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FACT CHECK: Are immigrants in Sweden less willing to defend the country?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
FACT CHECK: Are immigrants in Sweden less willing to defend the country?
Conscripts take part in the Aurora 23 exercise in 2023. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Sweden's prime minister Ulf Kristersson has sparked controversy by suggesting that foreign-born Swedish citizens are less likely to be willing to defend Sweden. What does the evidence say?


"For a lot of people, the Swedish passport has become a way to be able to move around easily, to be able to get consular protection from Sweden," he said at a press conference after his speech at the Folk och Försvar defence conference earlier this month.

"But I’m not sure that everyone has thought through what it means to also be prepared to sacrifice one’s life for the country of which you’re a citizen.”

His comments were criticised, but Sweden's Civil Defence Minister, Carl-Oskar Bohlin, defended them on SVT's flasghip news programme Aktuellt, arguing that Kristersson had merely been voicing an uncomfortable truth.

"When we now take a look at the figures from the statutory body, it turns out that the information you tried to burden us with as 'divisive' is simply the prevailing situation," he later wrote in a reply on X to Morgan Johansson, foreign policy spokesperson for the Social Democrats.  

What does the research say? 

We have found four studies comparing the "willingness to defend Sweden", or försvarsvilja, of Swedish citizens of different backgrounds. 

The Swedish Defence Conscription and Assessment Agency survey

Bohlin was referring to the annual survey of those eligible to be conscripted for national service, carried out by The Swedish Defence Conscription and Assessment Agency.

The latest survey found that 30 percent of those with two foreign-born parents described themselves as "very or quite willing" to "partake in Sweden's defence in a combat role", compared to 50 percent of those whose parents were born in Sweden or another Nordic country. 

The people interviewed for this survey were not generally foreign immigrants in Sweden, who had then become naturalised citizens, but instead 17-year-olds, most of whom will have been Swedish citizens from birth.  

In addition, the agency said that the survey was not intended as a measure of willingness to defend Sweden, but more a way of assessing the impact of training.  

"We do not have a survey of försvarsvilja, even though journalists have translated it as that," press officer Marinette Nyh Radebo told The Local. 

"Before we start sending letters with the enrolment questionnaire, we do this survey to see what they [new recruits] know about total defence and their attitude towards total defence. After six months, we do a new survey with the same questions to see if their knowledge have increased and if their attitudes have changed."


The Swedish Defence Research Agency study 

The Swedish Defence Research Agency published an in-depth study of Swedish citizens' willingness to defend their country in December 2021, which found that foreign-born citizens might even have a higher willingness to defend Sweden that those born in the country. 

The study showed that 31 and 31 percent of foreign-born respondents were "very" or "quite" willing to defend Sweden in a combat role, compared to 20 and 28 percent of native-born Swedes. You can find the detailed figures,which are drawn from a 2018 survey, here.  



The authors of the survey warned, however, that the group of foreign-born citizens interviewed for the survey was not representative, with a higher proportion of Nordic citizens, a lower proportion of citizens born in Asia and Africa, and an overrepresentation of women.

"We state that the foreign-born citizens that answered our survey did not reflect the group of foreign-born citizens in general particularly well,"  Christoffer Wedenmark, one of the report's authors, told The Local. "But we also note that there is nothing to suggest that the willingness to defend of foreign-born citizens is lower than that of others -- if anything, it's the other way around."   

Uppsala University study 

Professor Sten Widmalm and Thomas Persson, both at Uppsala University's Institute of Government, also found no correlation between immigrant/Swedish background and willingness to defend Sweden in an article published in the journal European Security in December 2023. 

They based their conclusions on an analysis of 2021 and 2022 data from the annual surveys carried out by Gothenburg University's SOM Institute.  

"Interestingly," they wrote, "immigrant background does not seem to have any association with the willingness to contribute to the country’s defence. There is thus no difference in this respect between, on the one hand, native Swedes and, on the other hand, residents who either grew up abroad or whose parents did (in at least one instance)". 


The World Values Survey 

In their article, Wildmalm and Persson also point out that "willingness to fight for the country" of people in Sweden, as measured by the World Values Survey, has stayed "eerily stable" between the first wave of the survey between 1981 and 1984 and the most recent between 2017 and 2022 -- seemingly unaffected by the high levels of immigration to Sweden over the period. 

"In the first and second waves (1981/ 1984, 1990/1994), the percentage of Swedes saying yes was 77 per cent. In the third wave (1995/1999), support peaked at 85 per cent. In the fourth wave (1999–2004) the question was not asked; and in the fifth, sixth, and seventh waves (2005/2009, 2010–2014, 2017– 2022), support landed at 80 per cent – every time."


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Mike 2024/01/16 13:30
Immigrants to defend and fight? Depends who's attacking. You can't fight against brother but you can fight with him.

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