Sweden is reinstating the military draft — for men and women — because of dwindling volunteers and growing concerns over a more assertive Russia in the Baltic and Ukraine.
"The security environment in Europe and in Sweden's vicinity has deteriorated and the all-volunteer recruitment hasn't provided the Armed Forces with enough trained personnel," the Swedish defense ministry said Thursday. "The re-activating of the conscription is needed for military readiness."
A defense ministry spokesperson says 4,000 men and women will be called up in July for service beginning in January 2018. They will be drawn from some 13,000 people born in 1999.
Marinette Nyh Radebo told the BBC the "security change in our neighborhood" prompted the move by Sweden, which is not a NATO member.
"The Russian illegal annexation of Crimea (in 2014), the conflict in Ukraine and the increased military activity in our neighborhood are some of the reasons," she said.
In November, just before the U.S. presidential elections and during NATO exercises in the Baltic, Russian planes repeatedly veered toward NATO airspace. Both Finland and Estonia, which is a NATO member, said aircraft violated their airspace, The Washington Post reported.
Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said he was inspired to make the draft gender-neutral by neighboring Norway, which in 2013 introduced a law applying military conscription to both sexes. That made Norway the first NATO member to draft both men and women, joining a tiny group of countries around the world, including Israel.
Turkey and Germany are the only major NATO countries that still use a draft. Conscription also exists in Austria, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Greece and Norway, according to Deutsche Welle. France ended the draft in 2001. Italy and the Netherlands put the draft on hold.
Sweden first introduced conscription in 1901 but canceled it in 2010, in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union. During the Cold War era, nearly 85% of Swedish men were drafted into the army because of the nearby Soviet threat. The average term of service lasted around 11 months.
This time, the conscripts will serve from nine months to a year. One goal is to entice some draftees to make a career in the military.
By the end of 2016, the Swedish armed forces were short about 1,000 full-time squad leaders, soldiers and sailors and about 7,000 part-timers for its 17,000-member force, the defense ministry said. Sweden, with a population of 9.8 million, also relies on some 22,000 members of its volunteer Home Guards.
Non-aligned Sweden, which prides itself on a tradition of neutrality, has not fought a war since 1814 when it engaged in a 12-day scrum with Norway.
Although Sweden, along with its neighbor, Finland, is not a member of NATO, since 1994 it has cooperated closely with the organization under its Partnership for Peace program. Sweden has also contributed forces to NATO-led peacekeeping missions, including in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, has pointedly cautioned both Sweden and Finland not to join the Western alliance.
Hultqvist, in rejecting any bid to join NATO, told reporters last year Sweden's strategy was "to create long-term stability and not to work in an unpredictable way." He said Sweden would "not be part of a situation that could be used by others to create a higher level of tension."
Tensions in the area have been on the rise for at least two years, however, prompting concern in Stockholm.
Last year, Sweden once again began stationing troops on Gotland island, which had long served as part of its island defenses. Gotland is located about 55 miles east of the Swedish mainland and about 80 miles from Latvia, a Baltic state that was once a Soviet republic.
For its part, Russia decided in October to reinforce its Baltic Fleet in Kaliningrad with two small warships in response to what Moscow viewed as stepped up NATO activity in the region, Russia's daily Izvestia reported.
The decision by the ruling Swedish Social Democratic party to reinstate the draft was supported by the opposition Moderate Party as well as the Liberal Party.