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Speech by Minister for Defence Peter Hultqvist at Leangkollen Security Conference
Oslo, 13 February 2017
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Ladies and gentlemen,
The defence cooperation between Sweden and Norway has a long and fruitful history. The daily exchange between Swedish and Norwegian units is extensive, not least up north. But our cooperation has had its challenges in the past and there is of course room for further development. I am therefore happy that we last November could agree on a number of concrete areas where our cooperation could develop.
Because this is a time for more cooperation, not less. I will come back to that later.
Over time, the European security environment has deteriorated. The Russian aggression against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea are breaches against international law and have direct negative effect on the security situation in Europe.
The challenges to the European security order are many and keep on piling up.
The cohesion within the European Union is challenged by the lack of common response to the migration situation, by the disparate views on Russia and on the wave of nationalist right-wing populism. Brexit has caused insecurity and ambiguity and more people than before question European cooperation as such.
It is still too early to have a clear view on how the election of Donald Trump will affect the transatlantic cooperation. However I want to stress that the transatlantic cooperation is fundamental for European as well as American security and will be so in the foreseeable future.
In Europe's southern and south-eastern neighbourhood we can see countries and institutions torn by violence and internal conflicts. Non-state actors defies established states, borders and institutions. Terror organisations like Daesh, Boko Haram and al Shabaab pose a great threat to international peace and security.
But I want to take some time to elaborate on the military situation in the Baltic Sea region.
In 2008 Russia began a comprehensive military reform aiming at strengthening the availability, mobility and operational capacity of its armed forces. The reform has proceeded regardless of economic hardships. The Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) recently published a report that showed how Russia is restructuring, rearming, modernising and exercising for a more large-scale and advanced type of warfare.
We have over time seen an increase in Russian military exercises in our vicinity and we have lately observed new elements in their exercises. We have also seen how civilian parts of the society have been included and that they have conducted more and more snap exercises.
It is important to see the change in content and complexity of the exercises and not only assess the number of them.
If the plans for the Western military district are fulfilled, Russia will in the coming years increase their ability to deny other countries access to the Baltic Sea in all dimensions; by land, by sea, by air and in the cyber domain.
Through the illegal annexation of Crimea, the aggression in eastern Ukraine and the involvement in Syria, Russia has shown not only an increased military capacity but also a will to use military means in order to achieve political goals.
Although an armed attack directly at Sweden is unlikely, the Russian behaviour in the Baltic Sea and elsewhere has increased the risk for crisis and incidents involving military means and we cannot rule out armed attacks in the future.
This is why Sweden has decided on a new orientation for our defence and security policy. After years of cuts in defence spending and a focus on international operations, parliament decided in June 2015 to substantially increase defence spending and to refocus the Armed Forces towards national defence.
During the period 2016-2020, our number one priority is to increase the operational capability of our armed forces. That means a heavy focus on larger and more complex exercises as well as investments in important weapons such as the next generation JAS 39 Gripen, two new submarines and new mortars. We are establishing a battle group on Gotland, due to the islands strategic position in the Baltic Sea. And we are reforming our personnel system in order to give the armed forces long term stability for its operations.
Well-equipped and well trained personnel are of utmost importance for building military capability. Since the abolishment of the conscription in 2009, the armed forces have had enormous problems recruiting personnel to fill its ranks. At the moment we lack around 800 active soldiers and over 6 000 reservists. In order to stabilise the personnel situation, the Swedish government commissioned an inquiry in the end of 2015 to look into how a modernised conscription could complete the volunteer recruitment. Its directives pointed out the Norwegian and Danish systems for inspiration.
The inquiry presented its report in September last year and has been under referral for consideration until a couple of weeks ago. We are now preparing a decision before the end of this quarter to reactivate the conscription. For the moment we are planning for 4 000 conscripts to begin their basic military training in September next year.
The reactivation of the conscription will not only stabilise the personnel situation in the armed forces. It will also send out a clear signal that we are prepared to do what it takes to secure our sovereignty.
In spite of our renewed focus on national defence, we will still take our responsibility for international peace and security. We contribute with 250 troops to Minusma in Mali. We are increasing our presence in Iraq and have a decision in parliament to increase our contribution from 35 troops to 70. And we will of course honour or long term commitment to Afghanistan.
The other pillar of the new defence policy is to deepen and strengthen defence cooperation with other countries and organisations in the region. Sweden will remain a military non-aligned country. It is a security doctrine that is distinct, well known and well respected.
It is from the position of military non-alignment Sweden is deepening its defence cooperation with others. The Nordic cooperation is central in this strategy. Our countries face similar security challenges and we share many security interests and positions. Ours is an important geostrategic region and the Nordic defence cooperation, as well as the cooperation with the Baltic states, contributes to a peaceful development and it raises the threshold for military conflicts and incidents in our region in the long term.
I am glad that the Nordic cooperation has taken important steps the last couple of years, with the establishment of secure communication between our capitals, the signing of the Easy Access MoU and the development of the Arctic Challenge Exercise into a Nordic Flag exercise as some of the more important.
Our cooperation with Finland is the most far-reaching we have. It involves all branches as well as a close cooperation between our ministries. We have begun operational planning for common response to scenarios beyond peace time. For our countries to act jointly, national decisions are needed in each case. But the common planning gives us the option of joint action.
Like I said before, I am glad that I and my State Secretary could meet with our Norwegian counterparts in the end of last year in order to develop the cooperation between our countries. We agreed to reinstate defence attachés in each other's capitals. We are going to exchange information on total defence. We are going to deepen our dialogue on security issues. And we are continuing to exercise together.
I am looking forward to host Ine and her State Secretary later this spring.
Besides the Nordic countries, we have during the last couple of years deepened our cooperation with the Baltic states, the USA, the UK and Poland. This year I hope to further develop our cooperation with Germany and I met with the German Minister for Defence in Berlin last autumn and we will meet again in Stockholm this summer.
European unity is fundamental in facing the challenges ahead of us. It is important for keeping up with the sanctions towards Russia.
We also welcome the decisions in Warsaw to increase Nato's military presence in our region. Our partnership with the Alliance is of great importance for us and we welcome the opportunity to, together with Finland, discuss our security challenges with the allies on a regular basis.
As I think most of you know, Sweden is a member of UN Security Council during 2017-18. Sweden has always been a great friend of the UN and we will use our seat at the table to raise issues on new security issues, gender equality and more effective peace operations. To uphold a rule based, multilateral world order is in Sweden's national interest. And the UN is the bedrock of such an order.
All these cooperation sends out a signal that we want to take our share of responsibility for stability and security in the Baltic Sea region and beyond. We are building a security network around Sweden that increases the stability and raises the threshold for conflict in our entire region.
To finish where I started, we are living in a world with increasing insecurities and where institutions and relationships we considered stable now are under increasing pressure. We all have a responsibility to, on basis on our different security choices, do our very most to ensure peace, security and stability.
Sweden is willing to take our part in that important work.
Thank you for listening.