- Associated Press - Thursday, July 1, 2010

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden on Thursday abolished a 100-year tradition of compulsory military service for men during peacetime, replacing it with a voluntary system with rigorous requirements to join.

The new policy means that required military service will be applied only if the neutral Nordic nation of 9 million feels threatened. Lawmakers approved the change in a 2009 vote.

The government has said the new system, which extends to both men and women, will improve the quality of the country’s defense and allow it more flexibility and mobility.

Sweden’s defense capacity is strengthened by the increased professionalism,” Defense Minister Sten Tolgfors said.

To qualify for the Swedish armed forces, volunteers will now have to undergo rigorous training before being accepted.

In recent decades, the number of conscripts has dwindled because the government has granted dispensation to many, mainly as a result of more lenient policies.

The military said there are currently some 1,700 active conscripts but that the new rules will allow them to choose whether to continue or not.

The compulsory service, ranging from 80 to 450 days for all 18-year-old Swedish men, was adopted in 1901. Since the early 1980s, women have been accepted as professionals into the air force and as voluntary conscripts into the armed forces since 1989.