The organization of the Hellenic Armed Forces of the 1990s is based mainly on United States standards. The number of individuals serving in the Greek military decreased by about 21 percent between 1985 and 1994; over the same period, defense expenditures as a percentage of gross national product (GNP) decreased by slightly less than 1 percent. National defense planning stresses modernization of equipment and training modernization in keeping with the selected goals of military doctrine.
According to the constitution, every male citizen capable of bearing arms has the obligation to serve in the Hellenic Armed Forces upon reaching his twentieth year. During the period of eligibility, exemptions may be granted for serious health problems and in some other cases, such as to fathers of more than four children and church officials. Deferments are granted for completion of university studies until the age of twenty-seven for undergraduate studies and until the age of thirty for graduate studies. It is estimated that 40 percent of each conscript "class" request and receive deferments for completion of their studies. Women are not subject to conscription, but they may enlist voluntarily in the armed forces.
The recruitment pool for the Greek armed forces has been shrinking gradually since about 1980 because the population is aging and each recruiting age-group is accordingly smaller (see Population Characteristics , ch. 2). In 1994 the prime recruiting group, ages eighteen to twenty-two, included 370,000 men. Because of the country's demographics, the Ministry of National Defense announced in 1994 that women may be required to participate in some military training in National Guard units.
In 1985 the armed forces had 201,500 persons. In 1994 the total number was 159,300, of whom 122,300 (77 percent) were conscripts and 5,900 were women. The Hellenic Army numbered 113,000, the air force 26,800, and the navy 19,500. Every year six "classes" of conscripts are inducted.
The youngest age at which a person may enlist voluntarily is seventeen. Each individual's case is reviewed by the local draft board, which evaluates all conscripts to determine the person's appropriate branch, specialization, and grade (officer, noncommissioned officer, or private). Classifications are computer-processed on the basis of qualifications. Those entrants selected to serve as officers spend four months at a reserve officers' school, after which they are designated "reserve officers." A few months before their release from active service, they are commissioned as second lieutenants.
In addition to active-duty personnel, the Greek military includes about 406,000 reservists. They are divided into three categories, according to age. Categories A, B, and C include personnel below age forty, between forty and fifty, and above age fifty, respectively. Reservists are subject to recall to participate in military exercises lasting one to two weeks per year.
There is general agreement that the conscription system operates effectively, and it is accepted widely by the Greek people. In the last few years, the issue of conscientious objectors (mainly Jehovah's Witnesses) has received increased publicity because Greece requires conscientious objectors to serve their noncombat assignments for twice as long as regular military inductees, and because of numerous reports that personnel excused from combat duty have been imprisoned and mistreated. Based on such reports, several human rights organizations have urged Greece to resolve the problem. In 1994 the Ministry of National Defense examined the possibility of establishing a shorter period of alternative service, but there is concern that conscripts might use this option to avoid military service in combat units.