up compulsory military service, and hiring professional army staff on contracts. A professional army also entails having professional equipment, and let’s not even mention [the need for the existence of] a modern war industry. What money can we use for that? Where could we get it? Our current budget for military spending is only 0.4 percent of GDP. Given our budgetary possibilities, this is unreal. The expenses are too high. Is our taxpayer capable of withstanding an even higher tax burden? It’s not clear what funds the government plans to use to cover these expenses. The program for making the army more professional has not even reached parliament [at the time of the interview], or at least not the Juridical Committee, and it’s likely that it hasn’t even reached the Committee on National Security, Defense, and Public Order, which is responsible for this topic. The PD decision is a political PR stunt, and nothing more. PD wants to capitalize on this project for the sake of its public image, speculating on the exemption of young people from mandatory service. They refer to Romania’s experience all the time. Yes, Romania gave up its mandatory military service, but only after joining NATO. If we want to be like Romania, we should join NATO, too.

This article was originally published in Romanian on Ziarul de Garda, a news and analysis site based in Moldova. TOL has done some editing to fit our style. Reprinted with permission.