Article Sweden: Mandatory Military Education Re-Introduced

(May 5, 2017) On March 2, 2017, the Swedish Government re-introduced mandatory military education for its citizens. (Regeringen återaktiverar mönstring och grundutbildning med värnplikt [Government Re-Activates Conscription and Mandatory Basic [Military] Education], REGERINGEN (Mar. 2, 2017).) The reason cited by the Swedish government is that the current “volunteer only” solution to military conscription and staffing is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of the Swedish military.  (Regeringsbeslut [Government Decision] No. FÖ2016/01252/MFI (delvis) [partial], REGERINGEN (Mar. 2, 2017), at 3.)

This shortage of volunteers, in the face of a worsened security situation in Europe and indications that the Russian leadership is more willing to use military power, is one of the main reasons for Sweden’s shift in policy.  (Regeringens proposition [Prop.] 2014/15:109 Försvarspolitisk inriktning – Sveriges försvar 2016–2020, REGERINGEN (Apr. 23, 2015), at 1; see also Statens Offentliga Utredningar [SOU] [Government Report] 2016:63 En robust personalförsörjning av det militära försvaret [A Robust Personnel Supply for the Military Defense] (Sept. 28, 2016).)

Highlights of the New Rules

The government decision to reinstate compulsory military training means that women and men born in 1999 are required to report for basic training try-outs starting July 1, 2017. (Regeringsbeslut No. FÖ2016/01252/MFI (delvis), at 2.) The requirement to complete the training does not enter into force until January 1, 2018.  (Id.)  Not all youths born in 1999 will receive a conscription notice, however; only 6,000 youths will be required to complete the try-outs, and only 1,500 will be mandated to complete the actual training.  Selection for conscription notification is random, and the selection of conscripts will be based on the individual’s interests as well as general suitability for given tasks.  The government expects another 2,500 youths to volunteer.  The Swedish Armed Forces estimates that very few persons will have to do the training against their will.  (Maja Lagercrantz, Första breven om mönstring börjar skickas ut [First Letters on Conscription Are Sent Out], SVERIGES RADIO (Apr. 10, 2017).)

Under the new rules, participants will be able to refuse to handle weapons and instead be assigned weapon-free duty.  (3 ch. 16-22 §§ Lag om totalförsvarsplikt [Act on Total Military Conscription] (Svensk författningssamling [SFS] 1994:1809, as amended), LAGEN.NU.)  Persons who fail to report to the try-outs will be fined.  (Id. 10 ch. 1 §.)  Persons who, after being assigned military training, fail to fulfill their obligations can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to six months.  (Id. 10 ch. 2 §.)  Citizens of more than one country are only required to complete military service education of 60 days in Sweden if they have completed military service of at least six months in another country.  (Id. 4 ch. 3 §.)

The basic training is between nine and eleven months long, depending on the specific type of education. (Vanliga frågor om könsneutral totalförsvarsplikt [Common Questions on Gender Neutral Conscription], FÖRSVARSMAKTEN (last visited May 1, 2017).)  The Swedish government hopes that the move to reinstate the mandatory education will inspire more Swedish youths to pursue a career in the Swedish armed forces.  (Prop. 2014/15:109, supra.)

According to news reports, the first letters to potential recruits were delivered on April 10, 2017. (Lagercrantz, supra.)

Background

Compulsory military training was enforced in Sweden between 1901 and 2010, requiring that all men aged 18 to 47 report for military try-outs (mönstring).  (Värnplikten Genom Åren: Nära fyra miljoner svenskar gjorde sin plikt [Military Duty over the Years: Nearly Four Million Swedes Fulfilled Their Duty], FÖRSVARSMAKTEN [ARMED FORCES] (last visited May 1, 2017).) Refusal to complete the try-out was penalized with a fine; refusal to complete the training once assigned was punishable by a prison sentence of up to one year.  (36, 37, 39 §§ Värnpliktslag [Military Conscription Act] (SFS 1941:967), RIKSDAGEN.) Beginning in 1925, persons who completed the enlistment process could request weapon-free duty and had the right to complete weapon-free training starting in 1966.  (Vapenfrihet och totalvägran [Freedom of Weapons and Refusal to Serve], SVENSKAFREDS (Nov. 23, 2011); Lag om vapenfri tjänst [Act on Weapon-Free Conscription] (SFS 1966:413).)

Between the years 1901 and 2010 only men were conscripted. (Prop. 2009/10:160 Modern personalförsörjning för ett användbart försvar – vissa frågor om Försvarsmaktens personal [Modern Personnel Supply for an Effective Defense – Certain Issues Regarding Armed Forces’ Staff], RIKSDAGEN (Mar. 18, 2010), at 63.)  Starting in 1994, women could volunteer to complete the try-outs and military training without the intention of continuing on to become officers in the Swedish military.  (Lag om möjlighet för kvinnor att fullgöra värnplikt eller civilplikt med längre grundutbildning [Act on the Possibility for Women to Complete Military Service or Civil Duties with Extended Basic Training] (SFS 1994:1810), NOTISUM.)

As of 2010, general involuntary military try-outs are only mandatory if the government prescribes them. (1 ch. 3a § Lag om totalförsvarsplikt, as amended.) The obligation to serve also became gender neutral in 2010, with the requirement that both men and women complete try-outs if the government so requests.  (Lag om ändring i lagen (1994:1809) om totalförsvarsplikt [Act on Amendment to the Act (1994:1809) on Total Military Conscription] (SFS 2010:447), NOTISUM.)

Only persons who have completed military try-outs are required to serve in the Swedish armed forces. (1 ch. 7 § Lag om totalförsvarsplikt, as amended.)  Those who have completed the military try-outs can be called up to serve until reaching their 70th birthdays.  (1 ch. 2 § Lag om totalförsvarsplikt, as amended.)

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