Magazine article Scandinavian Review

Sweden's Armed Forces in the New Millennium

Magazine article Scandinavian Review

Sweden's Armed Forces in the New Millennium

Article excerpt

On the threshold of the new millennium, Sweden is in the throes of a significant evolution of the neutrality which governed her foreign and security policies in the de the of the Cold War. The international framework which fostered Swedish neutrality following the Second World War has fundamentally changed. The Soviet Union has collapsed and Russian power has withdrawn to the borders of Peter the Great. The peoples of eastern Europe have emerged from the domination of the Soviet Empire and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are once more independent. The German people are again united in what is now called the Berlin Republic. The Cold War which molded the Nordic balance of power has ended. All of these major developments have radically altered the strategic landscape of northern Europe.

During the Cold War, the defense of Sweden embodied the concept of the citizen as soldier. The cornerstone of Swedish strategy was the territorial defense of the nation in depth. In time of crisis or war Sweden could mobilize more than 700,000 troops. The field army could muster 29 brigades, backed by substantial numbers of local defense units and Home Guards. Swedish industry manufactured artillery, armored vehicles, warships, and combat aircraft. For some years the Swedish air force ranked fourth in the world in numbers. Swedish jet fighters set world speed records in the 1950s. This was indeed a remarkable achievement for a nation of little more than eight million people.

It must be emphasized, however, that Swedish neutrality has never been isolationist. It is an active neutrality deeply engaged in the affairs of the world. Swedish financial assistance to Third World countries is indeed substantial. Since the 1970s, Sweden ranks among the top three donor nations of the world in such development aid. Sweden has been involved in many peace operations under UN auspices. More than 75,000 Swedish troops and civilians have participated in such UN missions.

New Challenges

In the current post-Cold War setting, the mass citizen army is no longer relevant. Total mobilization to deter aggression by a major power is no longer the primary concern. Today, commitment to global peace and stability are the dominant features of Sweden's active neutrality. The key challenges of today are crisis management, peace enforcement, and peacekeeping in a wide variety of conflict situations. To meet these challenges, sweeping changes are being carried out in Swedish defense systems and armed forces structure. Now Sweden is developing units, small in numbers, but highly trained and equipped with cutting edge technology that can be rapidly deployed to trouble spots worldwide. Thus will the wider purposes of Swedish active neutrality be served.

These changes have not been without sharp controversy. Critics have decried the shift from a "people's defense" to a military specialized and professional in nature. The loss of substantial numbers of trained reserves limits the national defense of Sweden. In the absence of a major threat to Sweden, however, such criticism has failed to garner substantial public support. Current Swedish planning assumes that if a hostile power resurges in northern Europe it will be slow to materialize. Sweden will thus have enough time to restore its defensive posture.

As an essential means to implement international peace operations, interoperability with the troops of other nations has become a necessity for Swedish forces. Sweden now participates in the NATO Partnership for Peace program of exercises. The Swedish battalion serving in the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia functions with NATO troops and under NATO command. The Swedish air force is developing an air combat training center in northern Sweden to host other Partnership for Peace participants. The center will feature integrated air combat scenarios patterned upon USAF exercises.

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