Conscription in Scandinavia


Conscription in Scandinavia During the Last Quarter Century: Different Developments and Arguments


Henning Srrensen










This article initially describes the empirical developments of conscription in Scandinavia during the last quarter of this century since 1970 from four perspectives:Demography, Economy, Organisation, and Personnel giving Denmark, Sweden, and Norway a quite different conscription profile. No explanations are given for these changes. They are products of complex and sometimes even contending decisions made at the national and organisational level. Instead the present conscription profile of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway is identified as one of three ideal reasons for using conscripts: Democracy, Deterrence, and Deployment abroad, the DDD-model. This theoretical model suggests both national and international reasons for the continuation of consription. So, the argument for reducing/abolishing conscription due to the end of the Cold War and instead rely on a professional army can be argued against. Conscripts may be better qualified for international peacekeeping missions than regulars as they more easily can identify themselves with the local civil population. Therefore, the announcement of the end of conscription as a result of the end of the Cold War seems somewhat premature.














Historical introduction


In 1970, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway shared a somewhat similar conscription situation. Conscription  was a citizen obligatory service for almost all young men of a youth cohort and conscripts constituted the bulk of all armed forces´ personnel, in Denmark one half, in Sweden two thirds, and in Norway three fourths, cfr. table 5. But during the last quarter century significant conscription changes have taken place, however, to different levels, at different times, and at different speed even if the overall tendency in all three countries is a reduction of the number of conscripts. However, elements of expansion, ie. conscription for women and homosexuals are found as well.




Historically, conscription in Europe was broadly and simultaneously introduced around the beginning of the 19th century, in France as early as September 5, 1798, in Prussia 1814 (and other German states a few years later), in Spain 1831, in Sweden 1812, in Norway 1814, and in Denmark 1849. The first great conscription army was established by Napoleon in 1812 who led 0.6 mio French soldiers against Russia. In 1870, the Northern German Alliance was able to raise 1.2 mio conscripts against France, and in WW I in 1914, the German Emperor Vilhelm II could organize 3.4 mio soldiers against France and Russia, while Russia drafted as many as 15.0 mio soldiers[1].




Thus, conscription is perceived to be a rather new phenomenon introduced just a century and a half ago. But some form of conscription is identifiable in Scandinavia a millenium ago during the Viking era from around 750 - 1050 when all men, freeborn or thrall, were prescribed to meet at a specified place in the event of an attack on the realm. In Denmark, for instance, the king was entitled to demand a certain


amount of ships, men, and gear from each county for the preemptive attacks on England year after year. This conscription system was named “leding”[2]. In Sweden, a similar royal right enabling the king to demand of a county that it provide him with soldiers did exist and was firmly established around the 17th century, directing the county to supply the king with soldiers, to pay their salaries, and finally to give each soldier a minor farm following his service[3].




In most Western countries except in the Anglo-Saxon enclave conscription has been closely related to the establishment of democracy. Too, in Scandinavia. It is mentioned in the first Norwegian constitution of 1814, § 109, the “Eidvoll-constitution”, in the Danish constitution of 1849, § 95 as an obligation laid upon all young male citizens and it coincided with the acknowledgement of their democratic rights . But as mentioned above, conscription was originally introduced by a dictator, Napoleon[4].




After its introduction, conscription was applied as the only way of recruiting soldiers. This is also true of


Scandinavia. In Denmark for instance, conscription was used exclusively from 1803 to 1951. Then, immidiately after WW II, Denmark, Sweden and Norway established a National Home Guard, a kind of militia defence system and in the beginning of the 1950s, enlistment was introduced. Some twenty years later conscripts in Scandinavia were simoultanously given the right to choose between compulsory military service and civil service as conscientious objectors. Today, all three types of recruitment coexist: Conscription, enlistment, and militia together with a rather liberal conscription policy  accepting conscientious objectors on the one hand, and homosexual and female conscripts on the other. In short, conscription in Scandinavia has not only been modified, it has expanded as well.




Today, conscription is debated throughout Europe, and to some contenders its end is near[5]. There is no question that conscription has been modified. But apart from the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France (by year 2002) the other 10 of the 14 European NATO-countries still maintain conscription as do 14 out of the 15 European countries outside NATO, however, at different levels. In 1997 in Denmark for instance, the rate of conscripts to all armed personnel was 23 %, likewise in Portugal, 37 % in Sweden, around 50 % in Germany (47%), France (48 %), Italy (55%), and Norway (59 %), and more than 2/3rds in Greece (69%), Turkey (79 %), and Spain (88 %). Conscription has, no doubt, been reduced but it has not yet been abandonned.






In Scandinavia, no demographic shortage problems will arise in a near future as the youth cohort in each of the three countries will exceed the amount of conscripts needed even if the number of young men reaching the age of 18 during the timespan 1989 to 2000 will be reduced in Denmark by 30 %, in Sweden by 14 %, and in Norway by 20 % as seen from table 1, below, showing the declining conscription rates over the last quarter century, ie. the proportion of a youth cohort (Cohort) actually serving as conscripts (Cs)[6]  .




