Speech by Minister for Civil Defence Carl-Oskar Bohlin at Folk och Försvars annual national conference in Sälen on the 7th of January 2024
Check against delivery.
Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, ministers, ambassadors, honoured guests.
I’m grateful to all of you here today, but the real audience for this speech is so much wider: it is the whole of Sweden, all of our total defence.
It is human to want to view life as you wish it was, rather than as it actually is. The cruelty of war and terrorism is accessible in a much more unfiltered way as soon as we take our phones out of our pockets. Despite this immediate presence, our mental defence mechanisms still seem to allow many to conclude that all that is happening somewhere else. There, but not here. For a nation for whom peace has been a pleasant companion for almost 210 years, the idea that it is an immoveable constant is conveniently close at hand. But taking comfort in this conclusion has become more dangerous than it has been for a very long time. Many have said it before me, but let me do so in an official capacity, more plainly and with naked clarity:
There could be war in Sweden.
It isn’t my primary intention to appeal to your fear, but rather to your situational awareness. I’m looking to open a door: a door that is frequently blocked and cluttered up with the demands and challenges of everyday life. A door that many Swedes may have kept closed their whole lives. A door to a space where we are confronted with an important question: who are you if war comes?
Putin didn’t understand that he was kicking down that door within every Ukrainian in 2014. By the time of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, the Ukrainian people had – individually and collectively – been formulating their response: we are a people, and a society, that will meet all-out war with all-out resistance – and that was exactly what they did. The Russian attacking forces faced the unified force of the entire Ukrainian society. This kind of effort can only come about quickly enough if the vast majority are aware of the situation and understand what is at stake.
Societal resilience requires exactly that: situational awareness. Awareness among individual citizens, employees, entrepreneurs and decision-makers in public administration. But it is not enough to simply contemplate the question. Civil defence is not primarily a theoretical exercise. Awareness must be translated into practical action. Measures that actually raise the threshold.
Everyone has to understand that in the situation we find ourselves in, time may be our most precious non-renewable resource. If there is one thing that keeps me awake at night, it is the feeling that things are moving too slowly.
No, the inquiries have not all been completed, the new legislation is not all in place, and the funding in relation to defined goals is not all established either, but building total defence is not a project that waits for a final inspection before it is launched.
Nobody has a mandate to stand at ease waiting for others. Everyone has a mandate to plan, practise and take measures to increase resilience in their areas of responsibility. Failure to act is not a permitted modus operandi.
“But I don’t know what I’m supposed to do?”, I sometimes hear. Let me respond with a few questions.
Are you a senior official in an emergency preparedness authority? Good, then have you built your war organisation and defined which activities need to be maintained and which do not? Have you ensured compliance with protective security and necessary access to alternative command locations? Do you have functioning cooperation with the other sectors? Have you concluded the necessary agreements with voluntary defence organisations to allow you to staff additional activities in a state of heightened alert? If not: get moving!
Are you a municipal commissioner? Good, then have you secured the war organisation, refuge points, the emergency water plan and the redundancy supply of foodstuffs, heating and electricity for health and social care? Do you have a functional voluntary resource group? If not: get moving!
Are you an employee? Good, then have you asked your employer what your role would be in your workplace’s war organisation? Have you considered what critical everyday necessities you would need to manage to be able to continue working in difficult international circumstances? If not: get moving!
Are you a private individual? Good, then have you taken responsibility for your home preparedness? Have you considered whether you have time to join a voluntary defence organisation? If not: get moving!
If you haven’t started, you are behind – if you don’t know how, you can either ask someone who has started, or get answers from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency. It’s as simple as that.
The Government Offices also needs to step up the pace. Whatever can be done quickly must be done quickly – there should be no needlessly long discussions, and where there are shortcuts we should take them. Good enough tomorrow is better than perfect in five years.
Since we arrived at the Ministry of Defence, it has been important to try to single out individual elements in large projects and fast-track them so as to see capabilities grow here and now.
An example of this is civilian service. At the same time as we have appointed a comprehensive analysis of staff supply needs throughout society, we have singled out sectors where the conditions are in place to move forward more rapidly.
No sooner said than done: civilian service is now activated, and further training for rescue services civilian service staff will begin this year. We are working in the same way with supply preparedness. This is a mammoth task that has not yet been fully funded or investigated, but we have nonetheless chosen to begin with fast-track assignments to the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency and the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth to meet the huge engagement being shown by the business sector and where there has been a justifiable frustration over a lack of government impetus.
To be frank, if I’m criticised for having shortened consultation periods or other similar steps in the preparatory process, I can live with that. Everyone has to internalise the fact that the situation is not what we are used to in this country.
The world is facing a security outlook with greater risks than at any time since the end of the Second World War. We stand with Ukraine, with our allies, and with the rules-based international order, and we do so in word and deed as an arsenal of democracy. All of this will demand more of us than before, and this begins with the realisation that defending Sweden is a matter for all of us.
Allow me therefore conclude where I began, with the door I was trying to open. It may sound dark and dystopian. But try to look at it the other way round. For the vast majority of us, our country is not a hotel room that we can take or leave; it isn’t a generic piece of land with which we feel no affinity. For the vast majority of us, this is our one and only true home. This is the small part of the Earth’s surface that we want to leave for future generations in a better condition than we inherited it. Defending all of this – our order, our freedoms and democratic ideals – is what it is all about, and in realising this, we will all grow in the seriousness of the task.