Future Forces / International
Transformation of Swedish Forces
© 2006 FrontLine Defence (Vol 3, No 2)

The Swedish Armed Forces are currently undergoing a period of major change – transforming into a smaller, but more active, operational defense force. The political decision to reform the armed forces has come as a result of the completely different threats that face the world today – the joint European security policy, rapid technological change, and current developments in society (such as Globalization, threats of terrorism, and the fall of the Soviet Union.).

When I was a little girl my grandmother used to say “if you disobey, the Russians will come and take you away.” This was a common disciplinary method in Sweden, and reflects a society affected by the political tensions of the Cold War. However, in modern Sweden, the biggest threat to our security has been an invasion from the East.

During the last couple of decades our world has become more peaceful. This brings with it a sense of hope and faith in the future. Distrust and conflicts have been replaced by a sense of confidence and dialogue all around the world. The tension I remember from my childhood has decreased, both in Sweden’s immediate surroundings and globally. Wider European integration, in particular as a result of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland joining both the EU and NATO, has decisively strengthened Sweden’s security.

Swedish conscripts on exercise. (Photo: Forsvarets Bildbyra / Andreas Karlsson)

On the other hand, other threats and challenges have grown stronger. The modern threats are often complex and more difficult to anticipate than previous threats of armed attack. The crises and conflicts that affect today’s world arise quickly and do not take national borders into consideration.

Looking to the future, it is apparent  that security is more than just the absence of military conflict. We can see how violence, arms and vulnerability have changed character in the rich areas of the world. Unconventional weapons can knock out vital functions in society, creating instability and stress, and damaging trust in our model of social organization. It is no longer only states, but to a greater extent groups and individuals, who represent this type of threat. By damaging power grids, telecommunications and IT-systems within critical areas such as hospital care, or financial institutions, they can threaten our ability to control our own lives.

Rapid developments in the technology sector mean that our everyday dependence on these systems has created an unprecedented challenge to national security. The monopoly of power held by states has been broken, and the security of a populace can be threatened by attacks aimed at damaging values and functions.

Threats that cross borders and can strike without warning, therefore countries cannot build isolated security zones. Sweden must live up to a deeper solidarity with other EU-countries. Threats to our peace and security can best be averted collectively and in cooperation with others.

The Swedish defense policy has, by tradition, been based on striking back at attacks from another state by military means. Many states still chose to meet non-military threats with military means, and for this reason the world needs a new culture of disarmament and demilitarization. The structure of our defense forces must base itself on insight into the vulnerability of our nation and the new actors and their means in a new age. The changed security situation in the world around us makes it both possible and necessary for the Swedish defense system to undergo renewal and modernization. The threat of military attack, aimed at occupying parts or the whole of the country is unlikely - for today and for the foreseeable future. The defense policy of Sweden must adapt to this reality. We must leave behind the invasion-based defense of the cold war, and create a modern, flexible and versatile defense, based on total national defense conscription.

HMS Visby – a multipurpose vessel used by the Swedish Armed Forces. (Photo: Forsvarets Bildbyra / Lennart Andersson)

Based on this appraisal, the Swedish Armed Forces are currently going through a period of major change, adapting to the new reality. The wartime organization is reduced, and the parts structured to fend off an invasion of Sweden are transformed into a smaller, but more active operational defense force. Military development in Sweden is following the same pattern as other European countries. Rapid operational units are now very much in demand. These units have to be able to be deployed without mobilization, considerable amounts of additional supplementation, or other kinds of preparation. They must also be able to solve different kinds of tasks in changing operational environments and deal with both known and unknown situations. The new armed forces must be able to repel an armed attack and defend our territorial integrity, since military threats to Sweden cannot be discounted altogether. It is therefore also important that the armed forces possess an inherent capability to be built up, in the event of the European security environment deteriorating again at some time in the future. Military forces that will protect Sweden must also have the equipment, preparedness and capability to support international crisis management where and when necessary.

Everything that happens in the world affects and concerns us all. The future of mankind is, more than ever before, a common concern. International activities of the Swedish Armed Forces are increasing in importance, and by participating in international operations for peace and security in the world, Sweden also enhances its own security.