Table 1 in here




Table 1 shows that the conscription rate in Denmark has dropped from 57 % in 1970 to 23 % in 1998,  in Sweden from 80 % to 19 %, and in Norway from 90 % to 65 %. Even if Sweden since 1992 has drafted young men for “a qualitative conscription reserve strength”[7] by giving them a basic education only, both Sweden and Denmark have reduced relations between armed forces and society compared to Norway and consequently neither Danmark nor Sweden can claim that their conscripts represent a young cohort generation. This may indicate another problem for the two countries, ie. the needed balance between the many welfare rights and the two citizen duties (conscription and taxation) has tipped by the reduction of conscription so that “today you do not ask what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you”[8]. At least, conscripts in Sweden and Denmark no longer serve the major democratic purpose of controlling and thereby legitimizing the armed forces, and the military cannot claim to serve society by educating young men, homogenizing them for society, etc., as it can still be said to be the case in Norway.






The size and distribution of money for the armed forces signals society´s evaluation of conscription. In table 2 below, the proportion of conscripts to all personnel in the armed forces is compared to the size of the military expenditures to GDP at fixed prices from 1970 to 1998[9].


Table 2 in here




Table 2 shows that the conscription rates and military spendings in the three Scandinavian countries have decreased from 1970 to 1998, but to different levels, at different times, and at different speeds. Denmark began reducing its proportion of conscripts as early as 1973, cfr. the drop from 45 % in 1970 to 30 % in 1979. Over the last quarter of a century, the Danish conscription rate has dropped by 49 %, while cuts in military expenditures only decreased by 30 %. Sweden has, like Denmark, reduced its conscription rate more than its military expenditures, respectively by 46 % and 36 %, while the same figures for Norway are 66 % and 63 %. In other words, Norway is more reluctant to reduce her conscription rate than Denmark and Sweden, and Norway and Sweden are more willing to pay for their armed forces than Denmark. In short, both Denmark and Sweden prefer fewer conscripts to more military, while Norway wants equally fewer of both, but at a higher level than Denmark and Sweden.




Another indication of the financial prestige of conscription in Scandinavia is revealed in table 3 relating the proportion of personnel expenditures of the total defence expenditures to the sum of the total manpower strength of the armed forces[10].




Table 3 in here




Table 3 shows a reduction in both personnel strength and personnel expenses for all three countries. In Denmark, personnel expenditures have dropped by 14 % from 1970-74 to 1997, while manpower  figures dropped as much as 37 %. In Sweden, the same figures decreased by respectively 8 % and


21 %, but in Norway expenses went down by 27 % and personnel strength only by 3 %. Thus, since 1970 the number of employees in the armed forces in Scandinavia have decreased by between 37 % and 3 %, but military expenses only by between 8 % and 13 %. Here, in 1997 as in previous years Denmark deviates by being the major personnel spender with 51 % while Sweden and Norway have been able to confine personnel expenses to all military expenditures to respectively 33 % and 38 %. Thus, they have more money available for weaponry, gear, procurement, infrastructure, maintenance, etc. than Denmark. As the Danish and Swedish armed forces have reduced their number more than their income it follows that fewer employees consume relatively more money, while conversely Norway operates more efficiently. To put it differently, Denmark and Sweden prefer professionalism at the cost of minor democratic control of the armed forces by conscripts, while Norway prefers the opposite.






While demography and economy are external factors regulating the conditions of conscription, the Draft Boards and the military organisations are internal actors deciding the distribution, functioning and fitness levels of conscripts in the armed forces. At three stages, the Draft Board/the military organisation may


determine the use of  conscripts: The number of draftees presented for the Draft Board each year, the number of fit draftees defined at recruitment and the number of serving conscripts during service after recruitment. The complex rejection process is illustrated in table 4[11].


Table 4 in here




Table 4 shows that the number of draftees called for by the Draft Boards is stable in all three countries. In Denmark, the number has increased from 30.500 in 1969/70 to almost 37.000 in 1992, in Sweden it has increased and then decreased around the level of 53.000, and in Norway, it has dropped from 32.500 draftees in 1969/70 to 28.200 in 1992.




The number of rejected draftees at recruitment has deviated much more. In Denmark in particular, it has increased from 1.766 in 1969/70 to 9.425 in 1992, in Sweden from 4.889 to 11.897, and in Norway merely from 4.617 to 4.908. The changes are reflected in the increased rejection rates at recruitment for Denmark from 6 % in 1969/70 to 26 % in 1992, for Sweden from 9 % to 22 %, and for Norway from 14 % to 17 %. So in 1992, every fourth draftee in Denmark, every fifth in Sweden, and every sixth in Norway is rejected as unfit by the civil Draft Board in Denmark and Sweden and the military one in Norway.




