At the start of the New Year, the Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten) was still 3,000 recruits short of staffing goals for Sweden’s new mission-based military, the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper reported on Monday.
A consequence of the shortfall may be that career soldiers will be forced to make more frequent tours of duty abroad.
After mandatory conscription was abandoned last summer, the military set up a new organisation tasked with recruiting 16,000 voluntary soldiers by 2014.
Defence minister Sten Tolgfors promised at the time the creation of a “new mission-based organisation of 50,000 people immediately available if the entire country is threatened.”
But so far, the Armed Forces is way behind on its recruitment goals, with only 2,400 soldiers and sailors of the planned 5,300 having joined the military by the end of 2010.
Last week, the Armed Forces signed an agreement with Sweden’s National Employment Agency (Arbetsförmedlingen) to help the military meet its goal of hiring between 4,000 and 6,000 new soldiers every year.
Part of the agreement calls for representatives from the Armed Forces to train jobs agency staff to ensure that the latter can provide an accurate picture of the jobs available and the Armed Forces as an employer.
The manpower shortage could be as high as 5,000 soldiers within two years, according to SvD.
The largest recruitment gaps exist among contracted soldiers who could be called up on an as-needed basis. So far, the Swedish military has yet to fill even one of the 9,200 spots set aside for contracted soldiers and sailors.
Supreme Commander Sverker Göransson admitted that the Armed Forces’ recruitment plan is behind schedule, but says part of the reason is that legal regulations and collective bargaining arrangements have yet to be completed.
Nevertheless, Göransson believes that the recruitment growth rate is sufficient for Sweden’s current ambitions.
However, economist Ulf Jonsson with the Swedish Defence Research Agency (Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut – FOI) warned that a consequence of the low recruitment figures could be that career soldiers will be sent abroad more often.
“Either you have fewer people to participate in the same number of missions or you cut down on the number of missions,” he told The Local.
Jonsson, who last autumn published a report warning that the Swedish Armed Forces had underestimated the recruiting costs involved in shifting from a conscripted to a voluntary force, said he wasn’t surprised that Sweden was having trouble meeting its recruitment goals.
“It’s not uncommon that recruitment problems crop up during this kind of transition,” he said.
“But the longer the negative spiral (of low recruitment numbers) continues, the harder it becomes to break the trend.”
The Social Democratic chair of the Riksdag’s Committee on Defence, Håkan Juholt, criticised the Armed Forces for focusing on filling full-time contracts, against the Riksdag’s wishes.
“The Riksdag has time and again said that it is those on temporary active duty which are most important and the largest group of personnel. But instead the Armed Forces has put its entire focus on permanent employees,” Juholt told SvD.
On his blog, defence minister Tolgfors downplayed the SvD report, calling it a “snapshot” of an ongoing process of transition which won’t be complete until 2014.
“As previously states, the final staffing balance in the mission-based organisation between full- and part-time employees won’t be finished until the year after,” Tolgfors wrote on his blog.
“The mission-based organisation will, however, be fully staffed during the entire transition period. At that time the mission-based organisation will include both combat-placed conscripts and the new categories of soldiers.”
According to Jonsson, it remains to be seen whether Sweden’s approach toward building a voluntary, mission-based military will succeed, explaining the process is still in its early phases.
“It’s only been six months. I’m not ready to say that the reform has failed,” he said.