Well, giving up on a challenge certainly isn’t the way we do things in the Swedish Armed Forces. For a couple of years now we’ve been mustering our forces for the Nordic Battlegroup, and as live preparedness approaches it’s very much the moment of truth. And it’s now clear to an increasing number of people that the challenge we’ve taken on is anything but an easy one.
Some commentators are now waking up to the fact that Sweden’s armed forces seem to be about to take on missions that entail considerable risk to men’s and women’s safety. Does it really make sense to send young Swedes out to the explosive conflict zones? Do they have the training and life experience for these complex tasks? And the military equipment – what about all that materiel that hasn’t been delivered on time?
Well, late in the day it’s now clear to some people that we have a rapid-reaction defence that operates both nationally and internationally. But surely that can be dangerous!? Yes, but what would be the point of sending units to calm, untroubled places?
The trouble spots, those areas of hardship, are where our involvement and expertise are needed - as anyone who has been following the Swedish Armed Forces’ development in recent years will understand. The problem is that many, including some in positions where we might have expected better, haven’t been following developments.
"The question is whether anyone can be deemed to have put together a battlegroup with the capabilities of the NBG"
Sweeping the Battlegroup’s problems under the carpet would not only be ill-advised. It would also fundamentally be in conflict with the basic principle of openness. And it would hinder the learning process which is one of the benefits for Sweden in accepting the task of leading an EU Battlegroup. If we are to fine-tune our organisation and procedures, friction, conflicts of interest and pitfalls need to be brought to the surface to make sure we can do even better next time. Because just as the Supreme Commander repeated during his ‘The Way Ahead’ tour two years ago, the NBG has been an engine for the entire transition to rapid-response defence. There have been some gremlins in that engine in 2007, and there have been more problems along the road than many envisaged back then when the Battlegroup was just a concept, an idea.
So to one question the answer is a clear no: we won’t be operating at the giddy heights predicted by the colonels and generals back in 2006. We aimed too high. Mission not accomplished. But what does that say about the quality of the rapid-reaction force now to be at the EU’s disposal? I’ll come back to that.
The NBG is firm proof that the European security strategy from 2003 is now taking materiel form, so to speak. In a globalised world, distant threats can be just as disquieting as more local threats. Conflict prevention cannot begin too early on, as the interesting, well-written security documents put it. Therefore Swedes in Afghanistan. Therefore Kosovo and Chad. Therefore the NBG.
Many of Insats&Försvar’s readers are more or less directly involved in this rapid-reaction force. When you read about problems and weaknesses related to the NBG, it doesn’t mean the Swedish Armed Forces have performed poorly. We may not have realised the sheer magnitude of the challenge from the start. And that’s understandable to some extent, as we’ve never done anything like this before.
And so we come to what the unit can do. How good or bad was it in the end? The answer is that the NBG fulfils the order placed by the European Union. And don’t forget that the Battlegroup is a multinational force – not all the vital resources and competences have to bear a blue and yellow emblem.
Even so, Sweden does carry the heaviest responsibility for the NBG. All under the motto which especially the Supreme Commander has drummed in: Openness, Results and Responsibility. Soon we’ll see the results of all our sweat and tears.
Text: Staffan Dopping
Publisher/head of communications