Getting Closer: A JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft taxis in northern Sweden during a NATO exercise. Closer alliances with NATO and other groups are being considered in Sweden. (Agence France-Presse)
HELSINKI — Recognizing that its self-defense capabilities are becoming inadequate, Sweden is shifting its strategic policy to embrace partnerships beyond its Nordic neighborhood, including NATO and the European Union.
The first step in the process was the appointment of an expert group headed by Tomas Bertelman, a former Swedish ambassador to Moscow (2009-12). The group is due to present a final report to the Ministry of Defense in October.
This initiative, which will assess pivotal aspects of defense cooperation and military planning, follows several recent reports critical of the country’s defense readiness and the spending cuts made by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s center-right administration.
The government’s immediate response to such reports by the National Audit Office (NAO), the Armed Forces Command (AFC) and the Parliamentary Defense Committee (PDC) has been to promise a full and transparent debate assessing national defense needs, examining the advantages of international military partnerships and funding guarantees to ensure full readiness and capability across all branches.
“The government’s decision is timely. The Parliamentary Defense Committee recommended this course of action in mid-2013. We felt that national security, through closer defense cooperation with NATO and the EU, would best serve this nation’s ability to defend itself going forward,” said Peter Hultqvist, the PDC’s chairman.
The timing of the Bertelman-led group’s report is significant, said Hultqvist, because it comes ahead of a government plan to overhaul Sweden’s Defense-Political Policy Framework in 2015. That review of national defense policy occurs every four to six years and provides the government with a road map to develop defense policy on a political level.
“There is certainly a stronger interest in forming closer partnerships with the EU and NATO. This is becoming increasingly obvious,” Hultqvist said.
“We may also see new thinking on defense spending and raising spending to a higher level that will satisfy the armed forces’ manpower and capability strengthening needs and ambitions,” he said. “The government isn’t ruling anything out at this point.”
To maximize defense capability, Sweden may need to look beyond the limitations of traditional intra-Nordic cooperation, said Karin Enström, Sweden’s defense minister. The primary purpose of the new review is to better support Swedish defense priorities through strengthened partnerships with alliances such as NATO, the EU and perhaps other states in Europe, Enström said.
Sweden, Enström said, needs to devise security and defense policies that are “long term and predictable.”
The Bertelman-led group, the minister said, is tasked with drafting proposals that cover “development options” in forming new international defense partnerships, especially with NATO and the EU.
“There are real benefits from improved international cooperation in defense. It will allow us to use the resources that we spend on defense and defense materials more wisely, should we engage in partnerships,” Enström said.
The Bertelman-led group also will present proposals to promote more concrete forms of defense cooperation with neighboring Nordic states, Enström said. However, the minister lamented that progress in building robust defense cooperation with Nordic partners has fallen short of Sweden’s expectations.
“The different Nordic countries have chosen different security policies, and then Denmark and Norway are NATO members,” Enström said.
Nordic defense cooperation, as evidenced by Norway’s recent decision to withdraw from the $220 million joint Archer artillery project, lacks the capacity to support Sweden’s defense into the future, said Mikael Oscarsson, the defense spokesman for a government coalition party, the Christian Democrats.
“Nordic defense cooperation cannot be counted on to deliver the kind of strong international defense partnership that Sweden needs,” Oscarsson said.
“One can hope that the Bertelman group’s report will be pro-NATO. Sweden must realize that we can no longer defend ourselves alone. NATO membership must be debated seriously. It is the best long-term option for our defense and security,” Oscarsson said.
The NAO’s appraisal of Swedish government spending on defense, published Dec. 17, detailed a long list of shortcomings in Sweden’s defense capability due to years of budget cuts. The content of the report supports the argument for Sweden joining NATO, Oscarsson said.
The NAO report concludes that the Swedish Armed Forces (SAF) lacks the funding, manpower and material resources to defend the country independent of external assistance.
“Put simply, the government has not provided the armed forces with all of the resources that it needs to deliver effective responses and operating units,” said Jan Landahl, the NAO’s auditor general.
The NAO report observed the military lacks not just manpower but fundamental combat and technical skills in key areas of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Moreover, the report reveals a lack of capacity among rapid-response ground operational battalions and support units, such as artillery, air defense and engineering corps.
Landahl described the NAO as a “stress test” of Sweden’s defense capability, and one that has confirmed the worst fears that the accumulated cutbacks in military spending since 2007 have adversely affected the SAF’s ability to defend Sweden to any credible degree.
Oscarsson said Sweden’s need to reconsider its traditional nonaligned status in favor of joining a robust international defense alliance such as NATO is clearly outlined in the Swedish Defense Research Agency’s 158-page report, “Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective,” delivered last month to the MoD.
“The report points to a certain increase in Russia’s conventional military capabilities over the next 10 years,” Oscarsson said. “With significantly higher spending on defense and material acquisitions, we will see better equipped and trained Russian troops in this region. This strengthening requires a credible response by Sweden.”
The SAF’s funding problems and capability shortcomings were most recently outlined in an AFC appraisal of Swedish defense presented to the MoD in October. The SAF’s commander in chief, Gen. Sverker Göranson, warned that budget cuts could force some units to disband.
“In the long term, if our mandate and the resources allocated to us stays the same, we will have to disband certain units,” Göranson said.
The SAF, he said, may be compelled to reorganize available forces into smaller, better equipped and more effective units. In such a restricted budgetary situation, the Air Force’s fleet of next-generation Gripen fighter jets could fall from 60 to 39 aircraft.
If the budget is maintained at $6.2 billion, the SAF could be forced to deploy fewer tactical transport aircraft and helicopters, while the number of naval ships and submarines would potentially be reduced, Göranson said. ■