Is dual citizenship compatible with military service?

In its major publication China’s World, the Huawen Institute, part of the Future Citizen Institute, just published an article by Major General Chen Zhou entitled “China’s National Security Strategy and Military Strategy for a New Era” in which he notes that “China is now at a crucial stage of transition from a big nation to a strong one”.



Although Chen Zhou touches on the “deployment of forces” and China’s modernisation strategy in terms of “organizational structure, service personnel, and weaponry”, there is no explicit mention of the citizenship status of the military staff. However, just as we will see in forthcoming posts on the relation between dual citizenship and suffrage, in countries where multiple citizenship is accepted military service may lead to problems of allegiance: a lack of loyalty on the part of dual nationals who are enrolled in the army may endanger national security. Historically, dual nationality was primarily caused by the refusal of emigrant sending States to release their emigrants from their original nationality so that male nationals (and their descendants born abroad) could be drafted for military service. Therefore, Stephen Legomsky is probably right in stating that “in discussions of dual nationality, conscription has been by far the single greatest practical concern expressed”. It was not unusual that those who had naturalized abroad as well as their sons could be forced to fulfil military service in their country of origin when only paying it a visit. As this was a particular problem for the United States, which was receiving large numbers of immigrants in the 19th century, the country started concluding bilateral agreements with other countries (the “Bancroft Treaties”) which allowed naturalized citizens of the US to return to their country of origin without being punished for failure, prior to naturalization, to respond to calls for military service in their home country.



Legomsky, who made a detailed study of dual nationality and military service, concludes from his analysis of State practice that dual nationals are generally permitted to serve in the military. If this policy has led to any problems, they are not apparent. At the same time, the relative stability of State relations (violence now more often occurs within States rather than between States) has to some extent hollowed out the loyalty argument. Moreover, the decline of conscription has removed one of the most important arguments against dual nationality.


Aram Karamanoukian, in La double nationalité et le service militaire, has given an historical overview of the bilateral treaties concluded by France with a number of other States which specifically addressed the problem of military service for dual nationals. His survey reveals that a great number of different solutions to the problem of dual military obligations were to be found in these treaties. Sometimes it was the country of permanent residence where the dual national had to fulfil his military obligations, other times it was the country where he had his habitual residence and with which he was most closely connected. Still other treaties gave the individual a right of election or simply provided that military service must be fulfilled in either country.


A number of multilateral treaties have also tried to prevent multiple nationals from having to fulfil military obligations twice. The 1930 Protocol Relating to Military Obligations in Certain Cases of Double Nationality as well as the second chapter of the 1963 Convention on the Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality are particularly noteworthy in this respect.

Article 1 of the 1930 Protocol provides: “A person possessing two or more nationalities who habitually resides in one of the countries whose nationality he possesses, and who is in fact most closely connected with that country, shall be exempt from all military obligations in the other country or countries”. Article 5 of the second chapter of the 1963 Convention reads: “Persons possessing the nationality of two or more Contracting Parties shall be required to fulfil their military obligations in relation to one of those Parties only”.


The usefulness of this second chapter is shown by the fact that a large number of States have in recent times denounced the first chapter of the 1963 Convention, as an expression of their growing tolerance of dual citizenship, but have decided to remain bound by the second. The 1997 European Convention on Nationality also makes an effort to solve the problem of cumulating military obligations for multiple citizens. Article 21 ECN provides that “persons possessing the nationality of two or more States Parties shall be required to fulfil their military obligations in relation to one of those States Parties only”. The same Article also provides that the military service shall – in the absence of a special agreement – be fulfilled in the country of the habitual residence. This solution seems to be an efficient way to prevent an accumulation of military obligations for multiple nationals.


Nevertheless, some authors stress that the issue of loyalty must not be neglected. Kay Hailbronner has criticized the provision in the ECN which allows for voluntary military service in the other country of which the multiple national holds the nationality. He finds it doubtful that “a principle of free choice adequately reflects a proper balance of the interests of the individual and the society” and concludes that “voluntary military service in a state other than the state of residence is hardly suitable to promote integration”.


Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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