Bellwether

Do you feel a draft? Sweden brings back military conscription

FILE -- June 18, 2010: Swedish armed forces soldiers attend a rehearsal in front of the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden.

FILE -- June 18, 2010: Swedish armed forces soldiers attend a rehearsal in front of the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden.  (REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)

Imagine if President Trump, who has pledged to rebuild America’s military, announced tomorrow that the United States is reinstituting the military draft. Think there would be any opposition? That is just what another country has done: Sweden is introducing universal military conscription, and so far, no one is complaining.

The decision to require all 18-year-olds – men and women alike – to register for the military draft beginning next year is a direct result of Sweden’s increasing nervousness about Russia’s aggressive behavior in Ukraine, and lately, in and around the Baltic states.

Like the United States, Sweden has, since 2010, relied on volunteers for military service. But of late, it has been unable to fill its quota, prompting its defense ministry to re-introduce the draft. Of the estimated 13,000 Swedes born in 1999, about 4,000 will be selected to serve for up to a year.

Swedish officials make no bones about the reason for the change. Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014 set off jitters around the world. Sweden, which is just across the Baltic Sea from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, is concerned that Russia may have designs on those three countries, which were once part of the former Soviet Union. 

The decision to require all 18-year-olds – men and women alike – to register for the military draft beginning next year is a direct result of Sweden’s increasing nervousness about Russia’s aggressive behavior in Ukraine, and lately, in and around the Baltic states.

Sweden has plenty of reason to be wary of President Vladimir Putin. Russian military forces are directing the continuing carnage in eastern Ukraine, though the Kremlin insists it is pro-Russian Ukrainians doing the fighting. And Russian carpet bombing of rebel forces in Syria is the primary reason that President Bashar Al-Assad is still clinging to power in that nearly decimated Middle Eastern country.

Recently, Russian soldiers have advanced to near the border with Latvia, supposedly for “maneuvers.” In response, the U.S. has deployed Special Forces units to work with the Baltic countries’ troops, and to send a signal to Putin that aggression in that part of the world will not be tolerated.

 “If we want full and trained military units, the voluntary system needs to be complemented by compulsory military service,” Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told a Swedish television station.

Traditionally neutral in international disputes and famously liberal for its social policies, Sweden is not a member of NATO, though it maintains cooperative relations with the Western military alliance.

A majority of Swedes surveyed in a nationwide poll last year said they supported a return to conscription. So far, here have been no largescale protests over the announcement.

The United States ended its military draft for young men in 1973, converting to an all-volunteer armed services. Up until now, there have been enough citizens willing to wear their country’s uniform, and that should be a source of pride to all Americans.

But Sweden’s decision to bring back the draft is a timely reminder that the world is an unstable place and that sometimes people must make sacrifices to preserve their way of life.

John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books including "Pope John Paul II : Biography."