From conscription to all volunteer – Swedish edition

Radio Sweden pulled off another great program (it’s worth listening to but I suspect won’t be as easy as it should be) on the 1st of April with a whole show dedicated to their upcoming transition from conscription to an all volunteer force.

Now only about 10% of eligible males are actually enrolled into the military which really pushed the idea of ‘conscription’ to the breaking point but it’s still going to be a big change.  Some things worthy of note in the program:

  1. Listen to the interview with the three trainees.  We’ve got a lot of sharp, motivated young soldiers in the U.S. Army.  I suspect, however, you’d be hard pressed to find basic trainees as articulate as this (and not in their native tongue!)
  2. Under the new system soldiers are going to be eligible for overtime pay (!) when units go to the field for training (I suspect this doesn’t apply to wartime service or operational deployments).  I have to admit I found that shocking when I heard that until I heard about the rational.  Commanders are going to be in control of their unit budgets and this is an attempt to minimize having soldiers do the ‘hurry up and wait’ that they too often do.  Commanders that don’t plan efficient training are going to not just waste soldier’s time but the unit’s money.  Kind of interesting if you hook it up to performance metrics for officer evaluations.  I’m not sure if it can work but it’s interesting.
  3. Making it explicit that the Swedish military is going to target people for recruitment who are capable of performing multiple tasks and in multiple types of operations.  Sweden has a small military and isn’t likely to have to defend it’s territory from invasion any time soon but they and a relatively small military budget that seems to get the squeeze pretty consistently.  As a result, the few soldiers they do have are going to have to be skilled in a wide range of skills.  I may be reading more into this than is really there but it sounds like they’re working on a system to identify skills and characteristics in potential soldiers and then recruiting against those.  It’ll be interesting to see how that works out for them.
  4. The new volunteer system is going to conform to other Swedish employment laws.  One of the more striking consequences of this will be that (just like as among Swedish civilians) soldiers will be able to resign with three months notice.  I assume that won’t apply during deployments but even so, think of the implications of that.  It sounds like there’s some skepticism among the officers corps since even their spokesman was a bit tentative about that policy but the official line is that this will put a premium on leadership.  Good leaders will retain soldiers, even in the face of tough duty.  Poor leaders will have high attrition rates and be an indicator of problems.

I have to admit, my first reaction to some of these ideas made me scoff at first but given the low threat Sweden faces and it’s limited military obligations, why not experiment?

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One response to “From conscription to all volunteer – Swedish edition

  1. some of the units with the toughest deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan had very high retention rates. Comraderie, sense of mission, etc. My guess is the 3 month resignation thing won’t be a huge issue.

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