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$8,700 will let young Turks 'buy out' their military service

The Turkish government's unexpected decision to let conscripts pay off compulsory military service has military leaders worried, as tens of thousands of young men stand to take advantage of the chance not to join up.
A Turkish soldier takes up his position near the border with Syria as seen from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, November 24, 2012. Syria on Friday condemned Turkey's request for NATO to deploy Patriot defence missiles near their common border, calling it "provocative", after a spate of clashes there that has raised fear of the Syrian civil war embroiling the wider region. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh  (TURKEY - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY POLITICS CONFLICT) - RTR3ATBY

When the topic is compulsory military service in Turkey, everybody listens. Every year, in batches, about 700,000 young men are enlisted for 12 months of what is called “national service” by the constitution. A small number of them are university graduates, who are enlisted for six months. A similar number are discharged each year after completing their compulsory service. It is therefore no wonder that anything to do with this service is of interest to millions of people.

To properly understand the issue, some statistics are needed. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Turkey's military is made up of about 600,000 people. This number includes about 195,000 in the gendarmerie and 5,000 Coast Guard personnel. About 350,000 of the total — 60% — are conscripts. When conscripts outnumber professional cadres, the result is called a “mass army." In that sense, the Turkish military is similar to those of Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Israel. One must remember, however, that there are about 230,000 professional noncommissioned officers and specialists in the Turkish military. When compared with other modern Western countries, the number of commissioned personnel in the Turkish military is relatively high. Turkey’s defense expenditures in 2013 came to $18 billion. That means that each Turkish citizen was spending about $200 each for defense.

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