After 109 years, Sweden's draft passes away peacefully
One of the free world's last major nations to relinquish the practice, conscription in Sweden ended at the end of June. Today, like the United States, Sweden is defended by professional armed forces. Introduced in Sweden in 1901, universal compulsory military service waned in recent ears until only men and women who insisted on joining the armed services were inducted.
During World War II and the Cold War, Sweden demanded military service from all able males, and this was carried out with a stringent frenzy that could be compared to late Vietnam War's draft board policies, although persisting long after that particular war had been settled. Relying on trained reserves and refreshment tours of duty long past conventional draft ages, Sweden intended to have as many as half a million soldiers available on short notice, and that was at a time when there were only about eight million souls in the country.
With the end of the USSR and subsequent collapse of the Warsaw Pact, Sweden had an average of only 5,000 draftees annually after the 1980's, and women were at long last permitted to serve in active combat positions alongside males.
Nonetheless, the lottery system for randomly drafting young men left some condemned to several years in prison for objecting to contributing what amounted to an average of less than one year of their lives in actual service. At a ceremony held at the Royal Palace in Stockholm on the last of June, a handful of the nation's last men to be conscripted into the armed forces were given commemorative medals. Nowhere were draft objectors honored or distinguished.
Many sentimental former servicemen reminisce their experiences and regret the end of universal military training, and some predicted weaknesses in the nation's preparedness for outright attacks. However, most, including military brass and politicians, agreed that the nation's newly formed alliances with NATO and the forthcoming EU military forces, while violating the country's longstanding neutrality legislation, guaranteed sufficient force from allies to withstand any traditional invasions.
On television and in print media, the current Swedish armed forces - air, navy and army - have been advertising to attract professional soldiers into the what is today a highly advanced and technologically superior military. Last year, the Swedish military had 34,000 persons on their full time payrolls and, in reserve, some 38,000 national guard members.
A section of the Home Guard receiving orders. Photo: Sven Åke Haglund/Försvarets Bildbyrå