Why Sweden Suspended Military Service: The Policy Process from 1990 to 2009

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


For little more than a century military service enacted Swedish values of equality, solidarity and doing one's part for the public good. What started out at as mere military recruitment policy in 1901 developed into an institutional feature of Swedish society: appreciated by society, the conscripts, the Armed Forces and by political parties to the left and the right. In a pursuit to preserve military service in the post-cold war period, governments to the left and the right initiated a reform in the early 1990s. In contrast to the political objective it leads parliament to suspend military service in 2009. This is surprising, given that the literature suggests that well-entrenched institutions are change-resistant. Other countries in Europe had already swapped from conscripted to professional armies. The explanatory concepts in this literature do however not apply to the Swedish case. Why, then, did Sweden suspend military service in 2009? This dissertation introduces two concepts that help us understand the Swedish outcome. First, the reform sets in motion a deinstitutionalisation of military service. This is a process where the features that had institutionalised military service in the 1900s are taken away in the 1990s and early 2000s. This process is driven by strategic adjustments in Sweden's two largest political parties: the Social Democratic Party (SAP) and the Moderate Party. In the post-cold war period both have issue-reputations in defence policy that enable and constrain them in a new governing context. In a struggle to reinvent themselves both parties adjust their issue-reputations by: (a) disassociating themselves from reputations that constrain them; (b) elevating reputations that enable them; and (c) adopting the enabling reputations of the opposing party.
After two decades of this behaviour military service has none of the features that once enabled its institutional reproduction and effective functioning. This is why military service was suspended in 2009.


  • Mårten Lindberg
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Public Administration Studies


  • Military service, deinstitutionalisation, Sweden, Moderate Party, Social Democratic Party, issue-reputation
Translated title of the contributionVarför Sverige avskaffade värnplikten: Den politiska processen från 1990 till 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2019 Jun 7
Place of PublicationLund
  • Lund University
Print ISBNs978-91-7895-101-7
Electronic ISBNs978-91-7895-102-4
Publication statusPublished - 2019 May 17
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2019-06-07 Time: 10:15 Place: Eden auditorium, Paradisgatan 5H, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Engelbrekt, Kjell Title: Professor Affiliation: The Swedish Defence University ---

Total downloads

No data available