Preserving Peace – NATO’s Role

Speech by Peter Hultqvist, Minister for Defence, at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, 8 July 2016.

Distinguished guests,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on this important topic.

The NATO Summit takes place in a time when the security environment continues to be challenging. And these challenges affect us all. Sweden is invited to the Summit to take part in discussions regarding common security concerns. European and transatlantic security is challenged to the East and to the South – by state and non-state actors. Understanding the conflicts and finding common areas for cooperation is crucial, and that is why we are here in Warsaw.

From our point of view, security in the Baltic Sea region is of particular importance in our dialogue with NATO. Other relevant topics to address are the crises in Syria and Iraq, and of course our continuous efforts in Afghanistan.

The brutality of Daesh, sectarian violence, authoritarian states, state weakness and masses of refugees bring destabilization. Sweden has been largely affected by the refugee flows. We are the largest per capita recipient of refugees in the European Union.

Developments in the Middle East pose a strategic challenge and require a comprehensive approach on conflict prevention, reforms and political solutions. Multiple efforts – including military means – are necessary. The conflicts in the Middle East, the root causes of the migration flows and the spread of terrorism can only be stopped with a solid transatlantic resolve. A precondition to create security and stability in the region is to defeat Daesh militarily.

Turning to our own neighbourhood, we are facing a worsened security environment in the Baltic Sea region. In light of the illegal annexation of Crimea and the continued destabilisation of Ukraine, Russia makes it clear that offensive military operations is an option to consider. From time to time we hear Russian officials making statements regarding the Russian nuclear capabilities. A lower threshold for the use of tactical nuclear arms is deeply disturbing and unacceptable. We see an increased Russian interest not only in the Baltic States, but also in Sweden and Finland, including our partnership with NATO. Besides military options, Russia is increasing its disinformation campaigns, aiming to undermine stability.

We have experienced dangerous and unprofessional behaviour by Russian aircrafts in the Baltic Sea. For example, Russian naval vessels have acted to interrupt the work of civilian ships laying an electric power cable from Lithuania to Sweden in March 2015. We also see Russian military aircraft repeatedly flying in densely trafficked airspace without active transponders.

No matter the nationality of an aircraft or a ship, such actions must be condemned. This behaviour is dangerous and provocative. Russia is acting to increase influence over its self-declared area of interest, including parts of the Baltic Sea region. Russia is testing the determination and the red lines of sovereign states, EU and NATO as well as between the organizations.

Considering the dangerous behavior by Russian military aircrafts, we need to remind all nations operating in the region to adhere to sound, safe and professional behavior when operating with military aircraft or vessels. We need a common understanding on how to operate in the Baltic Sea.

The international community has reacted firmly to Russia's aggression against Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea. Use of force in breach of international law is never acceptable. The response must remain firm and united, and include a strong message of support for the rules-based European security order. This Summit is a manifest for unity among EU and NATO nations. At the same time, we must aim for better channels of dialogue to decrease tensions, reduce risks and promote predictability.

With this security environment in mind, Sweden is pursuing a defence policy with two pillars. We are reinforcing our military capability by increasing defence spending with a focus on national defence capabilities. We have reactivated parts of our dormant legislation on National Defence Service allowing the Armed Forces to call up former conscripts for rehearsal training. Sweden increases exercises and training, both in terms of quantity and quality focusing on increasing our warfighting capabilities. Our fighters fly more and the navy is more present. Among prioritized capabilities are air defence and anti-submarine warfare. Moreover, we will permanently base a mechanized battle group on the island of Gotland. Controlling Gotland means control of the airspace and the sea lines of communications in the southern part of the Baltic Sea.

At the same time, we are deepening the cooperation with other countries and organisations. By acting together in a predictable and consistent way, we contribute to peace and security in our part of the world. In light of the challenging security environment, Sweden strengthens cooperation on security matters within the EU, the OSCE, regionally in the Nordic and Nordic-Baltic setting, in partnership with NATO, as well as in bilateral contacts. The Swedish policy of military non-alignment is the basis for such cooperation.

Sweden is a strong supporter of closer cooperation between NATO and EU - be it in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea or the Baltic Sea – or be it linked to hybrid threats or meeting the consequences of on-going conflicts or failed states outside Europe. By enhancing cooperation we can achieve more results and use common resources more efficiently. At this point in time, we cannot afford to disagree on defence and security concerns.

For the stability in our part of Europe, North American and NATO presence is necessary. The US presence in the Baltic Sea Region is crucial and has a clear threshold effect. We welcome the increased US presence in Europe through the European Reassurance Initiative. We also welcome the additional steps NATO now takes to strengthen the security of the Eastern Allies, thereby further contributing to the security in and around the Baltic Sea region.

Sweden has been and will continue to be an active partner with NATO. The changing security environment has prompted steps toward an even closer political dialogue and practical cooperation between NATO, Finland and Sweden. For example, the Swedish Parliament recently adopted a bill on Host Nation Support, an important agreement which will make it easier for us to exercise together. Our deepened partnership with NATO – with the Enhanced Opportunities Programme as the main platform – is important in facing security challenges in our neighbourhood. We now focus on:

First, continued political dialogue on shared security challenges is essential in our cooperation with NATO. From our perspective, the Baltic Sea security is the main priority.

Second, common exercises in the Baltic Sea region continue to signal that we together take responsibility for the security. Swedish participation in the recent exercises Anaconda and BALTOPS are current examples of our ambition.

A third area where Sweden and NATO can work closer together is by enhancing information exchange on planned activities in the region, to better coordinate our efforts. This would help us deconflict measures that we take on a national level with those taken by NATO. In the long term it means a more efficient use of our resources.

The future of regional peace and stability depends on keeping European and transatlantic unity.

We look forward to the opportunity to discuss these issues further here at the Summit.