Country report and updates: Sweden

Last revision: 22 Sep 2009
22 Sep 2009


  • Sweden does not recognise the right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers.

Military recruitment

Swedish defence policy is based on the concept of total defence, which means that all inhabitants are obliged to participate in national defence in case of emergency or war. Total defence consists of military service, civil defence service and general service. Conscription only takes place into military service and civil defence service. General service does not involve any form of training, but means that one may be called up for service in time of war or emergency.


Conscription in Sweden will be suspended on 1 July 2010. Mandatory enlistment will continue until June 2010, and those still serving on 1 July will have the choice to continue their service on a voluntary basis. From 1 January 2011 on, the present system of basic military training will be replaced with three month voluntary military training, after which a longer training with the aim of a long-term contract will be possible1.

According to the 1994 Swedish Act on Defence (Lag om totalförsvarsplikt)2, all Swedish citizens (both men and women) and all foreigners living in Sweden are liable for general service between the ages of 16 and 70. General service does not involve any form of training, and is an obligation which may only be imposed during "periods of intensified preparedness".

Presently, before the suspension of conscription, all men between the ages of 18 and 47 are liable for military service (Article 5 Swedish Act on Defence). Conscription for military service, however, applies essentially only to men between the ages of 18 and 24 and it is also open to women on a voluntary basis3.

Most conscripts undergo military service of 2 periods totalling around 11 months. The conscript may then apply to undergo a third period of training concentrating on international missions.

The conscripts who are accepted for the third period are employed on the basis of a contract with a salary instead of a daily conscription allowance. The employee under contract is on standby, together with the unit, for possible interventions or for carrying out a foreign mission4.

In the current system, 8 000 people out of an annual cohort of 120,000 Swedish citizens are called in to carry out military service5.

With the suspension of conscription on 2010 the Total Defence Service Act will still remain in force and can be applied if required by military preparedness. In that case, compulsory military service will be gender-neutral, which means men and women will be conscripted6.

Professional soldiers

According to the website of the Swedish Armed Forces, one of the main tasks of the Armed Forces is to train soldiers for international missions. International service is not something a conscript can be forced to do during conscription, but is subject to voluntary choice after compulsory military service has been completed7.

The Swedish Army also has its own recruitment website (, especially aimed at attracting officers.

Conscientious objection

Conscientious objection for conscripts

The right to conscientious objection has been legally recognised since 1920. Its present legal basis is the 1994 Act on Defence, which replaced the 1966 Non-Military Service Act.

According to the law CO status is to be granted if someone has "such a personal serious conviction about the use of weapons against another person so that this conviction is inconsistent with a combatant role"(Chapter 3 Article 16)

According to the government there is no separate legal provision for the right to conscientious objection in wartime.

With the discussion about an end of conscription, and the low rate of call-up for military service, the numbers of conscientious objectors went down. While more than 2,000 people applied for conscientious objection every year until the mid-1990s, in 2005 and 2006 there were only 160 and 128 CO applications8. The institutions providing non-military basic training for conscientious objectors in Sweden are closing down due to lack of funds. As a consequence, conscientious objectors in Sweden cannot get basic training and do a substitute service, and will be placed in the “training reserve”.

Conscientious objection for professional soldiers

Sweden does not recognise the right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers9.

The rules for leaving the Armed Forces prematurely are presently not known.

Draft evasion and desertion

Draft evasion and desertion are punishable under the 1994 Act on Defence and the 1995 Ordinance on Discipline of the Total Defence System. The same punishments are applicable in all forms of service.

Failure to appear at medical examination is punishable by a fine. Failing to respond to a call-up for service is punishable by a fine or up to a years' imprisonment. If the misdeed is considered a serious crime imprisonment can last from six months to four years (Total Defence Service Act, Chapter 10).

A number of people are still jailed every year for refusing to carry out compulsory military service10. Some 41 men were jailed in 2006 for refusing to attend the armed forces recruitment days, failing to turn up to military service or deserting11.


