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Sweden mulls ending conscription

Published on 20/03/2009

STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s government on Thursday proposed a major restructuring of the military, ending conscription and sharply increasing the number of troops ready for immediate deployment.

"We have developed a totally new approach to defence policy and we are preparing for the biggest renewal of the military in decades," Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors told reporters.

While Sweden today counts 30,000 troops, of whom only about a third are required to be prepared for deployment within a year, Tolgfors said the aim was to have 50,000 soldiers ready for action either at home or abroad within a week.

"We have so far been poorly prepared to meet sudden threats," he said, adding that the government proposal, handed to parliament Thursday, aims to give Sweden "one of Europe’s most modern militaries in terms of organisation."

The Scandinavian country’s military would also over the next five years completely end its dependence on an already much diminished number of conscripted soldiers.

"We will move towards voluntary recruitment," Tolgfors said, excluding the notion of a professional army.

The new deployment goal should be reached by 2019.

"We will have the structure in place by 2014. After that we will gradually add troops in accordance with the new personnel needs," Tolgfors said.

A number of other changes were also called for, including increasing the number of manoeuvre battalions from three to eight, but he hinted the changes could be done without immediately increasing the military’s annual budget of approximately 38.5 billion kronor (3.5 billion euros, 4.8 billion dollars).

Sweden’s centre-right government had been scheduled to present its reform plan for military development between 2010 and 2014 last year, when massive cuts were expected, but postponed the proposal after determining that the Georgia war last August had altered its security evaluations.

"Today’s threats against Sweden cannot be solved with yesterday’s defence," Tolgfors said in a statement.

"The war in Georgia for instance shows that developments can happen very quickly," he added, pointing out that "that war was over in five days and the outcome was determined in two."

Thursday’s proposal represents a political about-face after the Swedish military has in recent years repeatedly seen major cutbacks in its budget and troop numbers.