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The Swedish Reform Has Two Dimensions

The Swedish Reform Has Two Dimensions

Speech by Dr. Björn von Sydow, Defence minister, at the Swedish Air Force International Air Symposium in Uppsala, August 24, 2001. Source: Swedish MoD, Stockholm.

The Symposium today has a international agenda but I will start my speech by congratulating a 75 year old but extremely modern organization on it’s anniversary.

  • The Swedish Air Force

The Swedish Air Force has now reached the rather mature age of 75 years! What a period of development! It has gone from a small, simple and highly diversified force in the early thirties and forties to a large and capable Air Force during the Cold War. We have seen a force grow around several fantastic aircraft; Tunnan (the flying barrel) in the fifties, the Lansen and Draken during the sixties and seventies and the Viggen during the eighties and nineties. Since the end of the cold war, and also due to the introduction of the Gripen system with its implications in all part of the Air-Force, we have gone even further towards a high-tech and modern force. Our Air-Force is now in the forefront of our vision and aim to develop all of Sweden’s Armed Forces in to a Network Centric and very capable force for the future.

It is important to remember all those people that have worked with the Air force during all those years, without them all this had been impossible. And I will take this opportunity to send my appreciation to all of you who work in the Air force today and in the future, for what you have done and whish you good luck. Your efforts are of vital importance if this success story shall continue.

At the moment the Swedish armed forces are in the middle of a large-scale reform process. The reform aims to change the armed forces from the well known anti-invasion structure based on deterrence to a more flexible defence structure with active international crises management capabilities rather then deterrence as the key to peace and stability in Europe.

This process is in relative terms extensive for us in Sweden. Some says that it is one of the largest changes in Swedish society the last decades and I think that they are very close to the truth in that conclusion.

The governments reasons for starting this reform process is well known in this audience so I will just briefly mention them.

The first and as I see it the most important issue is the change in the political landscape since the end of the cold war. Changes that have created a new Europe dominated by democratic states working together in different frameworks. This new environment has created a change in political attitude to small conflicts. The knowledge that an active international community has the power to stabilize conflicts before they develops into all out war as well as the responsibility has to act in conflicts that has escalated into armed aggression have resulted in a common political will to be more active in crises management operations.

The second is the development in the technical area mostly created by the computer development and information technology that we have experienced the last five to ten years. A development that is closely linked with the general development of our society.

It is these changes that constitute the need for reform. The dramatic changes in defence structures, that we are in the middle of right now, is an effect of these new factors in the process of defence policy making in our country.

But this need for reform in the area of defence politics isn’t a unique process for Sweden. Most other countries, including almost all Europeans, Russia and the United States, have the same needs but the starting point differs as well as the different countries political and military objectives. This is the reason why we will see slightly different development in this area in our part of the world.

  • The Swedish reform has two dimensions.

The first is the technical and structural towards a Network centric defence structure, this includes how many regiments and air bases are needed for the new defence, how should the units be organised and equipped. This part is both complicated and time-consuming but the second dimension that relates to human attitude and historical heritage and how these factors influence the choice of an individual are even more complicated.

This second dimension is in my view a consequence of the fact that Sweden hasn’t been fighting a war since 1814.This is something that we are very proud of but in this particular case it could be a complicating factor. To this historical heritage we then add the 50 years of self –chosen isolation in the area of defence- and security politics during the cold war era.

These two historical factors have an impact on the Swedish population which means that Swedes in general can’t imagine our military units in real combat situations outside our boarders.

The new post cold war era in European defence and security politics affects this crucial point in the attitude of the Swedish public and this is a very important factor for politicians and high ranking officers to remember and relate to when the reform process continues.

This because although the stability in northern Europe hasn’t been better for a very long time and the risk of a hostile invasion of Sweden could more or less be ruled out for the next decade the individuals in the armed forces on international peacekeeping missions are taking a much higher risk today then during the cold war.

I say this although we have a long tradition of international peacekeeping missions under UN command. But during the cold war period only the Congo mission for us reached the same level of complexity and risk compared with the Balkan missions during the last decade.

In this aspect it’s also important to say that our earlier international missions only marginally had an effect on the armed forces, but due to the cuts in the military structure and the focus that are being made on these kind of missions today. We now reached the point when almost every part of the armed forces are involved in these kind of activities.

As I said before the international community has to relate to the new political situation after the end of the cold war and a relevant question today is how have we managed in these aspects the last decade?

Mostly I must say that the development has been a positive one. I think that the fall off the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Warsaw pact went rather peacefully. After that we had the democratisation of the former east block countries followed by an integration process between the two former enemies.

  • This positive picture has two exceptions Tjetjnia and the former Yugoslavia.

These two conflicts have three common patterns, they have both showed the same complicated and violent military developments with many asymmetric elements, they are both consequences of the fall of two totalitarian states and they have both meant a lot of trouble for the international community.

