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Sweden reintroduces compulsory military service as tensions with Russia increase

Sweden has reintroduced mandatory conscription as a result of growing worries over Russia’s increased military maneuvers in the Baltic states, with a recent study suggesting the current NATO force would no longer adequately protect the region.

According to the Swedish defense ministry, 13,000 teenagers born in 1999 or 2000 will be called to take part in the new system, which is due to come online on Jan. 1 next year. Those chosen will be subjected to psychological and physical tests. From this initial group, around 4,000 men and women will be called up for service.


“If we want full and trained military units, the voluntary system needs to be complemented by compulsory military service,” Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told public broadcaster SVT.

The conscripts will serve for 9-12 months, after which they will be encouraged to join either the armed services full time, or the army reserves. This will be the first time women are included in the conscription process.

The plan was introduced by the current Social Democrat-Green coalition and has received cross-party support from main opposition party the Moderates, as well as the Liberals.

Sweden, which is a militarily neutral country and not a member of NATO, mothballed compulsory conscription back in 2010. But along with the inability of the armed forces to attract enough new recruits, the security situation in the Baltics has led to its reintroduction. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 kickstarted increased military drills in the area, raising tensions.

Defense ministry spokeswoman Marinette Radebo told the BBC that “the change in our neighbourhood…, Russian military activity, is one of the reasons” for the reintroduction of conscription.

In 2015, Hultqvist said the country was planning to increase military spending by 6.2 billion kronor ($722 million) over five years. That decision came after Russian military jets invaded Swedish airspace on a number of occasions and a mystery foreign submarine — suspected to be Russian — appeared in Swedish waters.

Governments and analysts worry that Russian President Vladimir Putin still harbors ambitions to control more of the former Soviet states in the Baltic region. Last June, Poland announced a drive to gather 35,000 volunteers for a paramilitary defense force to guard against Russian aggression.

Part of Sweden’s increased military spending has gone toward restoring a permanent military presence on Gotland, an island lying between Sweden and the three ex-Soviet Baltic states, for the first time in 10 years.

Last October, a Rand Corporation study found that a successful NATO defense of the Baltic states would require a much larger air-ground force than the one currently deployed in the region. The study conducted multiple simulations where “red” (Russian) and “blue” (NATO) forces engaged in a wide range of war scenarios.