Friday, May 21, 2010

End of the Draft

The Swedish parliament voted yesterday for a bill that ends compulsory draft and military service for male 18-year old citizens. From July 1st the draft and military service will officially be voluntary.

In practice, though, service has been voluntary for years already. In Sweden, every 18-year old man (it was always voluntary for women) got called in for a day or two of physical and mental testing, and those considered fit to serve got assigned to a military position. When I had the misfortune of encountering the system, most people were still actually assigned, and you were expected to do anything from seven months to a year and a half of service (guess who got a year and a half). Conscientious objectors could do civilian service instead, being assigned as a wartime nurse, firefighter or similar, and spend a year or two training for that job instead.

Over time, technological change and shifting priorities made the mass army obsolete. Military planning now aims for fewer but better trained and equipped soldiers, and towards targeted missions rather than mass homeland defence (Sweden has a fair number of UN troops in Afghanistan for instance). For the past decade people have still been drafted, but automatically placed in the inactive reserves unless they ask to do active duty. And a fair number of people do; completed military service can be good to have on your CV, especially if you want to become a policeman, firefighter or anything like that.

So while service has become voluntary, the draft - compulsory for men, voluntary for women - has remained one of the few areas with legal gender discrimination. The actual military utility of the draft is long gone; most defenders of the practice have had to resort to vague arguments about camaraderie and building character. Yesterdays decision to abolish the draft is finally removing a long-standing discriminatory practice that should have disappeared years ago.

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