Manpower, Recruitment, and Conscription
The vast majority of manpower for the armed forces came from
male conscription, which has been compulsory and universal (only
the small Jewish community is exempted) since 1946 and was
officially reaffirmed by the Service of the Flag Law in 1953.
Females are not required to serve, although some do; however,
they play more a public relations than a military role. Males
must register for the draft at 18; each year around 125,000 reach
19, which is when the 30-month conscription period begins. In
1985 it was estimated that of the country's population of over 10
million, 1.25 million were males fit for military service.
Before the rise to power of the Baath Party in 1963, middle
and upper class youths, who have rarely been attracted to
military service, were often exempted from conscription on
payment of a fee. Since then, this practice has been eliminated,
although youths living abroad in Arab countries continued to be
exempted on payment of a fee set by law. University students were
exempted, but many attended military training camps during the
summer, and all were obligated to do military service upon
completion of their studies. Observers stated that those
conscripted in the mid-1980s represented a broad cross section of
Conscripts faced a series of options in the Syrian Army.
After completion of his period of conscription, a man could
enlist for five years in the regular service or, if he chose not
to enlist, he would serve as a reservist for eighteen years. If
he enlisted and became a noncommissioned officer during his fiveyear service, he could become a professional noncommissioned
officer. A volunteer who did not attain noncommissioned officer
status could reenlist but was automatically discharged after
fifteen years of service or upon reaching age forty. A
professional noncommissioned officer was retired at age fortyfive or, at his own request, after twenty years of service.
Conscripts and enlisted men generally lacked mechanical and
technical skills, although beginning in the 1970s the number of
conscripts who had completed the six years of primary school
increased dramatically, as did the number of secondary and
vocational school graduates. The rugged rural origin of most
conscripts has conditioned them to endure hardship and accept
strict discipline. Military service has given most recruits the
opportunity to improve their health and, because they receive
technical training during most of their active duty, to leave the
service with a marketable skill.
Officers have tended to be less representative of the general
society than conscripts, primarily because of the high degree of
politicization of the officer corps. Although officers were not
required to join the Baath Party, membership was a crucial factor
for advancement to flag rank.
In addition to political loyalty, the officer corps was
characterized by the dominance of the Alawi and Druze minorities,
a condition dating from the French Mandate policy of recruiting
these and other minority groups into the colonial military
forces. Although many of the officers were Sunni Muslim, most of
the key senior posts were held by Alawis.
Data as of April 1987