Hardly had Sweden re-introduced conscription after effectively abolishing it less than a decade ago when the government wants to expand the draft to solve perennial personnel problems.
The Swedish government has expressed a desire to increase the number of conscripts from 4,000 to 5,000 per year. Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist argued that this step will ensure long-term personnel security and thus even bolster the country’s defense capabilities.
“We need more soldiers to man the units. The broader the organization with more staff, the more endurance and stamina you have,” Peter Hultqvist explained to Swedish Radio.
At present, the Swedish Armed Forces have been tasked with investigating the possibility of recruiting more conscripts than the 4,000 to bebe drafted starting from next year.
Sweden’s defense bosses are particularly hopeful of solving the long-standing shortages of professional army officers by broadening the base of conscripts. According to the Swedish Officers Association, more draftees will inevitably lead to more officers being recruited.
Additionally, the fact that large parts of the Swedish defense are occupied by training recruits will significantly undermine the country’s long-term defense capacity.
“It is quite natural that if a large share of officers are busy with training recruits, they will have less time for their own training,” Swedish Officers Association chairman Lars Fresker explained.
Sweden abolished conscription seven years ago in a much-lauded effort to switch to a volunteer-based army. The idea never worked out well in practice, however, resulting in drastic staff shortages, as Swedes showed little interest in fulfilling their duty as soldiers.
In 2016, Sweden’s Armed Forces, which number fewer than 20,000 soldiers in peace time, was reportedly lacking 1,000 squad leaders, soldiers and sailors, not to mention 7,000 reservists.
Compared with the 1980s, when it enjoyed a solid personnel size of 180,000 and a military expenditure of 3.1 percent of the nation’s GDP, the Swedish Armed Forces have shrunk nine-fold, while its budget plummeted to a mere 1.1 percent of the GDP.
Earlier this year, the Swedish government announced that 13,000 young men and women would be called up for army enlistment. Out of those, a total 4,000 will be selected for basic training in 2018 and another 4,000 in 2019. The new target is to have 5,000 recruits per year starting from 2020.
Perhaps somewhat ironically, two of Sweden’s four recent defense ministers, including incumbent Peter Hultqvist were conscientious objectors. The country’s former Supreme Commander Sverker Göransson notoriously claimed that Sweden would only be able to last “for one week at best” in the event of a war, a notion that is widely shared by ordinary Swedes. A survey by the Swedish tabloid newspaper Expressen revealed in February this year that eight out of ten Swedes lacked confidence in the country’s abilities to defend itself.
Sweden is a sparsely-populated Nordic nation with an area of 450,000 square kilometers and a vast coastline of 3,200 kilometers, yet a comparatively small population of only 10 million.