In 1992, the rejection rates after recruitment, ie. while serving as conscripts are almost identical, 7 % in Denmark and 6 % in Sweden and Norway. On the bottom line, it gives a serving rate in 1992 for Denmark of 24 %, for Sweden of  67 % and for Norway of 76 %. Thus in Norway, the military Draft Board and the armed forces are somewhat rigid than the civil Board in Sweden, but much more so than in Denmark. The serving rates of 1992 underscore the will of Sweden and Norway to recruit as many conscripts as possible in contrast to Denmark only calling upon one out of four fit draftees. Actually, the Danish conscription system is even more permissive as any  conscript may declare himself a “voluntary conscript”[12]. Hereby he is given the right to decide when, where and how to serve. In practice, more than 60 % do so, while the same rate in  Sweden and Norway is as low as 5 % since only exempted but fit draftees have this option. Thus the real number of Danish compulsory conscripts in 1992 is reduced from 9.628 soldiers to only 1.365. On this background the post-recruitment rejection rate of 7 % for Danish “voluntary conscripts”and 10 % for the “compulsory ones” compared to the 6 % in Sweden and in Norway seem too high even if this rate has declined since 1996 [13].




Further reasons for the higher Danish rejection rates may be speculated. One reason might be that the Danish Draft Board anticipates animosity on the part of the military towards conscripts with even minor imperfections, leading to their disqualification, an exclusion policy unknown in Sweden and Norway. However, instead of looking for reasons, it may be more worthwhile to look at the problems created by high rejection rates.




One problem may be that the more mentally robust and critical conscripts are rejected in order to avoid organisational friction, but by the same stroke the Danish military organisation lacks their strong democratic attitudes. Another problem is that the higher Danish rejection rates despite “voluntary conscription” indicates an inefficient screening system compared to Sweden and Norway. A third problem is that the high post-recruitment rejection rates result in many vacant positions in the military units[14]. A fourth and perhaps most servere problem is that Denmark despite its “voluntary conscription” system seems to have more incidents of maltreatment of conscripts than Sweden and Norway [15] because the exclusion of a certain number of critical conscripts and the inclusion of “voluntary” ones may stop an abused voluntary conscript from criticizing the armed forces he has joined of his own free for what reason he is expected to stay calm and keep silent demonstrating his loyalty.






Yet another way of illustrating the position of conscripts in Scandinavia is to compare their size and deployment to the three other personnel groups: Officers, NCOs, and civilian employees. In table 5 the extent of the professionalisation of the armed forces, ie. the proportion of conscripts (Consc) to all personnel (All Per) is presented[16] .




Table 5 in here




Table 5 shows a substantial reduction of the proportion of conscripts to all personnel for all three countries over the last quarter of a century. For Denmark from 45 % in 1970/71 to 23 % in 1998, for Sweden from 68 % to 37 %, and for Norway from 73 % to 48 %. Thus, in 1998 less than one out of four soldiers in Denmark is a conscript, in Sweden it is one out of three, and in Norway one out of two. 




Table 5 not only presents the different levels af conscription throughout the last quarter of a century, it even shows that it has taken place at different times and in different pace. Denmark reduced the number of conscripts earlier and more profoundly than Sweden and Norway around 1973 from 45 % in 1970 to


31 % in 1979. Conscription in Denmark after World War II can be grouped into three periods: A period of stability 1945-1971 with around 25.000 conscripts, then a reduction period 1971-1982 when the number of conscripts dropped from 25.000 to 8.500, and a new period of stability since 1982 with around 8.000 conscripts[17]. In contrast, Sweden increased its proportion of conscripts from 68 % in 1970/71 to 77 % in 1989 and then decreased it to 37 % less than a decade later, while Norway has had a steady, but slow decline commencing in 1979.




So over the last generation the number of Danish conscripts has been reduced to one third (31 %) of its original size while all personnel only dropped to two thirds (63 %) and at a twice the pace (51 %). In Sweden, the reduction af conscripts was smaller (43 %) than in Denmark and so was the reduction of all personnel (79 %), but it happened at the same speed as in Denmark (54 %). In Norway, reduction of both groups was even less than that of Sweden, 63 % for conscripts and staus quo for all personnel (97 %). In short, since 1970 Denmark has drafted fewer conscripts the tendency evolving earlier and developing at a faster pace than Sweden and Norway indicating that for many years conscripts have been found less attractive for the armed forces than full time professionals in this country.




Table 6 illustrates to which of the three services in Scandinavia conscripts in particular are deployed[18].




Table 6 in here




Table 6 shows that in 1998 conscripts made up 40 % of all uniformed personnel in the armed forces, in Sweden 79 %, and in Norway 157 % and a simple calculation shows that their concentration in the Army amounts to 87 % for Denmark, 68 % for Sweden, and 66 % for Norway.




Moreover table 6 reveals more differences between the three services and countries. The conscript to other military personnel ratio in the Army is 80 % in Denmark, 92 % in Sweden, and 223 % in Norway. In the Navy the same figures are 14 % in Denmark, 70 % in Sweden, and 131 % in Norway, and in the Air Force 10 % in Denmark, 51 % in Sweden, and 77 % in Norway. In short, both Norway and Sweden make use of more conscripts in absolute and relative numbers in the Army, and in particular, in the Navy and Air Force than Denmark. In other words, Denmark uses more officers and NCOs to manage fewer conscripts than Sweden and Norway.