1 Military conscription phase out under fire, The Local, 16 August 2009,, accessed 22 September 2009

2 Lag (1994:1809) om totalförsvarsplikt (Swedish),, accessed 28 April 2008 (English translation:, accessed 28 April 2008)

3 Swedish Armed Forces: The Swedish military service system,, accessed 28 April 2008

4 Swedish Armed Forces: The Swedish military service system,, accessed 28 April 2008

5 Military favours ending conscription, The Local, 21 December 2007,, accessed 28 April 2008

6 Ministry of Defence: A functional defence, Fact Sheet, March 2009,, accessed 22 September 2009

7 Swedish Armed Forces: The Swedish military service system,, accessed 28 April 2008

8 Civilpliktsrådet: What’s going to happen to the conscientious objection in Sweden? Email on ebcobaord-e-list, 26 February 2008

9 Exercise of the right of conscientious objection to military service in Council of Europe member states, Report Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Doc. 8809 (Revised), 4 May 2001.

10 Military favours ending conscription, The Local, 21 December 2007,, accessed 28 April 2008

11 'Stop prosecutions for refusing military service', The Local, 4 November 2007,, accessed 28 April 2008

Recent stories on conscientious objection: Sweden

08 Jun 2020

A network of antimilitarist activists from East and North Europe has launched an online event called Antimilimarathon. For 42 consecutive days, starting on 1st June, they will share and post in social media a variety of events, workshops, discussions and webinars, promoting antimilitarist art and culture. If you want to participate in this marathon use the hashtag #Antimilimarathon.

19 Jan 2018

For many years, it looked like obligatory military service was on the way out. But in the last five years, the picture has changed: Norway has extended conscription for women; Sweden has reintroduced conscription for all; Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania and Kuwait have reintroduced conscription for men after short hiatuses; Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have introduced conscription for the first time. We look at why governments are turning to compulsion in filling their armies, and what this means for pacifist movements.

05 Sep 2011

After Sweden ended conscription last year, the military seems to have problems to recruit enough soldiers. Sweden's chiefs-of-staff had to admit in August that they had erred in counting how many part-time recruits had signed up to Sweden's Armed Forces. The number was not 2,700 - as originally reported - but 300. In a report, the chiefs-of-staff admitted confusing the 300 actual recruits with the target of 2,700 for the period.

Since switching to a professional military, Sweden had set a goal of recruiting 6,600 new soldiers: 3,900 on a full-time basis and 2,700 part-time.

05 Jan 2011

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By Majken Jul Sørensen, War Resisters’ International

06 Oct 2009

Sweden decided to phase out conscription in peace time by 1 July 2010. As of January 1, 2011, the current education will be replaced entirely by a three-month voluntary military training. Thereafter, soldiers will be offered a longer education related to a particular position with the goal of creating permanent and contract-based military units. In the current system, 8 000 people out of an annual cohort of 120,000 Swedish citizens are called in to carry out military service.

15 Jan 2009

In this presentation I will give an overview of the right to conscientious objection, its
legal practices and frameworks in the 27 European Union member states. Before I do so, I want to step back a bit and have a brief look at the existing international standards about the right to
conscientious objection, as these standards allow us to put the practices in the EU member states into a perspective.

01 Aug 2007

According to an article in The Local, Swedish Defence Minister Mikael Odenberg questions the need for peacetime conscription in Sweden. Conscription should instead be reserved for times of war, he said in an interview with Svenska Dagbladet.

Wartime conscription should also be applicable for women as well as men, he added. Military service in its current form is only compulsory for men. The length of military service is 7.5 months, between 10 and 15 months for officers, and between 18 and 20 months for those serving in the navy.

11 Oct 1984

A pacifist, the applicant was convicted for refusing to perform compulsory military service. He did not ask for a possibility to perform substitute civilian service. Before the Commission, he alleged to be a victim of discrimination, since members of various religious groups were exempted from service while philosophical reasons such as being a pacifist did not constitute valid grounds for discharging him from his obligation to serve in the army.