Sweden has re-activated its conscription policy, a move supported by a majority within the current Swedish government. The nation does so amid rising concerns regarding the escalating tensions between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and in particular the increased military build-up ongoing in all of eastern Europe (with both the Russians and several NATO member nations). According to a defense ministry spokeswoman, Sweden will call up 4,000 men and women beginning on January 1, 2018, to begin the conscription process renewal.
Sweden will choose its conscription candidates from a pool of some 13,000 people born in the Scandinavian country in 1999, Marinette Nyh Radebo, speaking for the defense ministry, told BBC News. The 13,000, which will be made up of both the drafted and volunteers, will undergo military assessment testing prior to conscription. According to Radebo, individuals only become part of the conscription system itself once they have undergone testing.
“You are part of the conscript system once you’ve done the tests – men and women are treated equally. The authorities choose the ones who are willing, interested and motivated.”
Sweden went to an all-volunteer military in 2010. According to a Swedish military “manning system” report, “[a]t the end of 2016 the Swedish armed forces were missing about 1 000 full time serving squad leaders, soldiers and sailors and about 7 000 of the part time serving squad leaders, soldiers and sailors it needs.”
But it was not just the lack of volunteers necessary to keep the nation’s military running efficiently that prompted Sweden to re-activate its conscription process, the re-introduction was also due to a rise in tensions in Sweden’s immediate geopolitical neighborhood.
In fact, Radebo said that Sweden is actually worried about Russia’s continuing military drills. She cited three main factors that prompted her government to re-institute conscription, which she described generally as a reaction to “the security change in our neighborhood. Those factors, among others not disclosed, were, she said, “The Russian illegal annexation of Crimea [in 2014], the conflict in Ukraine [ongoing] and the increased military activity in our neighborhood are some of the reasons.”
There has been an increased move toward militarism in Russia itself and, concomitant with increased military spending for weapons developments and upgrades for more than a decade, the end result has been an economically destabilized country, an upswing in aggressive political and diplomatic rhetoric, and a substantial increase in military drills and exercises all along the borders of the eastern European nations that were all once part of the greater Russian sphere of influence known as the Warsaw Pact (some of which now are part of NATO, the 28-nation mutual defense organization). The military and political posturing, not to mention actual events of military aggression (Ossetia, Crimea, Ukraine), has prompted many of those eastern European nations to either call for upgrades to their own militaries in turn or request extra NATO military involvement in their defense structuring, or both.
For example, Poland, which once was part of the Warsaw Pact, announced in June 2016 that it planned to organize paramilitary units (collectively called the “territorial defense force”) to be comprised of a total of 35,000 volunteers, as a reserve to counter, according to Polish Defense Ministry official Grzegorz Kwasniak (per RT), “the threat associated with hybrid warfare” being employed by the Russian military. (Hybrid warfare, as determined by NATO, is the military term used in describing the act of using conventional, irregular, and cyber warfare to infiltrate, undermine, and destabilize a territory in order to physically invade said territory without, optimally, concerted retribution or even attribution.) The announcement came just days before Poland engaged in its first military exercise with the U.S. Army Europe ever conducted on Polish soil.
The Baltic States — Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia — see themselves as the most vulnerable European states (and several think tanks, like the Atlantic Council, have mentioned them as the “gateway” to the rest of Europe should Russia launch an invasion into the continent) and have also made changes to their standing militaries in response to the growing tensions.
Russia, in turn, has used the increase in military build-up by NAT and the positioning of more troops by the United States throughout Europe as a threat to its national security.
“The Russian side has repeatedly stated that the buildup of the NATO military presence near Russian borders violates the spirit of the basic Russia-NATO pact and cannot be left unanswered by our country,” Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov said in late May, according to RT.
The Swedish conscription process will cull another 4,000 from its potential candidates in 2019, and 5,000 more in 2020. The conscriptees will serve from nine to 12 months.
Sweden is not aligned with NATO. Its closest military partner is neighboring Finland (and provides a buffer between Russia and Sweden), which is also non-aligned. Norway, which is east and north of Sweden and shares a few hundred miles of border with Russia and whose recruiting system will be used as Sweden’s model, is part of NATO and also implemented changes in its defense structure in 2016.
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