Thousands of Swedish youths will be conscripted and selected for military training that is set to start in 2018, the Swedish Defense Ministry said on Thursday.
Sweden abolished the draft in 2010, but Russia’s moves in Eastern Europe have since prompted Stockholm to rethink its strategies and boost its armed forces. One of the challenges, according to officials, was shortage of volunteers for the army.
“We have a Russian annexation of Crimea, we have the aggression in Ukraine, we have more exercise activities in our neighborhood. So we have decided to build a stronger national defense,” Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told the Reuters news agency.
“The decision to activate conscription is part of that.”
The draft will cover people born in 1999 or later, with some 13,000 being called upon and 4,000 selected to receive military training in 2018 and 2019. According to the Swedish government, “modern conscription is gender neutral and will include both women and men.” Women already make up 16 percent of Swedish 20,000-people-strong military.
Preparing the bunkers
Although Sweden is not a NATO member, Stockholm maintained a formidable military force during the Cold War. In 1991, the country’s military budget was some 2.5 percent of GDP, but fell to 1.1 percent by 2015.
Moreover, the soldiers’ salaries are now notably lower than in other comparable areas, making military carreers less attractive to young people.
Russian airplanes reportedly violated Swedish airspace repeatedly since the beginning of the diplomatic crisis in 2014, with Moscow also boosting defenses in its exclave of Kaliningrad, which is located across the Baltic Sea from Sweden.
In December 2016, Sweden’s Civil Contingency Agency asked local authorities across the country to improve readiness for emergency scenarios, including a possible military attack. The recommended measures included maintaining and upgrading underground bunkers as emergency bases of operation.
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