Swe­den re­in­states draft, with an eye on Rus­sia

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Jan M. Olsen

Swe­den’s left-lean­ing gov­ern­ment in­sti­tuted a mil­i­tary draft for both men and women Thurs­day be­cause of what its de­fense min­is­ter called a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment in Europe and around Swe­den.

Swe­den abol­ished com­pul­sory mil­i­tary ser­vice for men in 2010 be­cause there were enough vol­un­teers to meet its mil­i­tary needs. It has never be­fore had a mil­i­tary draft for women.

The gov­ern­ment said “the all-vol­un­teer re­cruit­ment hasn’t pro­vided the Armed Forces with enough trained per­son­nel. The re-ac­ti­vat­ing of con­scrip­tion is needed for mil­i­tary readi­ness.”

In Septem­ber, non-NATO-mem­ber Swe­den sta­tioned per­ma­nent troops on the Baltic Sea is­land of Got­land. De­fense Min­is­ter Peter Hultqvist de­scribed the move as send­ing a sig­nal af­ter Rus­sia’s 2014 an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and its “in­creas­ing pres­sure” on the neigh­bor­ing Baltic states of Es­to­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia.

There also have been re­ports of airspace vi­o­la­tions by Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary air­craft in the Baltics and a mil­i­tary buildup in the Rus­sian ex­clave of Kalin­ingrad, which sits across the Baltic from Swe­den.

“The threat of the U.S. no longer want­ing to honor its se­cu­rity guar­an­tees is the most important de­vel­op­ment in the his­tory of the al­liance,” said Hen­rik Bre­it­en­bauch, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Mil­i­tary Stud­ies in Copen­hagen. “It has cre­ated high lev­els of con­cern all over Europe.”

About 20,000 peo­ple now work for the Swedish armed forces, 84 per­cent of them men and 16 per­cent women, ac­cord­ing to the forces’ web­site. But the armed forces are short 1,000 ac­tive troops as well as 7,000 re­servists, ac­cord­ing to Swe­den’s coali­tion gov­ern­ment of So­cial Democrats and Greens.

Un­der the plan ap­proved Thurs­day, at least 4,000 18-year-olds could be called up each year. Swedes will still be able to vol­un­teer for mil­i­tary ser­vice.

The Swedish gov­ern­ment, which of­ten has de­scribed it­self as “fem­i­nist,” said “mod­ern con­scrip­tion is gen­der neu­tral and will in­clude both women and men.”

Hultqvist said he had been in­spired by neigh­bor­ing Norway, which in 2013 in­tro­duced a law ap­ply­ing mil­i­tary con­scrip­tion to both sexes. That made Norway the first NATO mem­ber to draft both men and women, join­ing a tiny group of coun­tries around the world, in­clud­ing Is­rael.

Con­scrip­tion was in­tro­duced in Swe­den in 1901, but had grad­u­ally wound down and was for­mally can­celed 109 years later. Dur­ing the Cold War era, nearly 85 per­cent of Swedish men were drafted into the army due to the nearby threat of the Soviet Union. The av­er­age term of ser­vice was around 11 months.

In 2015, Swe­den’s mil­i­tary ex­pen­di­ture dropped to 1.1 per­cent of its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, down from 2.5 per­cent in 1991 as the Cold War came to an end, ac­cord­ing to the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute.

On Tues­day, Mi­cael By­den, head of Swe­den’s armed forces, said an ad­di­tional $718 mil­lion, or a 15 per­cent bud­get boost, was needed to in­crease the coun­try’s mil­i­tary’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties in the com­ing years. This was to be added to the $5 bil­lion the gov­ern­ment had ear­marked for 2017.

FREDRIK SAND­BERG / TT VIA AP

About 20,000 peo­ple are in the Swedish armed forces, 84 per­cent of them men, ac­cord­ing to the forces’ web­site. But the armed forces are short 1,000 ac­tive troops as well as 7,000 re­servists.

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