The government of Sweden has announced that it is reintroducing mandatory conscription due to growing stress over Russia’s military maneuvers in the Baltic states. Sweden’s military is not as full as the country would need if they were forced to use defensive measures.
Sweden, who is known for remaining neutral in many international affairs, finally put an end to compulsory military service in 2010. Because of Russia’s gaining presence in the region, they are now finding themselves in a state of unpreparedness.
“We have a Russian annexation of Crimea, we have the aggression in Ukraine, we have more exercise activities in our neighborhood. So we have decided to build a stronger national defense,” says Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist. “The decision to activate conscription is part of that.”
The mandatory conscription, also known as a mandatory draft, will go into effect on January 1, 2018. The draft will include anyone born in 1999 or later, but only a small number of citizens will be selected to serve – about 13,000. Those who are chosen will then undergo a series of physical and mental tests to determine their strengths and any skills they can bring to the military forces. Of the original 13,000 selected, the military hopes to receive 4,000 per year until their headcount rises to the necessary level. Unlike any past conscription the country has initiated, this one will include women.
The conscripts will then serve for 9-12 months, after which they will be encouraged to become a voluntary recruit and serve as a full-time soldier, or join the reserves.
The resurgence of Russia and tensions over the crisis in Ukraine have forced politicians on both sides to find a way to boost their military counts, as well as seek out talent that is looking for a career in the armed forces. Sweden sees the need to create better training programs as well. In 2013, during a mock bombing on Sweden by Russian warplanes, the Swedish air defense was caught napping, which obviously prompted many discussions, which included the upcoming military changes.
The government’s decision is considered old-fashioned by the country’s youth, many of which will be chosen to serve during the draft.
Sofia Hultgren, a young Swede who will turn 17 this year, understands the possibility of being drafted, as well as the need for more military forces. She does, however, say that her generation sees the military as an odd career choice.
“I think many see it as something lame, something your father did, when there are so much other fun things to do,” Hultgren said. When asked about how she feels regarding the reintroduction of conscription, she seemed more optimistic. She says “I think this can give a feeling of comfort. Conscription strengthens our defense when we see so much ugliness in the world.”
In addition to being considered an old-fashioned and odd career, military service members don’t see a huge paycheck, either. The average pay for a member of the military is much lower than that of any other occupation among the age group of potential conscripts. The low pay incentive is one reason there aren’t as many voluntary recruits, but this is in conjunction with the shrinking number of citizens between 18 and 21 years old.
Last year, the government performed an investigation into military recruitment. They found that over the past few years, while Sweden relied solely on voluntary recruitment, the military only received about 2,500 yearly recruits when it really needed 4,000. The unemployment rate for young adults is nearly zero, which means the small pool of those who aren’t working is not enough to sustain the needs of the military, even if there were a 100 percent volunteer rate.
In 2015, the country made a plan to raise military spending by 6.2 billion kronor ($722 million) over the span of five years. The decision to increase spending came as a result of increased Russian military activity that was too close for comfort. Russian jets began invading Swedish airspace over time, and officials uncovered a foreign military submarine – suspected to be Russian – in Swedish waters.
Other governments in the area are also fearful that Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning to take back control of the former Soviet states in the Baltic region. In June 2016, Poland started a campaign to recruit 35,000 volunteers to form a paramilitary guard against Russian aggression.
After witnessing the crisis in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, many are wondering what Putin’s next move may be. Poland, who was once heavily influenced by the USSR, is widely known as Ukraine’s brother-in-arms and has recently asked NATO to step up its presence in the country. “The events of the recent months and the aggressive policy taken by Russia made Poles realize that things must not be taken for granted,” said Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak during a one of his visits to Washington.
A Rand Corporation study last year found that a much stronger NATO presence would be needed in the region than what is currently in place. If there were situations of war between Russia and NATO, the areas surrounding countries like Sweden and Poland would be hit hardest. The study recommended a better air-ground defense in case any fighting should occur.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Swedish military expenditure has fallen from 2.5 percent of GDP in 1991, around the time the Soviet Union collapsed, to 1.1 percent of GDP in 2015. With a rise in military spending, this is expected to change.
Sweden is also planning to purchase more fighter jets, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and anti-submarine warfare equipment. According to the Defense Ministry, an additional 955 million kronor ($105 million) is being invested in the defense infrastructure of Gotland island.
Sweden, who is not a member of NATO, has not only increased spending, but has also reassigned troops to the Baltic Sea region. They have also encouraged local governments to begin planning their own conscription in preparation for war.