May 30, 2018

If War is Coming to Sweden

A subdued but still dramatic sign of the fundamentally changed security situation in the Baltic Sea region is about to be delivered to some five million Swedish households this week, that is to the entire population of the kingdom of Sweden.

A brochure titled “If crisis or war comes”1 is published and distributed by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), the successor of the Swedish Higher Board for Civil Preparedness (ÖCB) of the Cold War era. The brochure consists of a number of recommendations to the general public if there would be a war or a major crisis that would affect Sweden, either as a direct attack or as a consequence of a major war in the Swedish vicinity. The last time such a brochure was published and distributed to the entire population was in 1961.

Thus, one might wonder why the Swedish authorities are publishing this kind of fairly dramatic advice in this day and age. To understand this, one has to take into consideration a number of factors inherent to the security situation of Sweden – and the rest of the Baltic Sea countries – today. Even if the conditions and features of this situation are vastly different from the Cold War setting of the 1960s, the occurrence of war in the Swedish neighbourhood – essentially as a function of Russian aggressive behavior – cannot be ruled out. In combination with the fact that Sweden has scaled down its own defence force with more than 90% in numerical terms, the old mainstays of the Swedish defensive posture no longer exist. Adding on to this, the former security policy of non-alignment aiming at neutrality in wartime has been fundamentally changed. Today, the Swedish government has embarked on an Ersatz policy visavi NATO membership; through bilateral and trilateral peacetime linkages with Finland and a number of NATO countries – primarily the US – the expectation is that these countries will come to the defence of Sweden in the event of an attack. A corollary is that if an attack would be directed toward an EU or Nordic country, Sweden would provide help, including military support, to this country as well.

Even if one can dwell at length on the utterly contradictory relationship of this doctrine and the former policy of strict non-alignment and neutrality, suffice it here to say that the Swedish government now realizes that any conflict in the Baltic Sea region would be impossible to dodge, and that such a conflict would inevitably affect Sweden as well.

The MSB brochure does not cover this context, however. Instead, it is a fairly conventional piece of advice for what in an American setting would be called “preppers”, i.e. individuals with a will to survive a major conflict during which essential societal functions are breaking down.

The need to stock up on water, food and means of heating is heavily underlined, and there is even a checklist of the basic needs for a family along these lines for a week of disruptions of government and societal services. This is basic prepper stuff and could have been the guidelines of a prepper community in Oklahoma in the 1980s. But substantial efforts are also made to make the Swedish general public aware of information warfare issues, i.e. fake news and other means of disinformation, as well as of terrorism.

One thing that stays, though, is the basic premise of the Swedish will of resistance: “If Sweden is attacked by another country, we will never give up. All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false.” This is vintage Cold War discourse. Thus, although the MSB brochure is in itself a clear sign of the deteriorating security situation in the Baltic Sea region, and also in and of itself constitutes a good piece of information for the individual citizen and his/hers individual responsibilities in a crisis or conflict situation, its lack of geopolitical or security policy contextualization is a drawback. Without any clear hints on where to look for the major threat – i.e. Russia – it becomes difficult to consider, for example, the Russia-controlled information warfare campaigns that undoubtedly would be part and parcel of any armed conflict in the Baltic Sea region. This said, though, the MSB brochure will have a number of good effects on Swedish society, primarily to make the population aware of the fact that a war or a major crisis actually could affect Sweden. This alone makes the MSB effort a worthwhile one.



1 There is an English version of the brochure as well: IF CRISIS OR WAR COMES