Minister for Defence Peter Hultqvist’s keynote speech at Chatham House Security and Defence Conference
Chatham House, 12 March 2020.
As prepared. Check against delivery.
I am happy to be here at this occasion recognizing Chatham House’s 100 years of independent thinking. I would like to thank the Chatham House for giving me the opportunity to present my view on the European security order, its architecture, and why we must defend it.
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We are living in times of uncertainty. In these unstable and unpredictable times, we also see strong political tensions throughout the Western world. There are constant and conscious attempts to undermine our communities. The democratic structures and the openness of our societies are used intentionally, systematically and shamefully for this purpose.
Disinformation has become an easy way to inflict instability and split societies. There are many examples I could raise which has caused uncertainty in democratic processes in Sweden.
One being in the process of implementing the Host Nation Support agreement with NATO, where we noticed many illegitimate methods to influence opinion or decision-making.
Another example being a letter that was supposedly sent in my name, where I congratulated a Swedish defence company concerning their successful sales of weapons to Ukraine.
Another example of a disinformation campaign was in the aftermath of the attack on Sergi and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury. Russia denied allegations by London and others of the attack. Instead Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated that Sweden, the Czech Republic and Slovakia could be possible perpetrators behind the attack.
The accusations were of course absurd, but they show a clear example of how far Russia is willing to go in order to create confusion and uncertainty.
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Europe is facing provocative and destabilising Russian actions that has lowered the threshold for using military force. Thus, the intent to undermine the European security order, as defined by the Helsinki Final Act and the Paris Charter, has been made clear.
The territorial integrity and sovereignty of states is not negotiable.
Russia’s actions in Georgia in 2008, in Ukraine since 2014 and in Syria since 2015 demonstrate its willingness to use military means to achieve political objectives, both within Europe and beyond.
The illegal annexation of Crimea and continued aggression against Ukraine violates the prohibition of the use of force that is stated in the Charter of the United Nations. Russia’s actions also violate the norms, cooperative formats and institutions that constitute the foundation of European security.
From time to time, we hear officials and thinkers suggest that we must negotiate and accommodate Russia’s demands on establishing a new European security order. They argue that this will increase cooperation and security in Europe or help to meet global challenges. I do not share this view.
The Russian actions are not only an aggression against Ukraine but constitute a threat to the right of all countries to make sovereign policy choices, including those in Russia’s neighbourhood. This is a cornerstone in the European security order.
Just because time has passed, it does not mean that we can give in to Russia’s demands as long as Russia is not contributing actively and without ambiguities to find a solution accordance with the OSCE principles and international law.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine concerns us all and makes our response all the more important. To support Ukraine's fight for self-determination is to defend the very heart of the European security order.
The Russian military aggression and Russian violation of international law is unacceptable. There can be no business as usual with Russia as long as this behaviour continues. The international sanctions imposed on Russia must remain.
We can never accept a new European security order where one nation acts like other, smaller states are part of its’ sphere of influence, giving them no right to self-determination.
For Sweden, international law is our first line of defence and the European security order is a fundamental interest.
The rules-based order gives small states a say in international affairs. International institutions and organisations such as the UN, EU, NATO and the OSCE ensure security and stability. But these institutions are only as strong as their members and their commitment to cooperation.
The upcoming Swedish Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2021 will have a clear focus on our strong commitment to the European security order underpinned by a well-functioning European security architecture. Our efforts will be based on the concept of comprehensive security where respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law are fundamental to security both within as well as between states.
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The Swedish neighbourhood is a distinct border area between Russia and the West. The Baltic Sea Region is of significance to European security. Russia is clearly seeking to increase influence over what it considers as its area of interest, including at least parts of our neighbourhood.
Russian military activity has intensified in the Baltic Sea Region. Since 2014 we have seen a military build-up in the region, including permanent deployment of advanced weapon systems, as well as an increased military presence. The increasing military presence in the Arctic region is also a reality we must deal with.
Russian large-scale strategic exercises are characterized by a lack of transparency, which damages trust. Zapad 2017, Vostok 2018 and Ocean Shield 2019, send a signal about Russian capability to undertake large-scale military operations in our vicinity. This reflects not only the objective to develop the Russian Armed Forces, but also determination to re-establish Russia as a great power with a right to define its sphere of interest.
