For Swedish defense and security community, the People and Defense (Folk och Försvar) annual weekend-long get-together in the middle of Swedish nowhere (more precisely, in the beautiful Dalarna town of Sälen), is what the Munich Security Conference is for the best and the brightest of Western defense policy cognoscenti; the place to see and to be seen, and to hear the latest on Swedish defense policy directly from the top.
This year Prime Minister Stefan Löfven presented his government’s views on what threatens Sweden. His presentation amounted to a laundry list of eight separate threats ranging from military threats to climate change. Duly noted were the possibilities of targeted disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks, terrorism, organized crime, threats against energy and transportation infrastructure, as well as bacteria and virus attacks against the Swedish population.
The political opposition accused Löfven of making the threat review so thin and wide as to make any discussion of what the most serious threats are against Sweden almost impossible. The Prime Minister countered by announcing the government’s intention to convene a parliamentary group, consisting of all eight parties in Parliament, to write a report on the nuts and bolts of Swedish defense needs by 2019 to form a basis for the next defense decision in 2020.
It is clear that there are strong tremors underneath the ostensibly placid Swedish national security surface. The critique aimed at the current Social Democrat led government was even more poignant in the debate article published in the national daily Svenska Dagbladet just the day the Sälen conference began. The article was signed by 27 well-known Swedish defense and security experts: ambassadors, senior military officers - including a former Chief of Defense and two former Heads of Military Intelligence – academics, and think-tank representatives.
Their main argument was that it is now a high time for Sweden to join NATO. The key issue is how one evaluates today’s Russia. As they see it, the future of European security is severely compromised by Russia, and increasingly dependent on the European countries’ ability to recognize the seriousness of the situation, to stay together and to increase defense expenditures. NATO, in their view, is the only organization under which this goal can be implemented effectively.
This discussion is taking place in a country where two-thirds of the population does not have confidence that Sweden can defend its borders. Four out of ten Swedes believe Russia is threatening their country, and the same number view NATO favorably. Yet just 35 per cent are in favor of Sweden joining NATO outright.
Sweden is a country where the concept of lagom – extreme moderation in all things, public and private – is a high societal virtue. Consequently, it would be foolish to expect sudden changes of policy in Stockholm. On the other hand, there are indications that there is a serious debate brewing on defense and security policy when the country approaches the September 2018 parliamentary elections.