09:20 GMT25 February 2021
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    Sweden, a non-aligned Nordic country that has avoided war since 1814, has re-introduced conscription amid wide-ranging efforts to bolster its waning defense capability amid the perennial 'Russian threat' that is being constantly drummed into the Swedes by government officials and the mainstream media.

    Seven years ago, Sweden proudly abolished conscription in an effort to set up a volunteer-based army, which was hailed as a progressive and enlightened step. However, in practice the idea did not work out well, as Swedes showed little interest in fulfilling their duty as a soldier. The Nordic country's armed forces, which in peace time number fewer than 20,000 soldiers, were short of 1,000 active squad leaders, soldiers and sailors, as well as 7,000 reservists in 2016, according to a recent report.

    Today, the Swedish Armed Forces, which have dwindled nine-fold in comparison with the 1980s, when it had a personnel size of 180,000, find it increasingly difficult to cover an area of 450,000 square kilometers and a vast coastline of 3,200 kilometers. A fun fact worth considering is that two of Sweden's four recent Defense Ministers, including the incumbent one, Peter Hultqvist, were conscientious objectors. Sweden's former Supreme Commander Sverker Göransson notoriously claimed that his nation would be able to defend itself "for one week at best."

    Painfully enough, this attitude is shared by ordinary Swedes. Eight out of ten Swedes lack confidence in the Defense Forces' ability to defend the country in a war situation, a recent survey by the Swedish tabloid newspaper Expressen revealed.

    However, Russia's alleged "aggression," ongoing "espionage" and perennial "militarism" have forced Swedes to abandon their cozy peacenik ways. A survey last year found nearly three quarters of Swedes backing conscription, with 72 percent throwing their support behind it and only 16 percent of respondents being against universal draft.

    Soon enough, the Swedish youth will be joined by the call of duty. Around 13,000 will be summoned for the enrollment process and based on this selection, around 4,000 per year will be told to undergo basic military training in 2018 and 2019.

    ​In accordance with Sweden's feminist commitment, the new conscription will become gender-neutral to give the fairer sex a better representation in the Armed Forces. At present, the Swedish army is a man's world, with only 16 percent of the personnel and 6.5 percent of officers being women.

    "It is affirming to have a national service for all, which will help the defense to promote its work on gender equality," officer Marie Meigård told Swedish national broadcaster SVT.

    Lastly, the Russian 'threat' seems to pay its way budget-wise. Earlier this week, the Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, Micael Bydén, said an additional 6.5 billion SEK ($718 mln), or a 15 percent budget boost, was needed to increase the country's military capability in the coming years. This is to be added to the 45 billion SEK ($5 bln) the government already had earmarked for 2017.

    "Sweden is poised to have a defense large enough to enable them to stand on their own feet. The rearmament in Sweden and other countries tells us something about the international situation. They are afraid of Russia's growing involvement," Thomas Slensvik from Norway's National Defense College told Norwegian national broadcaster NRK.

    Sweden's defense budget has shrunk from 3.1 percent of the country's GDP in 1981 to only 1.1 percent in 2016, but is taking an upwards turn amid Stockholm's efforts to bolster the country's defense capability.


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