A closer look at the proportion of conscripts to all personnel (from table 5), and only to other military personnel, and only to civilians (table 6) shows the type of professionalisation pursued by the three services in Scandinavia, either more civil personnel, ie. civilian professionalisation, or more uniformed personnel such as officers, NCOs and Regulars, ie. military professionalisation[19].


 Table 7 in here




Table 7 shows that in Denmark military professionals are preferred to conscripts, ie. military professionalisation, as we see one conscript (40 %) to two and a half person in uniform. In Sweden, military professionalisation is less accepted than in Denmark with one conscript ( 79 %) to 1,25 person in uniform while civil professionalisation is clearly avoided as there is three and a half conscript for every civilian (345 %). In Norway neither civil or military professionalisation is found as there is one and a half conscript (157 %) to one person in uniform and more than two conscripts (221 %) to one civilian. In short, Denmark prefers fewer conscripts to more military professionals, Sweden goes for military, but avoids civil professionalisation, while Norway wants neither but sticks to a citizen mass army.






The present complex conscription profile of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have some similarities but more differences. The similarities are that all three countries have reduced their number of conscripts to a youth cohort, have reduced the number of conscripts after the end of the Cold War, have rejected more conscripts at recruitment and reject the same proportion of conscripts after recruitment which is surprising as more than 60 % af the Danish conscripts are “volunteers”, are using fewer conscripts in the armed forces to all other personnel groups, and have in absolute and relative number concentrated conscripts in the Army.




But more differences are found many of which have occurred within the last decade from 1989 to 1998. Demographically, the proportion of conscripts to a youth cohort of 18 years of age has been reduced in Denmark from 57 % in 1970/71 to 23 % in 1998, in Sweden even more so from 80 % to 19 %, but in Norway only from 90 % to 84 %, cfr. table 1. Economically, most Western nations have reduced manpower and military budgets. But in Denmark and Sweden cuts in conscript numbers have exceeded cuts in military expenditures to Gross Domestic Product, while in Norway it is the other way around, cfr. table 2. Moreover, Denmark and Sweden have reduced the number of personnel in the armed forces more than the proportion of personnel expenses to all military expenditures, when Norway kept almost the same personnel strength but has reduced personnel expenses, cfr. table 3.


Organisationally, the proportion of rejected conscripts at recruitment differs as well, and so does the serving rate, in Denmark it is 24 %, in Sweden 67 %, and in Norway 76 %, cfr. table 4. With respect to personnel, the conscripts to all personnel ratio in the armed forces was reduced in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway from 1970/71 to 1998, but to different levels: 23 % in Denmark, 37 % in Sweden, and 48 % in Norway, at different times: in Demark the main reduction started in 1973, in Sweden and Norway after the end of the Cold War, and at different speeds: in Denmark and Sweden the number of conscripts was reduced twice as fast as that of all personnel, but more slowly in Norway, cfr. table 5. Table 6 showed a different deployment of conscripts within the three services. In Denmark conscripts are concentrated in the Army 87 %, in Sweden 68 % , and in Norway 66 %, and only a minor number of Danish conscripts serve in the Navy or in the Air Force. So, the military perceptions of where to use conscripts, in what amount and function, and the needed number of officers to command them varies in Scandinavia. Finally, table 7 showed that Danish conscripts were replaced by other uniform personnel, ie. military professionalisation, which is found in Sweden, as well, even if civil professionalisation is clearly avoided, while a citizen mass army is still preferred in Norway.




In short, the bulk of Scandinavian conscription data whether about size, composition, deployment, or management shows minor identical developments, but major differences no matter the perspective: Demography, economy, organisation, or personnel even though a common threat situation in Scandinavia since the end of the Cold War supposedly should have reduced conscription differences. Besides, an even more diffuse pattern of conscription is found if other aspects are to be introduced such as the conditions for and the daily function of conscripts, the lenght of their service, the duration of their education, the relative number of conscientious objectors, the relationship between conscripts and Regulars, NCO, and officers, etc.




The DDD-model for Using Conscripts


Many reasons can be listed for the major reduction of conscripts in Scandinavia: Lack of military threat, increased need of professional soldiers to handle sophisticated weapons, public pressure for downsizing the armed forces, the new type of anarchial warfare, increased right for conscientious objectors, introduction of other recruitment systems (enlistment) and groups (women, homosexuals), etc. On top of that national and organisational explanations can be introduced, as well. But no explanations of the changes in conscription in Scandinavia shall be suggested here. Instead, three ideal reasons for using conscripts based on two simple questions:Why and where to use them ?, cfr. fig. 1, will be presented.




