The panel included Christer Zettergren, Secretary General of the Swedish Red Cross; Maria Strömvik, Research Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, and Colonel Håkan Hedlund, Chief of Staff of the Nordic Battlegroup (NBG). Among other topics, there was discussion of the boundary to be drawn between military operations and aid to the civil authorities.
"Crucial to our success will be our impartiality, neutrality and independence. Without these qualities, no weapons in the world can save us. But at the same time there are situations in the world where conditions are extreme and where one has to resort to military force, for example where a civil government cannot, or will not, protect its civilian population", said Christer Zettergren, and he continued:
"I am not against military personnel giving out bread and water to the starving. But we must not be seen as a part of that work because then we would be unable to do our job later. It is therefore important to make a clear distinction between our different activities. If we keep to our mandate and our respective roles, then we shall achieve success."
Prepared for humanitarian operations
Chief of Staff Håkan Hedlund made the point that the NBG could be called upon to perform humanitarian tasks.
"We are flexible and must be able to perform all the various tasks speedily. We are also prepared for humanitarian operations. Cooperation with humanitarian organisations in a conflict area is something we trained for during the build-up of this force."
Maria Strömvik commented that the EU was already engaged to some extent in civil-military cooperation.
"In Sudan there are joint military and policing activities, albeit to a limited extent."
Preparing a multinational force for a whole range of conceivable operations, without knowing where in the world the soldiers might need to be sent, is a new experience for the Armed Forces and for Sweden as the NBG lead nation. In the view of Håkan Hedlund, it has also been a valuable input to the process of transforming the Swedish Armed Forces into a mission based organisation.
"As Chief of Staff, I am satisfied with the work so far. The participating countries have been able to agree on appropriate missions for the NBG in the range of conceivable situations we have discussed with a view to providing, as speedily as possible, a sound basis for a political decision on future action."
In order to establish how the NBG could best be used, a number of earlier international operations have been studied during the build-up phase.
"It is important to bear in mind that this is a small force. The threat environment, the size of the operational area and the infrastructure in the area are all relevant factors. The higher the level of conflict, the more the mission must be limited if we are to achieve the aim. In a region where a full-scale war is already in progress, we would have to be able to secure an air base or a port in order to mount any substantial military or humanitarian operations, while in places where the threat level is lower we can operate over more extensive areas", said Håkan Hedlund.
Before being able to deploy any of the EU’s rapid reaction forces, agreement has to be reached between the member countries. But, in the view of Maria Strömvik, there can be no doubt that the need exists.
"From an EU perspective the Nordic Battlegroup appears to be unusually well prepared, and there is no shortage of hotbeds of conflict around the world where an EU-led military force should be able to make a positive contribution."
Irrespective of whether the NBG is deployed or not, Håkan Hedlund maintains that exercises have already shown that the concept works and that Sweden has shouldered its lead role satisfactorily.
"And over the coming period to 30 June we are prepared for anything – that is our job."