Government wants to bolster defenses
Sweden is not a member of NATO
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify Sweden's military alignment.
Sweden has moved to reintroduce conscription “as a response to the new security situation” in Europe, the country’s defense minister told CNN Thursday.
A government act on Thursday reintroduced compulsory military service in the country for the first time since 2010, and for the first time on a gender-equal basis.
Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s minister of defense, cited Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014 as one of the triggers for the decision.
“After the Russian annexation of Crimea against international law, and their increased military exercises close to the border, we have a new security situation,” Hultqvist said.
Hultqvist added that Sweden is “strengthening its military cooperation with Finland and with the NATO partners.”
The country suspended conscription in 2010 and instead adopted a recruitment system which relied on volunteers.
The decision to boost defense spending by $720 million over five years was taken in February 2015 – but Sweden is lacking suitable numbers for its defense forces.
According to government figures, the armed forces were 1,000 troops short in terms of full-time squad leaders, solders and sailors.
The new plan aims to ensure there are 6,000 full time members serving with 10,000 available on a part-time basis.
According to Marinette Nyh Radebo, spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, those born between 1999 and 2000, along with marginally older volunteers, will undergo testing on July 1 to see if they are eligible.
Radebo explained that 13,000 men and women will be drawn from around 100,000 which fit into the correct age category. They will then undergo physical and psychological assessments.
It is the first time that Sweden has conscripted women.
Not every person will be required to sign up, with only 4,000 people a year set to be conscripted until 2019.
Radebo told CNN that while there will not be a quota system in terms of the ratio between male and female recruits, the “gender equal” policy for the 1999 generation should mean there will be an increase in the number of women in the armed forces.
She said the new recruits will take part in their first military exercises on January 1, 2018.
Conscripts will spend between nine to 11 months in training before choosing whether to pursue a career in the military or join as a reserve soldier.
“We see that we have more military activities in our neighborhood, and also that the illegal annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is of course part of it,” Radebo told CNN.
“We react to the activities and we don’t talk about threats, that’s why we have a parliament decision with a 70% of the parliament behind the present defense decision to strengthen military capacity and increase cooperation with the countries around us.”
Sweden has stepped up its defensive efforts in recent months.
In September, it sent 150 troops to the island of Gotland, which sits between the mainland and a number of former Soviet Baltic states amid rising tensions with Russia.
A Swedish government report says that a full battalion will be established on the island by 2018.