It’s been only a year and a half since Sweden submitted its Nato application, marking a sharp change in the historically neutral country’s approach to defence and international relations. But in recent weeks a looming sense of potential conflict has swept the country as citizens were warned to prepare themselves for the possibility of war.
Although not everybody will be required to do military service – only a small proportion of the population is called up against their will – as of Friday, the government is also restarting compulsory civic duty, a form of national service which was dismantled after the cold war.
In a speech at a national defence conference earlier in the month, the prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, invoked bomb shelters in Kyiv as he said: “Step by step, we are now building up the new total defence. And on 19 January, Sweden reactivates the civil obligation.” Telling the population that it was up to citizens to ensure Sweden’s security, he said: “Citizenship is not a travel document”.
Kristersson also announced plans to send forces to Latvia, despite Sweden not yet being a full member of Nato. “We waste no time waiting for the final ratifications,” he said, referring to stalling from Nato members Hungary and Turkey.
Experts said the national service announcement was a sign that civil defence is now a national priority.
Dr Sanna Strand, a researcher in Stockholm University’s economic history and international relations department, said: “Politicians from across the political spectrum are pointing to the importance of a prepared and resilient population, often by giving the Ukrainian people as an example.”
Calling up those who do not want to do military service was a “notable step”, Strand said. “Politicians are now clearly emphasising the importance of doing one’s duty to the country – even openly questioning the loyalty of certain groups, as Kristersson did when he was critiquing the attitude of some immigrants to Swedish citizenship at the recent Swedish defence conference.”
She added: “It will be interesting to see how young people react when less than 10% of the age group is called upon to do their duty … while most of their friends do not have to.”