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Last Conscripts Training in Sweden

Published måndag 18 januari 2010 kl 10.33
Swedish soldiers on the way to Afghanistan.

The last male and female military conscripts have been called in for their tour of duty - ending a 100 years of compulsory service which started only for the young men here in Sweden.

It is the biggest renewal of Swedish defence and security policy for decades, according to Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors. From this summer, the conscript system will officially end, and a contracted military service will take over.

New is also the focus on the Baltic Sea Region, and areas just one step away from our borders, said the minister, who spoke at an annual defence and security conference at the ski resort Sälen in Western Sweden, which every year gathers politicians and the Swedish defence- and security lobby.

Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors made his opening speech at the Society and Defence conference on Sunday, making repeated use of the phrase "usable and available", which is how he wants to contrast the new military that the government wants to build, to the old one.

In the old system, a third of the forces - which in 2008 meant 11,400 military personnel - were supposed to be able to deploy within one year from mobilization. In the new defence system, all 50,000 members of the forces would have to be "usable and available" within a week, should Sweden be threatened.

Tolgfors said that there has been a gap between on the one hand a national defence force to defend the country within our borders, and on the other hand contracted troops for missions very far away. And in between, it has been unclear what applies for Sweden's immediate surroundings, the Nordic countries, the EU and the Baltic Sea.

The soldiers in the conscript army could never be used for missions outside Sweden's borders, but now that all soldiers will either be full-time employees or on contract, they will be available to deploy anywhere, both in Sweden, in its vicinity or further away. So Sweden would be able to live up to the so called solidarity clause signed this summer, where this country pledges that it will not remain passive if another EU or Nordic country is attacked.

But the decision to end the era of conscription went through parliament by just a small margin, and at the conference in Sälen the controversy was still fresh.

The criticism partly centres the lack of information to the public, where awareness of the changes is doubtful.

But critics also claim that the decision has not been taken with enough information. A study into the military's recruitment in the future will only be finished at the end of this year. What will happen, for example, if there is not enough qualified people joining the military? Will the government then have to raise salaries, and what will happen then to the defence budget?

Defence Minister Tolgfors admitted in Sälen that there might be unforeseen problems, but he said smaller problems are inevitable in such a paradigm shift to what he calls a more "usable and available" defence.

The opposition Social Democratic spokesperson for foreign policy, Urban Ahlin, is not impressed. "Of course, to go from a conscript to a voluntary army is a big change,which I am doubtful about, he says "It was rammed through with only a few votes margin in parliament and I do not think you should handle defence policy in such haste, you need a broad consensus, because after all we are talking about Sweden's national defence. But on top of that, I do not think there is much paradigm changing about it, because what Tolgfors is trying to do is to paint a picture of the future defence - like "now we are really going to do lots of things" and that now we have a great capability - but none of this is there yet, all he is talking about is his paper construction of the future defence."

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