A newly published study by the Swedish Defence Research Agency examines Russian military capability in a ten-year perspective and concludes that, over the past ten years, Russia has bridged the gap between its policy ambitions and its military capability.
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Sweden believes that the challenges to European security must be met through cooperation and joint action. But at the national level, every country must take their share of the responsibility.
Swedish defence policy is a direct response to the declining security environment in Europe. A renewed regional focus has become a priority, with the emphasis on national defence and planning for wartime scenarios. Among other things, this renewed regional and national focus require an updated total defence concept for Sweden to be able to cope with present day challenges and threats, including an armed attack.
Sweden is pursuing a two-track defence policy: First, increasing defence spending to reinforce our national military capability and the total defence. Second, deepening our security and defence cooperation with other nations and organizations.
One concrete example of our defence policy is our national exercise Aurora. On the one hand, it is a national military exercise that will include parts of our civil defence. Meaning, municipalities and civil government agencies will be exercised as well. On the other hand, we are conducting this exercise with our partners.
Of the approximately 25 000 participants 3 000 are international.
In total, 12 countries – nine of which are NATO allies – will contribute with troops. The United States presence is a considerable contribution with a Marine Corps battalion, naval units and Patriot systems.
Aurora 20 is a national exercise designed to build a stronger defence. The goal is to enhance our national capabilities and to work together with our partners to deal with an attack on Sweden.
The exercise will be taking place on land, air and at sea, with elements of the exercise being conducted all over Sweden − from low-intensity battles in the north to high-intensity battles in the south. Aurora 20 will be bigger, longer and more extensive than its predecessor, Aurora 17 − at the time the biggest Swedish exercise of its kind for more than 20 years.
In building military capacity and interoperability, military exercises are key. When we train and exercise together, we strengthen our national capabilities and our capacity to act together.
Aurora 20 takes place at a time when many other exercises are being conducted in Northern Europe, one being Defender 2020.
These exercises are all examples of what raises the threshold in our part of Europe and as a result, increase stability and predictability in our region. They demonstrate that we are willing to defend the European security order.
From a Swedish perspective, we have decided to be very open and transparent about this exercise. We have reported the exercise to OSCE and will inform nations in our vicinity and OSCE partner states. Despite the transparency we will bring to this exercise, we are prepared to manage possible disinformation campaigns targeted towards us.
During the Aurora exercise 2017, we saw an increase in disinformation and false rumours spread at high level. We will target these types of attacks with swift responses and by continuing to be very open about the exercise.
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For the first time in more than two decades, Sweden has strengthened its defence budget. The Swedish parliament approved an increase of military defence spending with approximately 3,3 billion EURO [33 billion SEK] during the period 2016–2020.
Recently the Swedish Government decided to increase defence spending by totally 2,5 billion EURO [25 billion SEK] in the years 2021 to 2025. In total, this constitutes a 40 percent increase of defence spending. A massive national effort.
During the last couple of years, we have taken important steps to increase our military capability. I have already mentioned military exercises, which has increased in number and size. Other examples include the reactivation of conscription. Worth to note is that the conscription is also gender neutral. We have re-established a permanent presence on the island of Gotland.
Large investments in defence equipment have been made, for example with new next generation submarines, Gripen fighter aircrafts and with the Patriot missile defence system. We have also added funding to ensure that civil defence planning is restarted.
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At the same time as we are strengthening our national defence, we are deepening our international defence cooperation focusing on the security of the Baltic Sea and Northern Europe.
On a bilateral basis we work closely with our Nordic neighbours – especially with Finland – with the Baltic states, Poland and Germany. We also cooperate very closely with the UK, the Netherlands, France and the US.
The defence cooperation between Finland and Sweden is the most far-reaching. The cooperation aims at strengthening the defence capabilities of our two countries and creating the preconditions for combined joint military action and operations in all situations. The cooperation covers operational planning for all situations, including beyond peace time.
The cooperation with the United Kingdom is also of great importance. We regret the fact that the UK has left the European Union but of course respect this democratic decision. However, the UK is, and will remain, one of Sweden's most important partner countries in the field of defence and there is a mutual desire to maintain and deepen this cooperation. The Swedish-British defence cooperation will not change because of Brexit. In July 2019, we entered a Future Combat Air Systems Cooperation (FCASC) agreement with the UK looking at the options for jet-fighter systems after 2040. We are confident that Britain will maintain its contribution to European security in a spirit of solidarity.
