In Europe - West, Roger Annis

By Roger Annis, New Cold, March 2, 2017

Swedish armed forces at display in front of Royal Palace in Stockholm (Reuters)

The government of Sweden announced on March 2 that it intends to re-introduce military conscription for men and women born in 1999 and later. Assuming the measure passes in Parliament, registration will commence on January 1, 2018. The first conscripts will enter service the same year.

Sweden abolished conscription in July 2010. According to the Swedish daily Aftonbladet, about 180,000 young people born in 1999 and 2000 are the first potential conscripts. Some 13,000 will be called for registration in each of 2018 and 2019. Some 4,000 conscripts and volunteers will undergo military training in each of those years. This will be the first time that women in Sweden are subject to conscription.

According to Associated Press, about 20,000 people now serve and work in the Swedish armed forces, Eighty four per cent are male. The Swedish government says it is short 1,000 active troops and 7,000 reservists.

The current Swedish government that approved the measure is a minority coalition of the Social Democratic Party and Green Party, elected in September 2014.

The cited reasons by the government for conscription are twofold. It says volunteer recruitment will not meet its goals of military expansion, and it says that Sweden is under ‘threat’ from Russia and other potential enemies.

Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told AFP, “We are in a situation where Russia has annexed Crimea.” He added, “They are doing more exercises in our immediate vicinity.” The New York Times reports Hultqvist as saying that potential threats to Sweden from multiple sources have been overlooked. “From my point of view, many mistakes have been made over the years. The security situation and what could come in the future was underestimated.”

A third goal of the government may be added, even if it cannot admit it. Military conscription will aid the propaganda effort of the Swedish government and its allies in NATO to convince their populations that Russia constitutes a ‘threat’ to peoples and countries of Europe. After all, if a ‘peace-loving’ country such as Sweden says there is a ‘Russian threat’, surely there must be something to the claim? Doubly so when it is a soft-left, not right-wing, government that re-introduces military conscription.

Sweden is not a member of NATO. That dates from World War Two and its aftermath when Sweden was something of a neutral country and went on to posit itself as a force for peace in the world. But the country has always been a major producer and trafficker of weapons on the world market. According to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, Sweden is a middling arms trafficker, ranking #12 in the world for the years 2001-2015. That places it in the same league as Canada (four times Sweden’s population), The Netherlands (twice the Swedish population) and Switzerland (Wikipedia).

Sweden signed onto NATO’s Partnership for Peace program soon after the program was launched in 1994. The program was created by NATO to bring under its fold the capitalist-restoration, smaller republics of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and the ‘neutral’ European countries such as Sweden, Finland and Austria.

Map of NATO’s founding countries and post-Soviet Union expansion (Council on Foreign Relations)

In NATO/Sweden-speak, the current Russian ‘threat’ stems from the fact that the people of Russia and Crimea are not taking lying down NATO’s ongoing military expansion into eastern Europe and its related sanctions and threats against them. (See here a map of NATO’s founding member countries in 1949 and its vast expansion in the 1990s and 2000s.) Including that the so-called ‘Russian annexation’ of Crimea in March 2014 was, in fact, an exercise in political self-determination by the 2.3 million people of Crimea provoked by a NATO-supported, right-wing coup in Ukraine in February 2014 that overthrew the country’s elected president, Victor Yanukovych. A large majority of Crimeans had voted for Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election in Ukraine.

NATO’s threats have been boosted of late by U.S. President Donald Trump’s stated goals of a vast expansion of the U.S. military including a new nuclear arms race against Russia that would keep the U.S. “at the top of the pack” of nuclear-armed countries.

Coincidentally, an early act of the right-wing government that came to power in Ukraine in February 2014 was to re-introduce conscription. It had been abolished by the Yanukovych-led government in 2013. Conscription was deemed necessary for the civil war (‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’) that the government launched in eastern Ukraine in April 2014.

Mainstream Western media is having a field day with the ‘Russia threat’ side of the news story. Below is a selection from mainstream news reporting. Immediately below is‘s news report.

The Swedish government’s military posture may be described as ‘What better way to prevent war than to get ready to wage it?’ Its conscription decision is another reason why alarm bells should be ringing loudly for antiwar activists around the world. Too many have been distracted or confused by all the propaganda blaming Russia for the growing threats to world peace in eastern Europe (Ukraine) , the Middle East (Syria) and increasingly in southeast Asia (the Korean peninsula). Blame lies squarely at the feet of the U.S. and its allies in NATO and in Asia.

