Swedish defense capability – to do what?
The way we perceive and analyze our surrounding world has afundamental role in the development of Swedish security and defense policy. Withcontemporary conflicting views on the nature of our surroundings, members ofthe Swedish defense community hold differing views on what our policies should entail.Folk och Försvar arranges a debate on this topic on November 30th, and prior tothe debate we asked Bruce Acker to write on some of the background issues andprocesses.
War as the continuation of politics through other means….Most serious students of military science will immediately recognize this asone of Clausewitz’ most famous quotations, and the serious professors in thesubject will hopefully forgive my oversimplification of his intent long enoughto acknowledge at least the indivisibility of politics and war and theconsequences that has on raising, equipping and organizing an armed force. Irecently attended one of Folk och Försvar’s many interesting seminars, in thiscase the question of the day was whether the planned Swedish Armed Forces of2014 will suffice. As usual, the seminar was well attended by manyknowledgeable and serious students, experts, and leaders. But one exchange of debating points stuck outin my mind as the key problem Sweden must resolve.
A member of the audience, referring to a Finnish studyreferring back to the forces present in the north of Europe during the coldwar, described the Nordics now as a “defense vacuum”. The representative fromthe Ministry of Defense, an experienced military officer himself, correctlytook issue with this characterization, stating as an example the formidable andmodern Air Forces that Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland could collectivelyfield. How can two respected members ofthe Swedish defense community have such different assessments of Swedishcapabilities? Quite simply, political objectives.
When there is an obvious and undisputed threat, such as theSoviet Union during the cold war, it is not intellectually difficult to usethreat based analysis to size the forces and select an appropriate forcemix. But politicians throughout the westhave long ago abandoned a threat based approach to dealing with Russia, sinceit not only provokes an enemy we realistically believe in time can be acooperative partner, but it also results in excessive and unnecessaryspending. In Sweden’s case it alsoconfounds the NATO entry debate, especially as the true nature of Sweden’sactual planning assumptions under the Cold War come to light. Capabilities-basedplanning then becomes the method of choice, and political will becomes thefoundation of planning. But, capabilityto do what?
Our two experts above had different perspectives ofpolitical will. Relative to the large ground forces of 20 years ago, theSwedish Armed Forces is small. Butnostalgia is not a foundation of defense planning. The key question to addressfor defense planners is: what is required today and in the future? How much capacity is necessary, and how isthat capacity measured. Some would measure the ability to field boots on theground. Others view ground forces as today’s Maginot line, something one merelyflies or steams around. Some argue thatAfghanistan proves the continued relevance of large formations of groundsoldiers, others observe that only if one has the will to occupy, is that forcerelevant. Until one knows what lies within Sweden’s political will in the yearsto come, one does not know how to measure current or planned capability: counting boots, airplanes, ships, industrialcapacity, recruiting capacity?
So to the question of whether the Armed Forces of 2014 andbeyond suffice, again I ask… to do what? The Swedish Defense Commissions of2007 and 2008 understood this and laid the foundation to address thesequestions. But the Swedish political shiftof 2006, reinforced in 2010, was not so decisive that a revolutionary departurefrom past traditions was likely to succeed, but steady progress is none-the-lessunderway. With the current concept ofbuilding capabilities appropriate for use in Sweden, the immediate area, or faraway, coupled with the acknowledgement that neither Sweden nor its neighborsare likely in the foreseeable future to find themselves alone in a conflict (astatement that has been true for 50 years), yields the natural consequence thatSweden can choose domestically capabilities that complement the likelypartners. Some things are clear. Airmobility, both strategic (large fixed wing) and tactical (smaller fixed androtary) are now, and will continue to be, capabilities in high demand. Control of sea lines of communication(therefore maritime assets) remains vital for the trading nations that comprisethe bulk of Sweden’s partners. But some capabilities and their role in Swedishinternational engagement are yet to be clarified. What will the future role of ground forcesbe? Strike aircraft?
Ground Forces will remain the only method of occupyingground, the question is will occupying ground continue to be the method ofchoice to achieve a political objective? The preponderance of Swedish Forcesabroad are no longer peacekeepers serving UN missions, but rather partisanforces, under NATO lead, enforcing a UN mandate, occupying ground. As long as the Armed Forces are tasked withthe requirement to participate in these hazardous activities, one can expectthey will continue to demand adequate resources to do the job. The erosion of the forces for NationalDefense after the Cold War’s end went largely unnoticed for lack of a currentthreat, but the employment of these forces in battle in Afghanistan brought itback in the spotlight, with cold war mobilization and equipment conceptsquickly identified as outdated. Swedenis now in pursuit of updating these concepts.
But in Afghanistan, occupying ground has yet to be proven completelyeffective, and the coalition may well tire of the effortbefore the truth is known. Libya, and Iwould argue the Gulf of Aden, on the other hand show the traditional actors’ -NATO and the EU - reluctance to engage with ground forces. If these are to be the models of the future,it suggests very different solutions to Sweden’s future force planning.
In the end, it is the Nation's ambitions that drive theeffort. Nations best achieve their desired military force structure when theyfirst vigorously debate and settle on stable political ambitions, and thenassess the capabilities required. Sweden enjoys arich tradition of vigorous debate, and is well on the way to updatingtheir security policies to match the challenges they perceive in the years tocome. What logically follows is a vibrant discussion to explore therange of military activities envisioned in support of those policies and asubsequent evaluation of whether current and planned capabilities sufficeto execute these activities.
Bruce Acker, guest analyst
The programme for the debate can be downloaded here.