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'Sweden should follow Norway on conscription'

Oliver Gee · 28 Oct 2014, 16:24

Published: 28 Oct 2014 16:24 GMT+01:00

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I'm both for and against military conscription in Sweden. 
One of the biggest problems with Sweden's old conscription system was that when the soldiers became professional, the move was hastily and sloppily done. They were getting a really low salary - around 16,000 kronor ($2,180) a month - and this alone was a sign from the beginning that it would never work.
There's no way a soldier can work for that little money - the whole idea was pure fantasy. And of course, it turned out that it didn't work. The army struggled to get hold of soldiers at all. Their calculations suggested that soldiers would stay for at least six years but most left after only a few. 
There was an argument at the time that soldiers would earn more money if they took part in missions abroad, but there was no way that all the soldiers could go on all the missions. It was ridiculous. Also, the contracts don't lock the soldiers in like in the UK or the US. Soldiers can quit whenever they like. 
Let's also remember that the Armed Forces aren't so well known with the younger generation today. All the surveys show that the confidence is at a low. People know they will be underpaid and that they can quit whenever they like. No amount of expensive commercial campaigns can turn that around.

A Swedish soldier in training. Photo: TT
I think the Norwegian model of conscription is better. They have professional soldiers plus conscription.
[In 2012, around 14 percent of Norwegians called in by the Armed Forces were conscripted. The conscription, while mandatory, is easy to get out of and the military recruits only those who are most motivated. Last year Norway became the first country in Europe and Nato to make military service compulsory for both genders.]
People seem to think it's working well. I think we need a mix like that in Sweden.
I think we should have civilian duty, at least six months in a hospital or in the army or whatever. That way you learn something, you take responsibility for your country, you have to push yourself, and you end up socializing with people you don't usually meet. 
It could even be in the emergency services where this kind of work is really needed. Let's face it, Sweden doesn't see much war anyway. 
But the reason I am also against conscription is that Sweden lacks the facilities to accommodate the idea.

Another Swedish soldier in training. Photo: TT
Imagine if every 18-year-old got called up.
First they'd have to do the tests - and where are they going to go? The test facility has shut down. Where are they going to find uniforms? Where will they stay? The regiment has been turned into apartments. 
Story continues below…
It would cost a lot of money and take a lot of effort to rebuild the system, and let's not forget that most countries have given up on conscription anyway. 
Another point is that Sweden's soldiers today are much better trained and better educated than the those who came via conscription, many of whom had just a few months of training and experience. The old system was basically volunteers. 
Professional soldiers with one or two years of training are much better than those who've do nine months of conscription and then quit and forget their skills.
An army full of conscripted soldiers could mean an army that's not very sharp at all. 
Johanne Hildebrandt is a former war correspondent and a fellow at the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences.

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Oliver Gee (oliver.gee@thelocal.se)

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