There has been much talk in France since the terrorist attacks of bringing back the military conscription that ended in November 2001. It is even in the Socialist Party’s manifesto for the presidential election. But whilst in France it is still just talk, in Sweden they’ve gone ahead and done it. Six days ago the Swedish government announced that in 2018 military conscription would be re-introduced after a 7-year hiatus for youngsters born in 1999 and 2000, dual nationals living in Sweden included.
Sweden’s coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens said “modern conscription is gender neutral and will include both women and men.” Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said that although Sweden is not a member of NATO, he had been inspired by neighbouring Norway, which in 2013 introduced military conscription for both sexes, making it the first NATO member to do so.
However not all the estimated 100,000 18-year old Swedes will be drafted. About 13,000 suitable candidates will be called up and 4,000 of the most talented men and women will be recruited. This number is expected to rise steadily to 8,000 a year from 2022 to 2025.
Hultqvist said the problem Sweden is facing is that even though “the security situation in Sweden’s immediate vicinity has worsened,” the armed forces are still finding it very difficult to recruit. The military is short of 800 full-time personnel whilst the reserve force is only 3,000 strong instead of the 10,000 aimed for. According to a 2016 government repo the armed forces were only able to recruit half the numbers of personnel needed between 2010 and 2015 and that of those recruited many have since left, drawn by the bigger pay cheques and easier life style found in civilian jobs. The report proposed that the government could pay the university studies of those who volunteered to serve in the armed forces.
General Per Micael Bydén, Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces since October 2015 told the government last month that in order to increase the country’s military capabilities an additional 6.5 billion krona (€680m), or a 15% budget boost, was needed by 2020 to increase the country’s military’s capabilities. This was to be added to the 45 billion krona (€4.7bn) the government has earmarked for 2017. Sweden has been engaged in a downward spending spiral for its defence for the past 30 years. In 2015 defence spending had dropped to 1.1% of GDP whereas in 1988 it stood at 2.6%.
In September, Sweden stationed permanent troops on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland, an island close to Kaliningrad, a Russian military enclave on the Baltic. Hultqvist described the move as sending a signal after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its “increasing pressure” on the neighbouring Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.