Conscription in the Netherlands (Dutch language: dienstplicht ) was first employed in 1810 by French occupying forces. Napoleon's brother Louis Bonaparte, who was King of Holland from 1806 to 1810, had tried to introduce conscription a few years earlier, unsuccessfully. Every man aged 20 years or older had to enlist. By means of drawing lots it was decided who had to undertake service in the French army. It was possible to arrange a substitute against payment.
Later on, conscription was used for all men over the age of 18. Postponement was possible, due to study, for example. Conscientious objectors could perform an alternative civilian service instead of military service. For various reasons, this forced military service was criticized at the end of the 20th century. Since the Cold War was over, so was the direct threat of a war. Instead, the Dutch army was employed in more and more peacekeeping operations. The complexity and danger of these missions made the use of conscripts controversial. Furthermore the conscription system was thought to be unfair as only men were drafted.
In the Netherlands, compulsory attendance has been officially suspended since 1 May 1997. Between 1991 and 1996, the Dutch armed forces phased out their conscript personnel and converted to an all-volunteer force. The last conscript troops were inducted in 1995 and demobilized in 1996. The suspension means that citizens are no longer forced to serve in the armed forces, as long as it is not required for the safety of the country. Since then, the Dutch army is an all-volunteer force. However, to this day every male citizen aged 17 gets a letter in which he is told that he has been registered, but he does not have to present himself for service. The Dutch army allowed its male soldiers to have long hair from the early 1970s to the end of conscription in the mid 1990s.
Even though it is generally thought that conscription has been abolished in the Netherlands, this perception is, in fact, incorrect. The compulsory attendance was abolished, not the conscription. The laws and systems which provide for the conscription of armed forces personnel still remain in place.
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