Military input is only part of the solution to conflict. It can prevent, dampen, and in that way achieve a level of security that makes negotiation, civil aid and social reconstruction possible. In order to achieve lasting peace in a community torn by conflict, long term reconstruction, combining civil and military means, is required. A UN agenda has been drawn up, is recognizing the responsibility of all nations to live up to a commitment for a more secure and safer world. Sweden is a model in terms of its coordinated policy for a sustainable and just global development. In different parts of the world there is now emerging a more institutionalized and dutiful cooperation that can also contribute to reinforcing the decision-making powers of the UN. Sweden and the rest of the world community have a common responsibility to meet both military threats and other challenges to democracy and security. In order to put threats and their solutions into a wider perspective, we need a broader concept of security, how to work in a more preventive manner and at the same time be able to act quickly and forcefully when conflict cannot be avoided.

Swedish ISAF-force (International Security Assistance Force) instructor assists in training the local Afghanistan National Police (ANP). (Photo: Forsvarets Bildbyra / Henrik Berger)

The United Nations has an overall responsibility for peace and security in the world. It has raised its demands for regional organizations to take on a greater responsibility. In our part of the world, the European Union has become the foremost instrument in shaping a holistic view of questions that require co-operation across borders. There is no conflict between participating in the crisis management of the EU and a continued involvement in the UN. On the contrary, a well run crisis management system in Europe will reinforce the UN and provide stable and reliable security in Europe.

Already today the EU carries out military and civil crisis management operations. The EU’s joint foreign and security policy aims to preserve peace and strengthen international security. To ensure that Sweden can contribute actively to the development of a joint EU crisis management capability is of utmost importance. One of the new features of European cooperation is the formation of rapid action forces, called Battle Groups.

Sweden has assumed responsibility of coordinating the establishment of a Nordic rapid action force, called the Nordic Battle Group, along with Norway, Finland and Estonia. It will be deployed during the first half of 2008. The creation of the Nordic Battle Group is one of the cornerstones of the Swedish Armed Force’s reform work. The EU is developing into an actor with the scope of instruments needed to meet the multifaceted threats in today’s world. This is positive. The solidarity that exists between the countries of Europe means that it would be unthinkable for Sweden to adopt a passive stance if another member country were to be struck by a serious crisis.

JAS 39 A Gripen (Photo: Forsvarets Bildbyra)

Swedish security policy aims at preserving peace and the independence of our country, contributing to stability and security in our neighborhood as well as strengthening international peace and security. Our military non-alliance gives us freedom of action. Non-alliance means that we have the possibility of engaging in international conflicts where states, tied by military considerations, are unable to engage. Sweden can meet the need for international conciliation efforts better because of this. Our assessment is that Sweden cannot apply for membership of NATO since membership would not increase our security. In our opinion, since the end of the Cold War, NATO has changed from being an important organization for discussion on security policy and decisions, to being more of a military toolbox.

NATO today is the organization that sets the standard for the military structure in all other countries. International operations are more and more demanding and complex and this requires far reaching standardization and joint maneuvers. In order to facilitate Swedish participation in international crisis management, our soldiers are trained and take part in joint exercises with other countries. This is organized primarily within the framework of NATO, and Sweden must therefore continue to develop a close co-operation in all areas, apart from binding obligations concerning defense. Sweden is therefore a member of Partnership for Peace (PfP), which is a practical program of cooperation between NATO and interested ­members of the OSCE (Organiza­tion for Security and Cooperation in Europe). The cornerstone of PfP is that each individual state decides where and how it wants to cooperate. By cooperating in PfP, Sweden is able to increase its ability to take part in international peace-promoting operations, primarily through increasing interoperability between different countries.

Strengthening our capacity to participate in international projects and crisis management efforts will promote international peace and security for Sweden, the EU as a whole, and the world at large.
Åsa Lindestam, an MP in the Swedish Parliament, is a member of the Committee on Defence. Involved with the Swedish Coast Guard as a member of the Board, she is also an alternate member of the Swedish Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
©  Frontline Defence 2006