Over the past few years, the security situation in Europe has deteriorated. Russian actions constitute a serious challenge to the European security order. Russia’s conflict in Georgia in 2008 and the Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014, with the illegal annexation of Crimea, show that Russia is prepared to use military means to achieve political goals. Russian disinformation campaigns are a reality and something we take seriously.
We also see more Russian activity in the Arctic. We have seen an increase of military activity in the Murmansk region, near the Finnish border and about 300 kilometers from Sweden. Russia has demonstrated both the ability and willingness to act offensively, for example, by temporarily deploying Iskander systems to the Kaliningrad area, as well as conducting offensive exercises with strategic bombing over the Baltic Sea.
Unity in the European Union with the upholding of sanctions connected to international law against Russia is essential. The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to raise these concerns through diplomatic dialogue. Furthermore, the trans-Atlantic link is necessary for the stability in our part of Europe, and it must remain strong.
Sweden has reviewed and weighed these facts carefully. On the military side, the Swedish government has increased national defense spending, activated conscription, and refocused efforts on national and civilian defense. Sweden has stationed permanent troops on the strategic island of Gotland located in the Baltic Sea, implemented NATO’s Host Nation Support agreement, agreed to develop active cyber capabilities, intensified cooperation with our Baltic Sea partners, and is acquiring next-generation submarines and fighter aircraft.
To exercise and improve defense readiness, the Swedish Armed Forces recently completed the largest military exercise in 26 years, Aurora 17. It had over 22,000 participants including units from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Lithuania, Norway and the United States. Their contributions were of great value. The exercise in itself, which included receiving and hosting friendly troops on Swedish territory, is a security signal.
At the same time Sweden continues to take responsibility for global security concerns through our substantive contributions to international peacekeeping efforts, including Afghanistan, in the coalition against Daesh and in Mali.
Several bilateral and multilateral efforts further demonstrate Sweden’s role as a security provider to the region and the overall stability in Europe. The cooperation with Finland is a fundamental platform in our defense strategy. We have taken necessary steps, as two militarily nonaligned countries, to give our Armed Forces the tools to cooperate in case of crisis or war. The bilateral statement of intent with the United States is an important expression of common interest and mutual commitment. We have joined the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force and will continue to work closely with the U.K. NATO has recently renewed our partnership within the Enhanced Opportunities Program. NATO cooperation is a priority, especially on information sharing and military exercises.
Sweden’s current surface-to-air Hawk missile (Robot system 97) is a system that will be replaced. The Swedish Defence Materiel Administration will now begin the analysis and process with regard to acquiring the Patriot air and missile defense system. Acquiring such a system with active defense measures and with the flexibility to meet today’s wide range of challenges in the air-defense domain is in line with the Swedish defense bill and current needs.
We will continue to upgrade our military capabilities and tie close cooperation both bilaterally and multilaterally with the United Nations, NATO, Nordic Defence Cooperation and the EU.
Intensified defense and security cooperation in the European Union remains critical, and we welcome the Permanent Structured Cooperation. The European Union must work more closely on issues such as cyberthreats, hybrid warfare and international crisis management. Intergovernmental cooperation is vital to improve our mutual interests while respecting national sovereignty of all. Capability building must also continue through the European Defence Industrial Development Programme aimed at fostering innovation and competitiveness for our defense industries.
Cooperation must, however, take into consideration the specific character of the security and defense policy of all member states. To ensure maximum competition and quality, it is important that such programs are open to third parties, including all European-based companies and even those that are not European-owned. The lack of such an arrangement would put member states like Sweden at an unfair disadvantage, in turn risking the trans-Atlantic link and regional cohesion.
As a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council, Sweden has broad engagement in the U.N. Safeguarding respect for international law and national sovereignty is an integral part of Swedish defense and security policy. Sweden’s national defense strategy is strictly in line with international law, by means of the United Nations Charter, with a defensive character and with the right to self-protection.
These are times of uncertainty. The security challenges are more complex than ever, and our response must therefore be multifaceted.
Peter Hultqvist is Sweden’s minister of defense.