There was a time, during the Cold War, when at least on paper, Sweden had the second largest military in Europe, behind only Switzerland. That was because every young man here was responsible for serving up to 11 months in the military.
But with the end of the Cold War the Swedish military started to be cut back sharply. In practice by the end only 15 percent of those eligible were actually called, and in 2009 parliament narrowly voted to end the system, in favor of a volunteer military.
Sweden’s Social Democrats were against the change, and now that they are back in power, the new Minister of Defence Peter Hultqvist has suggested the possibility of reintroducing some form of conscription for the armed forces. He says the reason is the difficulty of recruiting for the volunteer military.
Hultqvist tells Swedish Radio News that there is broad support in parliament now for drafting both men and women. He says there isn’t enough interest among the public in the military.
“We have to find ways to broaden popular support,” the minister says. “The current system is no long-term guarantee for broad popular support…There needs to be a basic understanding among the population, we believe.”
Hultqvist says the military’s problem is recruitment, as many soldiers leave the service after just three or four years.
“This creates a situation where we have to train more people,” he says. “And it also creates more economic problems. We have to look at personnel recruitment with a view to stability.”
Swedish Radio News says that in the national defence committee there is broad support for maintaining the current volunteer system. That committee also now includes the Social Democrats coalition partners, the Greens, who are not supporters of restoring conscription.
But Defence Minister Hultqvist wants the other parties to study the issue, this time for both men and women. He points to the reintroduction of the draft in Nordic neighbors Norway and Denmark, which he says ought to be looked at.
“We’re ready to study these issues further,” he says, “to see how we can broaden popular support.”