Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Willing Unwilling Swedes

Sweden has come a long way since the Cold War. From stating "Non-Alliance in Peace aiming for Neutrality in War" Sweden has joined NATO PfP - Partnership for Peace program in 1994 and EU - European Union in 1995.

By tradition Sweden has a long tradition taking part in UN-led Peace Keeping missions.

Our contribution to the United Nations started as early as 1948 when Military Observers were sent to the Middle East. The first Swedish battalion under UN-flag was deployed in Gaza 1956.

The first Peace Enforcing mission was in Congo 1960-1964. This was also the first official engagement for the Swedish Air Force, deploying a squadron of Saab J 29 "Flying Barrel". (The first unofficial engagement for the SwAF was during the war between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1940 where Fighter Wing 19, a "volunteer" wing of Swedish pilots and technicians, fought for Finland using Swedish Air Force surplus aircraft that was given to Finland as a gift from the Swedish government.

After the end of the Cold War at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the independence of the Baltic States in 1991, the Swedish military command was a bit taken by surprise. The army was focusing more and more on international missions and their material standards were not very good compared to the Navy and the Air Force. The supreme commander decided together with the politicians that there was a unique opportunity to raise the standards of the army units. This was unofficially named the "The Strategic Time-Out". Unfortunately no-one decided when this time-out was supposed to end.

The first true test of the Swedish capability to perform "modern" Peace Keeping/Peace Enforcing missions came during the Bosnian War 1992-95. (I recommend Morgonsurs stories from that war). In 1995 the Swedish UN battalion was transfered to NATO-command, the blue UN berets was replaced by brown and the unit insignia was changed to NATO IFOR. Strangely, this was not a very big issue in the political debate even though the communist party did not like the connection to NATO and therefore also to USA. This was the year when Swedish policy on taking part in NATO-missions truly changed.

Sweden continued to take part in NATO-led missions in Kosovo 1999 - today and Afghanistan 2001 - today and lately in Libya where the Air Force is taking part with combat aircraft for the first time since the Congo War (not taking into account cargo aircraft and helicopters).

During these years the Swedish national defence was torn down into pieces. The Air Force was drastically reduced to today 6 squadrons and the Navy is almost non-existing. Worst of all was that the war-time bases was closed down. The Swedish strategy of defending the country without relying on outside help was no more. After the cold war historians have discovered that there was preparations made to get help from NATO if there was ever a war with the Soviet Union. However this was not trained in any way, so the help would have been quite ineffective.

In 2010 the last brick of the Swedish national defence was torn down when the conscript system was canceled. Nowadays boys and girls only do their military service on a voluntarily basis. The capability of the armed resistance in Sweden has therefore been cut down from 700.000 to 60.000 (including the 30.000 strong home-guard).

Sweden has signed the Treaty of Lisbon in 2008. After this date the European Union is a legal body and the work for a common foreign, security and defence policy has started.

The treaty foresees that the European Security and Defence Policy will lead to a common defence agreement for the EU when the European Council resolves unanimously to do so, and provided that all member states give their approval through their usual constitutional procedures.[34] Additionally, the area of defence has become available to enhanced co-operation, potentially allowing for a defence integration that excludes member states with policies of neutrality. Countries with significant military capabilities are envisioned to form a Permanent Structured Cooperation in Defence.

The challenge with this security policy is that it is in writing close to NATO Article 5. Most countries in Europe are NATO-members and has no issues with this. But, Sweden has agreed upon helping NATO-countries and get helped by NATO-countries without being full member of NATO! The military command of the EU, EUMC has very little power compared to NATO and must rely on NATO assets and command structures. A EU-led mission will in all practicalities be a NATO-led mission.

To top all of this Sweden has in 2008 issued a one-way "Declaration of Solidarity".

Sweden would not stand passive if a neighbour is threatened or attacked. We expect others not to stand passive if Sweden is threatened. We must be able both to provide and receive support, with relevant capabilities, also of a military nature.

In practicality most of Sweden´s neighbors are NATO-members (excluding only Finland and Russia). The declaration of solidarity can result in Sweden being forced into a conflict in the Baltic region taking the NATO-side. This will most likely result in a conflict with our biggest neighbor, Russia.

But, even taken into consideration all these small steps towards NATO membership the Swedish politicians refuse to debate whether to request for full membership or not. According to polls the Swedish citizens are against a NATO-membership. The Swedish minister of defence, Mr Tolgfors, states that "there are a de factor solidarity between European countries". But in the same article he also reflects upon the fact that Sweden is doing more for NATO than most NATO-countries. Due to bad economy many European countries (and NATO-members) are not able to take part in Libya. Will they be able to support Sweden or other countries in the future? If the economy is so bad that some countries can´t fulfill their NATO-obligations, then EU military issues will most likely be put on hold.

The ironic thing is that during the Cold War Sweden needed NATO for support, but didn´t train this. Sweden couldn´t be member of NATO due to the official neutrality and couldn´t rely for the help to come. In order to be able to defend the country until NATO decided to help, Sweden had a strong national defence. After the Cold War, Sweden supports NATO and is well trained to both help and receive help from NATO. The capability to defend Sweden is lower than ever and Sweden therefore rely more than ever on NATO-support, but there is still no NATO-membership to guarantee this.