The development of the European Unions crisis management capacity should be viewed in the light of the conflicts in the Balkans in general and the war in Kosovo in particular. The frustration of the politicians in Europe was mainly over the discrepancy between the obvious needs, the suffering of real people and the lack of ability to act due to not having the right kind of resources.

The frustration that I have met with my European colleagues who also are members of NATO has been very obvious. Discussions on usefulness and quality flaws were mixed with a feeling of inadequacy compared with the US and the capability they showed during "Allied Strike". The war in Kosovo started a political process aimed at building a enhanced European crisis management capability.

After the EU-presidencies of Germany, Finland, France and Sweden this process has come surprisingly far in terms of determining what are the Unions crisis management need and what the member countries can contribute with. But there is a lot of work left to do before the European Union can be an active in large-scale crisis management operations if Nato isn’t involved.

In Sweden we have started to integrate these international activities in our national defence planning. This change is a natural part in the reform of our armed forces, as long as our international units also function as an integrated part of our national defence forces. This means that our national assets to greater extent should be usable also in a international context.

The Swedish contribution to the international force catalogues, Nato, EU, UN, is in our perspective rather extensive. Our contribution includes units from the army, navy and air force. For the air force the implication is that the airlift, which has been engaged in international missions for a long time, gets a clearer role in this area. In addition to this the Air force ones again will be able to send advanced aircraft into international peacekeeping mission. From the history of Tunnan squadrons in the Congo mission we now will be able to send Viggen capable for reconnaissance missions and after 2004 Gripen with both reconnaissance and "Air to Air" capability.

This is a natural continuation of our international engagement. The Swedish Air force is one of the most modern in Europe and as I see it the importance of controlling the airspace is crucial for any peacekeeping mission. This is why I have supported this extension in our contribution to the international forces, with both Viggen and later the Gripen systems.

My view is that one of the most important factors in a peacekeeping mission conducted by the international community is air supremacy and without a confirmed air supremacy there won’t be any operation either on the ground nor the sea.

The advocates for this line of action will be found both among high-ranking officers and politicians and the simple explanation for this is that the stakes are to high in an operation without air space control.

The bottom line in this argumentation is that the crucial point in this kind of operations is force protection. The men and women that we send to a peacekeeping mission must feel that they have a level of force protection that they feel is confident.

My point is that you won’t be able to solve a complicated civil war with lots of fighter aircrafts but they will be one important part in the force protection framework surrounding such a mission.

Some of you are probably wondering why I’m not mentioning the third of the Gripen abilities, ground attack. In this case the Swedish government has come to the conclusion that these kind of operation has a to high political risk when put in to action and this is why the Swedish Gripen contribution is restricted.

But a well organised and equipped peace keeping force is useless without the support of the domestic opinion. This is important both for the men and women serving such mission as well as for us politicians. In Sweden we can feel that support today, but these things could change rather fast due to what happens before or during a mission.

One interesting phenomena in this area is how the Swedish EU-opinion is structured. As you all know we have a large group of EU sceptics in our country. We are against the common currency. But a majority would like to se a enlarged Union in the future and over 60% of the Swedes are in favour of the development of EU crises management capability, quite interesting.

My interpretation of this is that the Swedes are in favour of such integration processes that decrease the risk of conflicts in Europe, especially between the former enemies from the East-Western structures, with the important exception that these processes won’t put Sweden in a position where our own security are threatened. The positive opinion for the EU crises management structures could be found in the tradition of solidarity in the Swedish public and the fact that we true the years have been very successful in our peacekeeping missions. In this case I think that the very small numbers of soldiers killed in action play an important role and if we would have had a record the last decade with great casualties the opinion most certainly would have been different.

Finally I would like to stress that the Swedish armed forces and its Air force are in middle of a huge process of change, a process that has had and will have great consequences for all personnel. A process where we are rebuilding our armed forces, adapting the educational platform, volume of personnel and competence to meet the needs of the new defence. For many, not the least here in Uppsala, this process has been very concrete. But I am convinced that the direction in which we are moving as a whole is the right one and that the Swedish defence will continue to be an important instrument in securing the freedom of our country. I am also convinced that this will enable us to take an active and constructive part in crisis management, primarily in Europe but also globally.

We have shown our commitment and willingness to contribute to the international communities crisis management in reporting our contributions to catalogues of the European Union, NATO and the United nations. It is therefore an expectation of mine that we will be able to broaden our engagement so that it will not only be the army that are taking part but also the navy and our air force.

Next year the reconnaissance squadron will take part in the Nato/PfP exercise "Strong Resolve" and after that I believe that we have both a very good and well-known contribution for international crises management missions within the Swedish Air Force.

Thank you.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).