Sweden brings back military conscription for men and women, March 2, 2017

The Swedish government has reintroduced military conscription for both men and women, officials said. Under the proposal, people born in 1999 and later will be required to register for basic military training. “The Swedish government has decided to re-activate conscription from January 1, 2018,” the statement from the government said, adding that the conscription is “gender neutral” and will include both women and men.

According to the announcement, recruitment to the Armed Forces “will be both voluntary and conscripted. Individual motivation, interest and personal will should to be considered as much as possible.

“The security environment in Europe and in Sweden’s vicinity has deteriorated and the all-volunteer recruitment hasn’t provided the Armed Forces with enough trained personnel. The re-activating of the conscription is needed for military readiness.”

“We have had trouble staffing the military units on a voluntary basis and that needs to be addressed somehow,” Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist earlier told public service radio SR, adding “therefore it is necessary to reintroduce conscription.”

According to the decision, young men and women born in 1999 and afterwards will be asked to complete recruitment questionnaires. The authorities will then choose 13,000 young people from this pool, including volunteers, who will then be called in for the enlistment process. Ultimately, at least 4,000 young people per year will be selected to undergo basic training in 2018 and 2019.

“I think it’s good if you have both women and men in the workplace, both civilian and military, and there is a good mix. I think it will lead to better atmosphere and better efficiency and a better reflection of the entire society,” Hultqvist added.

The defense minister told public broadcaster SVT that if Sweden wants “full and trained military units, the voluntary system needs to be complemented by compulsory military service.”

“We have a system in Norway, which works, that includes both conscription and a professional organization and that’s the one we are trying to mimic,” he said.

Reports that Sweden was contemplating bringing back compulsory military service emerged in September of 2016, when a government inquiry recommended that the draft be reintroduced. “Not enough people are being recruited in the current system,”said Annika Nordgren Christensen, who headed the inquiry.

Sweden introduced universal conscription in 1901 and military service lasted between 80 and 450 days, depending on the position. However, the Nordic country has been downsizing its military since the 1990s and it abolished peacetime conscription in favor of a volunteer-only force in 2010, when the number of servicemen dropped to 1,644, according to SVT data.

The trend reversed in 2014, when a diplomatic stand-off between Russia and the U.S. over the Ukrainian crisis sparked concerns about security in Europe. That same year, the Swedish Navy carried out a costly, fruitless search for an alleged Russian submarine amid media hype. The Swedish military eventually acknowledged that the photo of the ‘Russian submarine’ that had triggered the hunt was actually of a workboat. However, that failure didn’t stop the Swedish military from requesting an additional $696 million for its 2016-2020 budget in order to counter a perceived “threat” from spying Russian submarines.

In January, Sweden’s army chief, Major General Anders Brannstrom, told soldiers in an internal brochure that Sweden may be engaged in a war with a “qualified opponent” in a few years, following two centuries of peace.

Related reading:
Sweden may be at war ‘in a few years’ – top brass in leaked document,, Jan 29, 2016

Mainstream media has a field day with ‘Russian threat’ as Sweden re-introduces military conscription

The Independent (UK): Sweden brings back military conscription in face of growing Russia threat, by Samuel Osborne, March 2, 2017

‘Sweden has decided to reintroduce a military draft for both men and women over security concerns and a growing threat from Russia. The Nordic country mothballed compulsory military service seven years ago, but military activity in the Baltic region has increased since, in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, prompting Sweden to step up military preparedness…’

The Guardian: Sweden to reintroduce conscription amid rising Baltic tensions, by Phillip Oltermann, March 2, 2017

‘A resurgent Russia and tensions over Ukraine have prompted politicians to consider bolstering military capability while addressing the shortfall of people willing to pursue a career as a professional soldier. The lack of military preparedness has been exposed in recent years, such as when Russian warplanes carrying out a mock bombing run on Sweden in 2013 caught air defences off guard…’

The New York Times: Sweden reinstates conscription, with an eye on Russia, by March 2, 2017

‘When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Baltics seemingly became a region of stability. Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all of which line the Baltic Sea, joined NATO and later the European Union. In Sweden, military spending fell to 1.1 percent of G.D.P. in 2015 from 2.6 percent in 1991. All that changed with Russia’s annexation of Crimea three years ago and the Russian support for the insurgency in Ukraine. As of last year, Swedish military spending was up 11 percent… ‘

(Times report includes a photo with this caption: Visby, the island of Gotland’s main town, is no stranger to hostile foreigners. The city walls and towers, dating back 850 years, were erected to protect against a threat from the Danes)

Roger Annis is a writer and editor at New Cold


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