HELSINKI — Sweden is not ruling out the possibility that it may apply to join the elite British-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), although no formal process exists is in place to do so, Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said.
Hultqvist has been summoned called in by the Defense Committee of the Riksdag, Sweden's parliament, Swedish Legislature’s Parliamentary Defense Committee (PDC) to confirm if the government is engaged in a formal talks process to join the JEF without the pParliament’s knowledge.
Amid Against thea backdrop of Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable Kremlin, Sweden has intensified efforts to shore -up its defense capabilities by actively seeking to join participation in bilateral and multilateral defense cooperation in Northern Europe.
The PDC’s Riksdag committee's desire for an explanation also takes place against a backdrop of amid deepening defense cooperation with NATO, coupled with the disclosure of a classified memorandum from November , dated November 2014, that exploringes the value of Sweden joining the JEF.
The memorandum — was prepared by Col. Mats Danielsson, the Swedish MoD’s defense attache to its Eembassy in London. The memorandum — revealed the existence of an ongoing dialogue and unofficial contacts between Sweden and Britain that could take the militarily neutral Sweden into the NATO-allied JEF.
Anna Kinberg Batra, the leader of the pro-NATO Moderate Party, demanded that Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's Social Democratic-Green government establish a more open and transparent stance with the legislature over NATO and the JEF.
"We need to have a broad public debate on membership. Therefore, we need to know how the government plans to keep the Pparliament informed about important changes in NATO cooperation," Batra said.
Opposition parties, including the Moderates, are urging Löfven to present a positional statement to the Riksdag (national Parliament) that will both serve to set out the government’s end-game strategy in defense deepening with NATO as well as and outline any future role for Swedish forces in the JEF, a force that will include Nordic-Baltic NATO members Denmark, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands.
Secretive, behind-the-scene discussions over joining the JEF, Batra said, reinforced Sweden's image globally as a country that is "part of NATO but without the benefits that actual NATO membership would deliver."
Hultqvist did not deny the existence of the MoD memorandum, entitled "Orientation of JEF and requests for Swedish participation." However, the defense minister stated that because Sweden has not received any formal invitation to contribute to the JEF, and therefore the issue of its membership is speculative.
"Consequently there is no preparation taking place in Cabinet," he said.
Sweden's interest in joining the modular-organized JEF stems from its potential role as a rapid response force should a crisis erupt in the High North or Baltic Sea regions, and one or more NATO member states come under attack.
The formation of the 10,000-strong JEF force was set in motion began in December 2012. The force Its structure is designed to operate alone or jointly in support of NATO, European Union or United Nations missions in Europe, the Middle East or the Arabian Gulf region.
The UK element of the JEF will comprise lead commando, airborne, armored, aviation, air and maritime task groups drawn from the Royal Marines, British Army, the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands signed a letter of intent with the UK in September 2014 to join a fully operational high-readiness JEF in 2018.
The JEF will operate independently and separate from NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), to which the UK is contributing 1,000 troops to the VJTF’s overall force strength of about 30,000 personnel across land, sea, air and special operations forces branches troops, to which the UK is contributing 1,000.
The strong Nordic-Baltic representation in JEF enhances the unit’s potential future role as a "first in" spearhead force, capable of being deployinged in two to five days, in potential future crisis-conflict situations in the region High North or Baltic Sea areas.
The London Embassy memorandum, which explored future membership by Sweden in the LEF, noted that the UK would likely welcome participation by Sweden, observing that its joining the JEF? LEF would be "perfectly possible if we wanted to."
As regards to the JEF? LEF, the government must needs to provide real clarity to its defense-deepening ambitions with NATO and the United States, said Allan Widman (Liberals), the PDC’s Riksdag Defense Committee's chairman.
"A lot is happening behind closed doors in terms of secret discussions that we do not know about," Widman said. "The government appears willing to allow Sweden to increase its dependence on NATO but isn't yet ready to talk about membership."
The clear implication, he said Widman, is that Sweden’s unilateral dependence on NATO continues to strengthen while the country’s national defense organization becomes more reliant on individual countries within NATO.
"Sweden is coming ever closer to NATO and to Article Five in the NATO statutes which deals with collective defense," Widman said.
Widman said that The government must needs to adopt the same degree of openness and transparency in its dealings with the JEF? LEF and NATO that it has exhibited in its defense-deepening relationships with Nordic-Baltic neighbors Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Widman said.
Sweden and fellow nonaligned Nordic defense partner Finland are already in the NATO Response Force (NRF), the high-readiness unit comprising land, air, sea and special operations forces. Sweden joined the NRF in 2013 and Finland in 2008.
The NATO membership issue is certain to become an even greater focus, if not priority, for the Löfven government. Pro- NATO sentiment is rising in Sweden. A recent poll, for the first time, showed 41 percent of Swedes favoring NATO membership, while 39 percent remain opposed and 20 percent are undecided.
Moreover, Political relations between Stockholm and Moscow remain decidedly frosty. RussiaMoscow has repeatedly warned Sweden that it will deploy military counter-measures against the Nordic country if it Sweden joins NATO.
Swedishen’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström described relations with Russia as "chillier than ever" following a meeting with Russian’s Ambassador to Sweden, Viktor Tatarintsev, on Sept.ember 17.
Wallström demanded that Tatarintsev explain the intent behind veiled threats contained in his June remarks he made by the ambassador in June. Tatarintsev suggestinged that Sweden could expect to face military counter-measures from Russia if it were to joined NATO. Repeated?
She Wallström The Swedish foreign minister also sought an explanation for "saber-rattling" style comments made by Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who said Zakharova stated during a press briefing in Moscow on Sept.ember 10. She that Swedish membership in NATO would have "politico-military and foreign policy consequences" for the Nordic country that would require "retaliatory measures from Russia."
"We wanted to establish that Sweden decides its own foreign and security policies and that we do not accept attempts to, through threats, influence us in this or other matters," Wallström said. "We delivered a clear message. Threats from Russia are unacceptable." the minister added.
In related news, the Swedish government plans to highlight enhance transparency in one area;: territorial violations by foreign militaries. Under a new policy, the Armed Forces Command (AFC) is will be authorized to inform the public "within hours" of detected incursions by foreign naval vessels or aircraft in Swedish territorial waters or airspace.