Austria subscribes to comprehensive national defence (Art. 9a of the Federal Constitutional Law, Bundesverfassungsgesetz). Universal national defence thus comprises military, intellectual, civil and economic national defence. Its task is to safeguard the national independence of the Republic of Austria as well as its inviolability and its unity especially as regards the maintenance and defence of permanent neutrality. It furthermore stipulates that compulsory military service is mandatory for all able-bodied Austrian male citizens. Female Austrian nationals may also complete voluntary service as soldiers.
Under Art.1 of the Austrian National Defence Act (Wehrgesetz) of 2001 it is stipulated that the Austrian Armed Forces are to be set up in line with the principles of a militia system. Basic military service currently lasts six months. Conscientious objectors, who refuse to complete compulsory military service and are exonerated therefrom, must perform an alternative service (civilian service) for a period of nine months.
The only popular referendum to date in Austria focused on the issue of military service and was held on 20 January 2013. The Austrian population could choose between two options and the following question was asked:
“Are you in favour of introducing a professional career army and a paid voluntary social year or are you in favour of retaining compulsory military service and alternative civilian service?”
The referendum produced a turnout of 52.4%. Of the valid votes cast a majority of 59.7% supported retaining general compulsory service and alternative civilian service .