HELSINKI — The Swedish government could be forced to reintroduce compulsory national service as it faces a shortfall in manpower and specialized skills across all branches of the military.
Foreign Minister Margot Wallström has become the latest senior politician to hint at the reinstatement of mandatory conscription, which was abandoned in 2010 under the then-former center-right government. The present Social Democrat-Green coalition government is now taking a fresh look as this decision.
According to Wallström, Sweden’s national defense organization would benefit from having a "modern" mandatory conscription model.
The foreign minister told a meeting of senior politicians and military chiefs, attending the annual Sälen Society and Defense conference, that the government needs to examine all viable options to resolve present and future manpower needs and recruitment challenges faced by the Swedish armed forces.
Wallström said that a reconstructed national service model could bolster the military's capacity to not only conduct core defense tasks, but would also deliver military support to assist civilian agencies dealing with emergencies such as natural disasters, search-and-rescue missions and environmental clean-up.
A Jan. 4 poll, conducted by research organization Ipso for the Swedish media group Dagens Nyheter, found that 72 percent of the Swedes surveyed supported the reinstatement of national service to bolster defense. Just 16 percent opposed the reintroduction of mandatory military service.
The armed forces are looking to fill between 9,000 and 10,000 full and part-time positions within its reformed organization by the end of 2016. This new organization was expected to be fully staffed in early 2016. However, there is a shortfall of between 1,000 and 1,200 personnel to fill full-time troop positions.
The gap is greatest for part-time positions. To achieve the desired capacity, the organization will need to recruit between 6,000 and 7,000 personnel for part-time Army and Navy roles in addition to about 1,000 reserve officers to meet national defense and front-line combat unit readiness targets.
Sweden’s conscript-based system was replaced by a voluntary three-to-11 month training program after 2010, as the armed forces moved to professionalize the services. The military has resorted to calling back former conscripts and reserve soldiers to fill gaps in various units, including participation in military exercises.