Fig 1 in here




Fig. 1 argues that conscripts, in principle, are used for three reasons. On the national level for either democracy or deterrence reasons, and on the international level for deployment abroad reasons including both civil and military functions. Due to the three purposes for using conscripts fig. 1 is named the DDD-model (Democracy-Deterrence- Deployment).




The democracy reason states that conscripts are used for the improvement of civil-military relations by their control of the armed forces and the legitimacy they supply on the one hand, and the efforts of the armed forces to serve society by educating conscripts, offering them a new chance in life, introducing  them to other segments of the population, informing them of important citizen values, etc., on the other.


The deterrence reason refers to the intended or actual military use of conscripts against an external agressor. Conscripts need not be well-educated in warfare, but they demonstrate the will and power of a nation to defend itself. The deployment abrod reason covers a wide range of civil-military tasks abroad with or without the use of military violence to keep or enforce peace. Here, conscripts have many roles: Ambassadors, observers, policemen, and even warriors in missions all over the world no matter country, population, religion, or ethnicity.    






Each of the three reasons for using conscripts will now be tested in the following on the present conscription profile of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in order to reveal the national primary purpose for using conscripts. Danish conscripts are neither used for democratic nor deterrent reasons. The democratic reason may be excluded as in 1998 only 23 % of a youth cohort actually served as conscripts, as only 24 % of all fit draftees actually serve while the major part is excluded “by lottery”, as conscripts only constitute 23 % of all armed forces personnel, and as 87 % of all conscripts are concentrated in the Army reducing the democratic, controlling impact of conscripts in the Navy and in the Air Force to a minimum. Moreover, the high Danish rejection rate of 7 % post recruitment for Avoluntary conscripts@ and 10 % for “normal” compulsory conscripts compared to 6 % for Sweden and Norway shows that professionalism is more valued in Denmark than democratic control of the military guaranteed by many (critical) conscripts. 




Neither are Danish conscripts used for deterrence reasons as judging by the low proportion of conscripts to all other personnel, by the considerable number of vacant positions due to the after rejection of conscripts causing considerable organisational problems for the military. The same lack of interest in using conscripts for deterrent purposes can be identified when the Danish Defence minister, Hans Hækkerup, passed a new bill excluding conscripts with only mild criminal records. Actually, this change in the perception of conscripts was introduced as early as in 1973 when Denmark changed its understanding of threat from an “actor-oriented perception of the Sovjetunion and Warsaw Pact as the primary military threat (to a) perception of structural threat emanating from the bifurcated international system and the risk of nuclear war[20]. Consequently, conscripts were to a lesser degree  needed to deter a hostile actor. Instead, the enemy now was all nuclear weapons as a whole even those possessed by our allies in the NATO.




The exclusion of democracy and deterrence leaves Denmark with deployment abroad as the major reason for using conscripts. This position is supported by the concentration of 87 % of all conscripts in the Army from which soldiers are recruited for the Danish International Brigade, DIB, and by the fact that the composition of this brigade are expected to be 80 % former conscripts now serving under a contract with DIB and only 20 % enlisted men/officers. Another argument is the newly introduced female "conscription" according to which women can be specifically recruited for the DIB and it was/is the main argument for the introduction of female conscription.




Another indicator of the importance for Denmark of participating in international missions is the military involvement of this country in the 1991 Gulf War in comparison with Sweden and Norway. While Norway only contributed with a supply vessel and Sweden with nothing, Denmark deployed a corvette. Next, Denmark has actively supported the establishment of the armed forces in the Baltic countries by presenting the countries with the weapons used in SFOR-missions in Bosnia. Moreover, Denmark took the initiative to deploy the Nordic-Polish Brigade (NORDPOLBDE) in Bosnia, and since 1992 Denmark  has been among the countries with most UN/NATO-soldiers in former Yougoslavia relative to its population and armed forces. In 1997, Denmark was in absolute figures engaged in 9 of the 19 UN military missions, Sweden with twice as many soldiers in 10, and Norway with more personnel, inclusive more uniform personnel than Denmark, and with more money for the armed forces in 8[21]. In short, Danish defence policy today seems more internationally oriented than that of Sweden and Norway




Sweden fits the deterrence reason for using conscripts for several reasons. First, the number of conscripts were cut down after 1989 from 49.800 to 21400 in 1998, ie. as an reaction to the end of the Cold War. Next, military expenditures have been reduced since 1989, as well. Third, only 33 % of all defence expenditures go towards personnel, and accordingly, the major part is reserved for weapons, equipment, maintenance, etc., factors more difficult to replace than conscripts. Fourth, conscripts are used in all three services to signal a national will to defend herself. Thus, the Swedish armed forces use more money on buying and controlling gear than on men and pay fewer but more qualified soldiers (full time personnel) a high salary. This leads to a more efficient and integrated military at the expense of reduced civil-military relations. In other words, Sweden has accepted that control of technology by the military organisation is more essential than conscript control of the military organisation. This change has occurred at a time when deterrence is less topical due to the lack of security threats. In contrast to Denmark and Norway, Sweden has thus significantly reduced its number of conscripts as a result of the end of the Cold War period.




