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Since the law on universal conscription was passed 1901, there has been a debate in Sweden concerning how to deal with those who refuse military service. The state faces a dilemma: on the one hand maintaining the law on conscription, while on the other allowing the right to conscientious objection. The objective of this article is to scrutinize how the Swedish state has tried to solve this dilemma. At the beginning of the 20th century, those who refused to fulfill the fundamental duty of military service were not regarded as deserving any kind of legal protection. Their actions questioned the consensus on the need for a military defense, and therefore had to be punished. But it did not take long until this view was modified, and a law was established that opened up the option of community service for conscientious objectors. In that way, the legislators created a buffer in the conflict between pro-militarists and anti-militarists. As long as the objectors stayed in the buffer construction, they did not represent any threat towards military defense. On the contrary, they even served as proof that the state respected human rights. The opposition was in that manner divided into two parts; those who accepted community service and those who did not. The latter, who did not accept the state’s offer of community service, were sentenced to prison. Since 1901, the legislator’s main strategy to tackle opposition towards military defense has been a combination of co-optation via community service and repression via prison for those who do not accept that service. It has been of great concern for the lawmakers to keep the number of the latter, the total resisters, sentenced to prison as low as possible. If the number becomes too high, it will cause debate and criticism, both in public and in the parliament. The lawmakers have responded by modifying the prison sentence and changing the construction of the buffer.
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