Sweden is running out of soldiers. It all began when, six months ago, Sweden abolished conscription. Sweden has been reducing the size of its armed forces over the past decade, and has been discussing the mechanics of abolishing conscription for over three years. As a result of that, fewer (recently only 10,000 a year) young men were being conscripted, and for shorter (11 months) terms. With conscription gone, Sweden thought they could rely on volunteers, serving for longer terns of service.
But Sweden wants a more capable force, and is raising standards to get it. A decade ago, Sweden was drafting 50,000 men a year. But the new plan, to recruit 16,000 volunteers by 2014, is already in trouble. So far, only half the needed recruits are joining. Most of the new troops would be reservists, part-time soldiers who would only be called to full-time duty as needed (for an emergency, or a peacekeeping mission for which there were not enough “career” or active duty soldiers available.) The recruiting shortfalls mean that career troops will be going on peacekeeping missions more often, thus encouraging many of them to leave the military.
There is no ready solution for the recruiting problem, other than offering more money. But that is very unlikely. Sweden has cut its defense spending about 20 percent in the last decade, and will freeze its defense budget at about $5-5.5 billion a year, for most of the next decade. At the same time, it wants to raise the readiness of its active duty units for deployment overseas on peacekeeping missions. The goal is to have all units of the active military capable of deployment outside Sweden, within a week. Currently, only a third of the active duty troops can be sent abroad, and many of these require up a year of preparation.
By 2014, the volunteer force will be seven, battalion size “battle groups”. To this end, the military has to deactivate several infantry and tank units. All this improves the readiness of the remaining 12,500 troops who are eligible for deployment. This includes eight infantry battalions. The navy’s amphibious infantry battalion (“marines”) will be turned into an infantry battalion with amphibious capabilities.