In contrast to both Denmark and Sweden, Norway makes use of its conscripts mostly for democratic reasons as 84 % of a youth cohort are conscripted, as 76 % of all draftees serve as full time conscripts rejecting only a minor proportion of conscripts at and after recruitment, as conscripts constitute 56 % of all armed forces personnel and 68 % of all military personnel, and as conscripts are deployed equally in all three services even if hich tech may require better and higher educated personnel than conscripts. Norway emphasizes the democratic importance of conscripts evident by their strong and wide presence in the armed forces and in the country is a little more restrained than Denmark in deploying soldiers abroad in UN-, NATO- and OSCE-missions even though Norway is a firm member of NATO and its military consumes more of GDP than is the case in Denmark.




Thus, Norway still finds her conscripts usefull in all three services for democratic reasons despite the altered international situation. Norway´s security policy and its use of conscripts are more determined by domestic, democratic factors than by military deterrent and international deployment reasons.




Against this background, each of the three Scandinavian countries may be placed in the DDD-model as seen below in fig. 2.




Fig 2 in here




Fig. 2 shows that Deployment abroad is the best argument for the Danish conscription position, Deterrence for the Swedish profile, and Democracy for the Norwegian data. So, the DDD-model is useful in three respects: First, it helps to organise the many contrasting conscription data by clarifying the specific national conscription positions in Scandinavian as shown in fig. 2.




Second, the DDD-model shows that conscripts are used not only for international security reasons but for national and international reasons, as well. So, the end of the Cold War may not entail the end of the Mass Army and conscripts are not necessarily an obstacle to military engagement in peacekeeping missions abroad which stands in contrast to the statement of French president Chirac after abolishing  conscription in France, “the need for professionalisation of the armed forces (is) obvious and imperative. It was demonstrated in the Gulf War, when France in spite of  500.000 men and women in the armed forces did not manage to deploy 10.000 to do the job[22]. In other words, the DDD-model rejects the presidential argument that only professional soldiers may serve abroad in international missions.




A more decisive element than conscription is the type of role a country want to play in international politics. Today, many smaller countries, even those where conscription prevails, may, like Denmark, want to play an active role in UN-, OSCE- and NATO-military missions. Actually, a basic consequence of the end of the Cold War is the increase in options and room for manouevering in security and defence policy for smaller nations. At the same time, the DDD-model reveals a problem for Denmark by allowing for the deployment of conscripts abroad. For conscripts lack, of course, professionalism. They can function in missions of peacekeeping or humanitarian alleviation. But if their task is warlike or warfare they may be less competent than full time soldiers. The DDD-model reveals that conscripts can deter at the national level by expressing the defence will of a nation, but they are probably of little help as warriors at the international level compared to full time professional soldiers. In short, as we left the Cold War period we moved from collective to selective security where each country decides for itself whether or not to accept the UN invitation to deploy soldiers abroad. 




Third, the three ideal reasons in the DDD-model indicate a need for different arguments for the use of conscripts in regard to the public and the conscripts themselves. Denmark will argue that conscription is essential for the recruitment for the DIB and its participation in UN/OSCE/NATO international missions. Sweden will claim that the conscripts´ main role is to deter an aggressor to emphasize its neutrality, and Norway will maintain that their conscripts constitute decisive civil control of the military thereby legitimising it. In this respect, Sweden may be closer to abandoning conscription than Norway and Denmark. It is worth noting that the different arguments for the use of conscripts endow them with different roles: In Denmark conscripts are seen as peace-soldiers, in Sweden efficient warriors, and in Norway citizens in uniform. Consequently, in Denmark the Norwegian argument of citizens in uniform is obsolete and the Swedish argument of deterring warriors is little convincing. Equaum, Norway will have to change its argument if she is to play a more active role in international missions using conscripts.






The changes in conscription in Scandinavia with respect to demography, economy, organisation, and personnel gave a diffuse picture of national differences and similarities. But with a DDD-model, three ideal explanations of the use of conscripts were idetified for each of the three Scandinavian countries. Moreover, the DDD-model denied that conscription is an obstacle to increased involvement in peacekeeping missions. Finally, the DDD-model operated with both national and international arguments for the continuation of conscription and it may be understood from the model that Sweden is closer to abandoning conscription than Denmark and Norway. So, conscription in Scandinavia is highly likely to prevail even if further modifications or adaptions may occur for the simple reason that conscripts contribute significantly to the officer corps, in particular in the Army[23].




Another explanation is that conscription here has only been seen from the perspective of society. But for the individual young man, or women, conscription may serve as an option for education and occupation, and as an interesting experience serving one´s country and securing peace abroad. Thus, the fate of conscription will be influenced by the public as much as by the political and military system. In short, conscription has shifted position from a societal obligation to an individual option. This raises the  question: what are the roles of conscripts at home and abroad. At home, are they citizens serving society or are they usefull employees to society. Are they a deterrence force, or a recruitment base for the NCO and officer corps. And abroad, are they just neutral observers, national ambassadors, UN-peace-soldiers, policemen for a suppressed public in a civil war, or even warriors aiming to stop killing and blodshed ? The new role of Scandinavian conscripts have not yet been clearly defined by society of their new role. But, such a definition society still owes them. The debate of conscription will continue and my guess is that so will the conscription system itself. 


