Leroy N. Soetoro
2017-03-03 19:32:47 UTC
GOTLAND, Sweden Late last year, Christer Stoltz, chief of contingency
planning for Gotland, Swedens largest island, got an unusual letter from
the central government in Stockholm, telling him to get ready for war.
Municipalities around the country should increase their ability to resist
an armed attack against Sweden from a qualified opponent, the letter from
the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency said.
The planning was also intended to respond to natural disasters, oil spills
or cyberattacks that could disrupt power and water supplies. But there is
no doubt that the Swedish authorities are nervous, given Russias more
assertive posture and the mounting uncertainties about the future of
Europes alliance with the United States.
On Thursday, the government announced that mandatory military service
abolished in 2010 would be introduced starting next year. Four thousand
men and women will be drafted into the defense forces.
If not quite returning to a war footing, Sweden is at least reviving a
level of preparedness that many thought had gone the way of the Cold War.
For two decades, our contingency planning was low, Mr. Stoltz said in a
recent interview. Now, we need to look at our plans.
In May, Gotland will join all other municipalities in a Contingency
Week, when Swedes will be taught how to hunker down for 72 hours in case
of an emergency. Soon, the authorities will begin to dust off public
shelters that have not been inspected for two decades.
For Sweden, the new uncertainties about security are even more pressing
than they are for most other European countries. Sweden is neutral and not
a member of NATO, so to a much larger extent it must rely on its own
defense abilities. Mixed signals from the Trump administration toward
Europe have made even NATO allies wary.
The threat of the U.S. no longer wanting to honor its security guarantees
is the most important development in the history of the alliance, said
Henrik Breitenbauch, the director of the Center for Military Studies in
Copenhagen. It has created high levels of concern all over Europe.
Peter Hultqvist, Swedens defense minister, said Sweden and other European
countries were too quick after the Cold War to dismiss potential threats
in the region. Politicians at the time maybe thought that the future
would be more sunny than the reality is today, he said in an interview.
Mr. Hultqvist said: From my point of view, many mistakes have been made
over the years. The security situation and what could come in the future
Now the country is moving quickly to make up ground.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Baltics seemingly became a
region of stability. Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all of which
line the Baltic Sea, joined NATO, and later the European Union. In Sweden,
military spending fell to 1.1 percent of G.D.P. in 2015 from 2.6 percent
All that changed with Russias annexation of Crimea three years ago and
the Russian support for the insurgency in Ukraine. As of last year,
Swedish military spending was up 11 percent.
Even so, Swedens military is simply not that big, particularly when
stacked up against a threat from Russia. So everyone gets involved,
including the civilian authorities and civilians themselves.
Announcing the return to conscription on Thursday, Mr. Hultqvist pointed
to a deteriorating security environment.
The all-volunteer recruitment hasnt provided the armed forces with
enough personnel, he said. The reactivating of conscription is needed
for military readiness.
Gotland, which serves as something of a forward defense for the Swedish
mainland, 55 miles to the west, was already remilitarized last September.
Strategically located in the Baltic Sea, the island is not far from the
heavily militarized Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which is sandwiched
between Lithuania and Poland. We see a lot of activity in the Baltics and
a lot of training, provocative flights and military exercise going on in
our neighborhood, said Marinette Radebo, a spokeswoman for the Defense
The change has been sudden.
Pfc. Emil Kling, a member of the Wartofta tank company who is now on
Gotland, said he had thought he was signing on for something completely
different when he joined the armed forces. If anyone had said three years
ago that Id be in Gotland now, I wouldnt have believed them, he said.
Things have changed fast politically.
A member of a logistics platoon, Private Kling had hoped to serve abroad.
February found him practicing maneuvers on a shooting field on the frosty
shores of the Baltic Sea as fellow soldiers gathered around a bonfire to
The regiment is temporarily defending Gotland while a new, permanent
battle group is training on the mainland. This summer it is expected to
move to a base still under construction.
Visby, Gotlands main town, is no stranger to hostile foreigners. The city
walls and towers, dating back 850 years, were erected to protect it from
the threat of the Danes on the Western edge of the Baltic Sea.
Just inside the walls South Gate, Birgitta Stenstrom runs a quiet book
cafe. She is not convinced that the tanks south of town are the right
answer to the threats against Gotland, and to Sweden.
Attacks from cyberspace is the real danger, she said. Im worried about
all the infiltration like the supposed Russian manipulation of the U.S.
elections. Even if I dont know if thats true.
The authorities say there may be reason to be concerned. In the last nine
months of 2016, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency received 200
reports of cyberattacks on public infrastructure, 60 of them serious
incidents leading to technical failures or the installation of viruses.
In the Journal of Strategic Studies, Martin Kragh recently published a
study on Russias active measures toward Sweden, meaning the use of
forged documents, disinformation, military threats and agents of
influence. The study found both good and bad news.
As regards the use of disinformation, there has been a number of
instances with forged telegrams and disinformation in Russian media that
have been circulated and at times caused confusion, he said.
We can see intent and certain behavioral patterns, he added, but we
cannot say that its been politically effective.
Mr. Kragh sees the best defense as raising public awareness of the risk of
disinformation, as well as open debate on the issue.
Mr. Hultqvist, the defense minister, said he harbored no illusions.
I think Russia tries to have an impact on the Swedish debate and
political decisions, he said. Thats what I think.
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