Sweden has long enjoyed its status as a “neutral” nation, but choosing not to align themselves with any of the geopolitical powerhouses prodding one another across national borders doesn’t guarantee their safety if tensions turn to aggression. With Russia rapidly expanding their military capability and ramping up their aggressive behavior in the region around the northern European nation, Sweden has decided to take a proactive stance for the sake of their own defense, and announced this week that they will be initiating a draft in order to bolster their diminishing defense capabilities.
“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,” Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told Reuters. “The decision to activate conscription is part of that.”
Sweden’s government, traditionally Left in its leanings, will draw 4,000 new troops out of a pool of 13,000 young Swedes born in the year 1999, narrowed down from around a hundred thousand total possibilities through a series of questionnaires. The pool will be mixed gender, and the lucky draft winners will be determined by assessing the group through a number of medical and psychological tests.
During the cold war, conscription was the way of life for Swedish men, but as tensions in the region subsided, so too did the Swedish draft program. Swedish lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are hoping a forced influx of new blood into their military will encourage some of those brought on to pursue careers in the armed forces, or at least to consider remaining on board in a reserve capacity once their required tour of duty is up.
Russia has repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to conduct mock military operations against live international targets, such as the virtual bombing run on the USS Porter in the Black Sea last month conducted by an Su-24 attack jet that turned off its transponder and did not acknowledge radio attempts to communicate with it.
A 2013 Russian mock bombing run over the Swedish homeland caught their military napping, with no defenses activated or planes scrambled to intercept until the run was nearly complete. Such incidents have left the Swedish government rightfully concerned about their sovereign ability to defend their borders. These concerns about their own military capabilities juxtaposed against recent Russian military exercises in their relative neighborhood left Swedish lawmakers with all the motivation they needed to dust off their cold war policy books and begin mandating service for young citizens once again.
Swedish Defense ministry spokeswoman, Marinette Radebo, told reporters on Wednesday that “70% of parliament is behind the decision to strengthen the military and co-operation with the countries around us.”
Sweden, which is not a NATO member state, maintains an active military force of only about fourteen thousand troops, but with a near-zero national unemployment rate and military pay scales significantly lower than what’s available in the private sector, recruiting has dramatically slowed in recent years. Sweden itself reduced military spending from 2.5 percent of their gross domestic product in 1991, to 1.1 percent by 2015.
Under the previous conscription program, only men were available for the draft.
“If we want full and trained military units, the voluntary system needs to be complemented by compulsory military service,” Defense Minister Hultqvist told reporters after the announcement.
Image courtesy of Reuters