Henning Srrensen

Table 1. Conscripts to a Youth Cohort of the Age of 18 in Scandinavia.1970/71-2000. %.

















Denmark Cs




43.000  57%



39.000  27%



39.000  24%



33.000  23%





Sweden   Cs




63.000  80%



53.000  90%



59.000  83%



49.000  19%





Norway   Cs




34.000  90%



32.000  88%



34.000  64%



27.000  84%









Table 2. The Proportion of Conscripts to All Armed Forces Personnel (Consc) and


              of Military Expenditures to Gross Domestic Product (MEP). 1970 -1998. %








Consc  MEP



Consc  MEP



Consc  MEP



Consc  MEP


Consc   MEP




  45       2.3


  31        2.4


  29        2.0


  23       1.6


- 49        - 30




  68       3.6


  72        3.0


  77        2.4


  37       2.3


- 46        - 36




  73       3.5


  73         2.9


  64        3.2


  48       2.2


- 34        - 37




Table 3. The Proportion of Personnel Expenditures to Total Defence Expenditures in Scandinavia 1970/1974 - 1993 and the Manpower Strength 1969/70 - 1998. %






Expenses   Strength

1970-74     1969/70



Expenses    Strength

1997/(1998)  1998



Expenses   Strength

1970-98     1969-98




     59         54.600


    56            34.400


  - 14            - 37




     36         73.500


    (33)         58.000


 (-   8)          - 21




     52         38.000


    38            36.800 


  - 27            -   3






Table 4. The Rejection of Conscripts in Scandinavia. 1969/70 - 1992. %











Denmark Drafted

              Reject at

              Fit draftees

              Exempted                 Conscripts

              Reject after

              Full time C

             Serving rate



     1.766         6 %


     3.343        15 %







   5.057        14 %


 19.493          65 %


   3.090          29 %


                      21 %



  9.425         26 %


17.880         65 %


    712            7 %[24]


                    24 %


Sweden  Drafted                    Reject at

              Fit draftees               Exempted                 Conscripts

              Reject after

              Full time C

              Serving rate



   4.889          9 %       48.749

 - 1.551        - 3 %


   2.160          4 %


                    90 %



   4.606            8 %


   2.966            6 %


   1.940            4 %


                      83 %



11.897          22 %


   3.150            6 %


   2.310            6 %


                      67 %


[1] See Rudi Thomsen, Den almindelige værnepligt s Gennembrud i Danmark (København: Gyldendal, 1949), 17 ff


[2] See Hans Christian Bjerg, “Til fædrelandets forsvar. Værnepligten i Danmark gennem tiderne (København, Værnepligtsstyrelsen, 1991), 107 p


[3] See Ebbe Blomgren, Totalförsvaresplikt i Sverige (Stockholm: Militärhögskolan Ledarskapsinstitutionen 1996): 7


[4] For Denmark:Værnepligtsloven of February 1848 and Constitution of June 5, 1849,  and the present Constitution of June 5, 1953, § 81:"Every fitt man is bound to defend his native country" and the present Værnepligtsloven af May 30, 1980; For Norway:Constitution of 1814, §109:"Every citizen of the State is in general equally bound to defend his native country...without any regard to birth or fortune" and Ministry of Justice, Om militFr verneplikt og sivil tjenesteplikt, (Oslo: Stortingsmelding no 27, 1989); For Sweden:Värnpliktslagen of 1901 and of  1941:967, § 6, 5:"Every conscript shall be selected for the education for which he is best fitted" and VärnpliktsutbildldningskommittJen af 1983, Värnplikten i Framtiden, (Stockholm:SOU, 1984):71

[5] See Karl Haltiner, “The Definitive End of the Mass Army in Western Europe ?”, Armed Forces and Society 25 (Fall 1998):7-36 


[6] Conscript figures for 1970/71, 1979, 1989, see International Institute of Strategic Studies, The Military Balance (London, 1971/72):17, 21, 24, (1979/80):23, 29, 33 f, (1989/90):58, 71, 88 and 1995/96 p 39, 53 f, and 97) for 1998, Denmark: Jyllandsposten 3.10.1998, Sweden (http://www, and Norway ( together with data from KK S.M. Karlsen, Presse-og informasjons-afdelingen, Oslo Mil, Huseby faxed to me on November 30, 1998. The Norwegian data have had to be recalculated as each service counts its personnel strength and as personnel in this country is counted by the number which gives problems with conscripts serving 9 - 12 months, while in Denmark and Sweden they are counted as men/year. Population data for Denmark Danmarks Statistik, Statistisk 10 års-oversigt 1996, (København, 1997); for Sweden, and for Norway: Statistisk   Årbok ´95: 38 table 33, and Yearbook of Nordic Statistics 1970: 49 table 20 and Yearbook of Nordic Statistics 1979:36 table 18. All armed forces figures here and in the following tables are peace time data, excluding the Home Guards, but including soldiers abroad in NATO staffs, in UN- and OSCE missions, Coast Guard, and Rescue Services


