Swedish army to ditch 1,000 officers

A few weeks ago the New York Times wrote that in response to a proposal in 2002 that Sweden should send peace-keeping troops to Israel, President George W. Bush apparently said, "I don't know why you're talking about Sweden. They are neutral. They don't have an army."

How the Swedish press tittered! Well, they weren’t laughing this week, when the country’s own Commander-in-Chief, Håkan Syrén, announced that a thousand officers in the Swedish army will be getting their marching orders.

Syrén said that the ‘streamlining’ is a result of a diminished workload and a depleted arsenal of funds. 2,500 civilians employed by the army will also be made redundant. The job cuts will take place after 1 June 2005.

“It’s an awful and difficult decision to take,” Syrén told TT. “But we have found ourselves forced to make a choice between running a tight ship or paying for unnecessary excess.”

And as befitting an organization devoted to rank and file, the least senior officers will be the first to leave the trenches, so to speak. The ‘last in, first out’ principle of Swedish job-protection laws mean that the young, newly trained officers will be hit hardest.

Cadets and officers-in-training at the military academy will be allowed to finish their studies, but will unlikely be offered a post.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty since I’m young and they will be cutting from the bottom up,” said Carl Remén, an aspiring captain at Karlberg Academy. He added, “We have to take it one day at a time. I don’t dare to think so far into the future since everything keeps shifting.”

But fellow student Pontus Ekström was keeping a stiff upper lip.

“We are going to persevere and have good opportunities to get other jobs,” he said. “It’s the army and Sweden’s security issues which will suffer when the youth disappear.”

The Association of Officers attacked the Commander-in-Chief’s plan. Its Chairman, Lars Fresker, told Aftonbladet that the decision would hit the defence force’s key activities hardest, as people are the army’s main resource.

“It goes right against the politicians’ and Commander-in-Chief’s publicly expressed ambitions,” he said. “This is going to make it difficult for Sweden to honour its international commitments.”

But Fresker tried to keep the troops’ spirit up for a little while longer by offering them the hope that it wasn’t going to be as bad as people – well, the Commander-in-Chief – were making out.

“Exactly how many lay-offs will take place is still a matter of discussion,” he said. “It could be considerably fewer than a thousand.”

Officers facing the chop would have been rushing to get their CVs in order on Tuesday after reading in DN that Säpo, Sweden’s security police, is hiring 50 new bodyguards this year.

The recruitment drive is a result of the perceived increased threat against public figures following the murder of Anna Lindh last September.

“We’re going to be able to raise our game with the new money the government has already granted us,” said Säpo chief, Klas Bergenstrand.

“The question is whether there are enough qualified people to recruit.”

Thanks to Sweden’s Commander-in-Chief, Bergenstrand and his colleagues may just find themselves overwhelmed with applications.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Upsala Nya Tidning, Aftonbladet