Besides bilateral cooperation, the security network in the Baltic Sea Region is strengthened by different regional defence cooperation such as NORDEFCO, the Northern Group and the Joint Expeditionary Force. It is important to focus on making all these collaborations operational.
The Nordic defence cooperation celebrated its ten-year anniversary last year. It is my strong belief that the defence collaborations Sweden enters must lead to concrete and operational results. The Nordic defence cooperation fulfils this belief.
We have together established secure communications between our capitals, we have facilitated easy access to each other’s territories, and we have taken measures to improve our common situational awareness by the exchange of air surveillance information. We have also established a Crisis Consultation Mechanism which enhances information sharing and consultation during crisis or conflict.
Regional capability development and cooperation is crucial when building security in our vicinity. However, a strong transatlantic link is key.
For the security of Europe, and particularly the stability in the Baltic Sea Region, United States-, Canada- and NATO-presence is necessary. Therefore, we welcome NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence and the US efforts to further strengthen its presence.
Sweden has a long-standing bilateral defence cooperation with the United States including a Statement of Intent from 2016. One good example is training and exercises which is conducted on a regular basis. The United States made for example, together with a number of countries, a substantial contribution to our national exercise Aurora 2017 and to Aurora 2020 as previously mentioned. This is a clear signal of the US engagement.
On a European level, the exercise Defender 2020 will send an even more important signal regarding its commitment to European security. Together with Finland, we also have a trilateral cooperation, including a Statement of Intent from 2018, with the United States. During my six years as Minister for Defence, I have seen a continuity and increase in the practical implementation of our cooperation with the United States.
Sweden’s bilateral and trilateral security arrangements with the US is complementary to our relationship with NATO. NATO plays an indispensable role for transatlantic and European security due to its unique capabilities and institutional strength.
The importance of Sweden’s NATO partnership has grown as a direct consequence of the deteriorated security situation in our neighbourhood. Political dialogue with NATO on common security challenges and how to counter them is of strategic value. The partnership with NATO is crucial to developing the interoperability and capabilities of the Swedish Armed Forces. Through our status as Enhanced Opportunities Partner, we are seeking to further strengthen this partnership, in particular regarding cooperation in a potential regional crisis. Training and exercises are another priority in our partnership with NATO.
The EU and NATO are both instrumental for meeting today’s complex security challenges in Europe and beyond. As a member of the EU and close partner to NATO, Sweden has a strong interest in an effective, result-oriented strategic partnership between these organisations. Let me stress that the organisations must be complementary to each other. The work on simplified military mobility is an area where EU and NATO are complementing each other.
The EU is an important foreign and security policy arena and a guarantor for security and peace. Europe must take a greater responsibility for its security and defence, while ensuring that we strengthen our ability to work with partners.
Sweden welcomes the progress made within the EU towards strengthening the defence domain of Europe. Moving forward, our cooperation on security and defence should strengthen both Europe’s military capabilities and EU’s solidarity, cohesion and our ability to act. From a Swedish perspective, the goal for EU’s defence cooperation is to create a stronger European pillar in security and defence, to be a stronger partner and to realize the agreed level of ambition. This must be done in a way that strengthens both the EU and our cooperation with strategic partners.
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Sweden is just in the beginning of a long-term process of strengthening our contribution to European security. This demands both time and political endurance. This autumn the Swedish government plans to present a new defence policy bill for the period 2021–2025. I can ensure you that the main lines remain; Sweden will continue to build national military capability and deepen our international cooperation. By strengthening our defence, we are also raising the threshold for conflicts in our vicinity and making sure that Sweden is a provider of security in Europe.
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
International challenges require international response. I believe in the strength of European cooperation and a strong transatlantic link. In the face of increased global competition, friends must continue to stand together. We must confront the challenges, whether they come from inside or outside. We are united by the responsibility of maintaining peace and stability. In order to shoulder that responsibility, we must continue to strengthen our military capabilities and ensure our defence collaboration leads to concrete results.
We must also do everything in our power to restore respect for the principles of international law and the European security order. We must also strengthen the institutions and instruments – such as the OSCE and the Vienna Document – that are key parts of European security architecture.
Thank you for listening. I am ready to take your questions.