[7] Blomgren, Totalförsvaresplikt 7


[8] See Morris Janowitz, Civic Consciousness and Military Performance (Chicago: Backgroundpaper for 20th Meeting of IUS, 1980) for pointing at this problem: The increased gap betwen more civil rights (welfare) and fewer citizen obligations


[9]Conscript figures see note 6. Financial data for Denmark and Norway 1970-1989 see NATO, Financial and Economic Data Related to NATO Defence, (Brussels:Press Release M-DPC-2 (93) 76, 1993):5 table 3 and for Denmark 1998 Jyllandsposten 3.10.1998 and for Norway 1998 (http://www. For Sweden 1970 James C. Murdoch & Todd Sandler, "Swedish Military Expenditures and Armed Neutrality" in The Economics of Defence Spending. An International Survey, eds. Keith Hartley & Todd Sandler (London:Routledge, 1990):151 table 7.2, 1989, Statistisk Crbok '95: 500 table 533 and 1998 ( and ( anslag.html)

[10]Personnel figures see note 6. Personnel expenses for Denmark and Norway 1970-1974 SIPRI, Yearbook 1995, (Stockholm: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 1995), table 12.1 and 1997 Beretning fra Forsvarskommissionen af 1997, Fremtidens forsvar, bilagsbind 2, (København: ”Notat vedrørende sammenligninger med andre lande efter ophøret af den kolde krig”, bilag 18, 1998): 18 and for Sweden 1970-74 calculated as an average for the period 1970-1973 Militära Fakta (1970/71):12, (1971/72):15, (1972/73):15 "Personalkostnader/Värnpliksförmån” and 1998 (http://www. Personnel expenses include Civil Defence, Rescue Services, Coast Guard. In 1998, the defence budget in Denmark was 15,1 mia DKK, in Sweden 40 mia SK, and in Norway 23,9 mia NK. Defence expenditures per capita in 1997 in fixed 1990-prices was for Denmark  US $ 482, Norway US $ 746 $, and Sweden US $525, cfr. Fremtidens forsvar, bilagsbind 2, bilag 18:17 and 13 

[11]The rejection data have been rather difficult to get, complex to calculate, and sensitive to interpret. Therefore, the official data have been presented by or presented to the armed forces in the three countries for correction/comments. For Denmark Værnepligtsstyrelsen, Oversigter over udfaldet af session, (Copenhagen: unpublished material, respective years) faxed to me by Axel Elsborg and Forsvarskommandoen Rapport vedrørende årsager til efterkassationer (København: Arbejdsgruppe vedr. efterkassationer mm., March 1996): 28; Sweden: Tabeller over Värnepliktsförandringer, (Stockholm, respective years) faxed to me on June 15, 1993 from chiefpsychologist Johan Lothegius, VPV/HK; Norway Figures given by phone by Lt. Colonel Ole Georg Johannesen, Personelstabens Organisasjonskontor, Forsvarets Overkommando, March, 1993 and confirmed in letter of March 10, 1993 by Lt. Colonel Frank Andersen.


[12]Fremtidens forsvar, hovedbind, 1998:164. In 1997, 8894 conscripts served in the Danish armed forces of which 5682 conscripts or 64 % were “volunteers”.


[13]Fremtidens forsvar, hovedbind, 1998:164. The number of after-rejection conscripts was 712 in 1992, increased to 908 in 1993, and dropped to 423 in 1996.


[14] See Henning Sørensen “Denmark: The Vanguard of Conscientious Objection”  in The New Conscientious Objection. From Sacred to Secular Resistance, eds. Charles C. Moskos & John Whiteclay Chambers II (New York:Oxford University Press, 1993) 106-113


[15] See Danish newspaper Politiken July 6, 1995 front page article and Berlingske Tidende January 19, 1996 1st section:2 and Jyllandsposten March 31, 1996, front page article


[16] See note 6

[17]Keld Jensen, Strukturudviklingen i forsvaret (Roskilde: Roskilde Universitetscenter, 1994):181 fig 13. Please note the difference in the number of Danish conscripts in 1989, where Jensen based on NATO sources says 10.700 and Military Balance says 9.215 conscripts. Here, as throughout in this article, Military Balance figures are used


[18] See note 6

[19] Figures from table 5 and 6


[20] Nikolaj Petersen,”Denmark´s Foreign Relations in the 1990s” in The Annals:”The Nordic Region: Changing Perspectives in International Relations (London:Sage, 1990):91


[21] Cfr. note 10


[22]Berlingske Tidende 23.2.1996


[23]Fremtidens forsvar, hovedbind, 1998:167