Sweden´s political struggle to admit the NATO-connection has led to very strange decisions regarding the continued mission in Libya. The Air Force unit which is in high demand from NATO is being reduced by three aircraft, but the mission activity will increase. Instead Sweden is planning to send a naval unit and a psy-ops unit that NATO has very low need of. A typical Swedish "lagom" compromise. No-one is happy with the result, but no-one is also angry. All to keep the balance between a minority government and a opposition with the communist party sometimes taking sides with the right-wing nationalist Swedish Democracy party. Political agreements often result in strange bed-mates.

But maybe the politicians are just doing what the Swedish voters want? Both national and international missions. Both keeping the quantity and quality of material. Keep the old type of defence capabilities and building up new units for information warfare. All within a shrinking budget for the Department of Defence. The Minister of Finance, Mr Borg, has more to say about the future of the Swedish Armed Forces then the Minister of Defence. The money does not cover the needs of the armed forces, but the politicians can´t acknowledge the need of NATO-membership due to the low interest of NATO-membership by the Swedish voters.

To quote Mother Teresa:

"We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing."


  1. Another explanation to the term "strategic time-out" is not directly linked to the need for army modernization, but rather to the simple fact that a constant depreciation of defense funding together with a constant increase of cost for the necessary evolution of army capabilities (arguably due to the general evolution of required land warfare capabilities, including our opponent's) led to a trend where the number of operational brigades would hit zero within a few years if defense planning continued on the traditional path. The "strategic time-out" was a product of necessity and opportunity as the imminent threat of military intervention of our territory was at least temporarily disabled for a number of years due to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Thus, it may be argued that the cost of the already decided and started path towards army modernization was one of the factors that led to the need for at "strategic time-out", rather than the purpose of the "strategic time-out".

    E.g. the decision to mechanise the army, initiated by the purchase of surplus WP APCs/IFVs for the army, together with the decisions to acquire the CV90 FOV and to acquire new MBTs were taken before the term "strategic time-out" was ever heard of.

    The financing of this modernization and mechanization was primarily funded by reducing the overall volume of the army. This led to an alarming trend, which in turn led to the need, and luckily also the opportunity, for a "strategic time-out".

    However, in retrospect it seems as if the time-out has landed on a scale far beyond "strategic" and could perhaps best be classified as "permanent (until an actual war occurs, which will never happen...)". The long-term defense policies and defense plans do not exist at all anymore, nor anyone with the task and responsibility for them. Instead planning is focused on near-term economy, near-term foreign policy issues and national business strategies (from a non-military view).

    It is clear that the Armed Forces have lost the initiative and in absence of an influential and competent military leadership there is really no other authorities that prioritise the need for sufficient military capability to defend national interests in a worst-case military scenario. (The influence of the Armed Forces on public opinion will probably not benefit from excluding a majority of voters from military service). But, regardless of will and priorities, it is likely that the limited Swedish funding available at the most to allocate to the Armed Forces, will never be sufficient to sustain a modern state-of-the-art army of sufficient volume to meet yesterday's security policy, and at the same time provide reasonable living conditions for the people e.g. considering public eduction, internal security, health care etc. Perhaps a less state-of-the-art army like the one sufficient for Finland would, but not a technologically advanced, mechanised, high-tech state-of-the-art army. Thus, what was once described as a "strategic time-out" is turning into a "permanent time-out" when it comes to being prepared for worst-case developments in our neighborhood.

    The army decision to push forward a modernization of the army, at the expense of volume, with all too high ambitions and standards, is greatly a cause to this fact.

    It is what it is, and in light of the current situation it seems inevitable that the willing Swedes, however unwilling, must commit the the defense contract selected by those we expect to depend upon, i.e. NATO.

  2. @Anonymous 5.59: I agree with your analysis. Sweden is at the end of the decision road. However the political mandate does not allow the Swedish government to acknowledge this fact.

    The strategic time-out also was the starting point of the focus on Network Centric Warfare - NBF. According to reports that I have seen this was started by a realization by the general staff that something needed to be done. At that point an American think-tank, SAIC presented some nice Power Point presentations on how to connect everything.

    The generals applauded. This was exactly what they wanted. Something needed to be done and now they had an idea about what could be done. There was however no analysis on what needed to be done...

    Some of the ideas went totally ballistic. Generals dreamed about transforming all units to sensors and weapon platforms that could be used directly by HQ. The pilots in the aircraft and the crews on the ships were transformed to mindless pawns who were only responsible to take their vehicle to the wanted Longitude/Latitude, turn on their sensors and then press the fire button when told so.

    President Reagan will live forever as the president who armed the Soviet Union to death. He invented "Star Wars", SDI Strategic Defence Initiative and build the expensive B1. The Soviets could not handle this economically, which among other things led to the break-down of communism in 1989. Unfortunately too many people involved in the arming race did not understand that the fall of the Soviet Union was the start to end the arming race. Now the west is on the final lap to arm themselves to death. F-35, Queen Elisabeth Carriers, Eurofighter etc.

    Sweden should use these examples as a warning. Unfortunately too many try to keep the same pace as the US in technology advancement. We should focus on being good enough, not the best in the class.