Stormy times are difficult - but good for us

The Armed Forces have been buffeted by the storms of changing times this autumn. Events in Georgia were a reminder of the uncertainty that characterises our part of the world, and, almost at the same time, the four party coalition in government signalled a change in policy approach, as a result delaying the presentation of the new government bill on defence. Revisions to the previous budget estimates followed soon after. Taken together, a picture emerges of a situation in which many factors are in play simultaneously; and, furthermore, the content of the aims and tasks assigned to the Armed Forces in the future, from 2010, remains unknown, depending as it does on decisions yet to be taken.

Photo: Torbjörn F Gustafsson/Combat Camera

The storm rages around us here at home, as well. The intensity of discussion of defence policy has, this autumn, been unparalleled; and that is something for which we ought to be grateful - even if it can be exhausting struggling through stormy weather. Increased interest in our activities gives us the opportunity to reach out to the Swedish public with our message about the renewal of the Armed Forces.

We face several major challenges, however. Awareness among the general public of the change in direction that the Armed Forces has undertaken, in following the new directives of the 1999 and 2004 decisions in parliament regarding defence, is, to say the least, slender. We will not succeed in bridging over that gap in knowledge and understanding without the help of government and parliament.

In the midst all of this, recruitment of new personnel continues. Provision of new recruits for our Armed Forces, in a time when they are to become nimbler and and more readily deployable, is another such major challenge; and the task is not made easier by the present uncertainty that surrounds future defence policy. We have managed until now, but the task becomes harder as the pool of potential conscripts shrinks.

Just recently a project on the Armed Forces' core values, "Värderingar som styrmedel" (roughly, "Values as a tool of change") came under attack, when a tabloid newspaper degraded this strategically central project to the status of a customer satisfaction questionnaire. Once again, we were reminded that much of the Swedish public has no comprehension of how incredibly difficult and complex the task of transforming our military defence can be. The project on Core Values, with all accompanying in-depth qualitative personnel surveys, training and education, analysis and, not least, enthusiastic participation at  local level, is, of course, something much more valuable than a series of mere questionnaires. It is, quite simply, a necessary tool for the creation of a common set of values and principles, core values, that will enable us to meet the challenges of the future. Culture beats strategy!

The Armed Forces have, historically, been far too introspective. Even when we have made an effort to communicate, our perspective has not rarely been characterised by the question "what do we want to tell the public?". We have to turn that way of looking at things around: asking the question, "what are the needs of the public and what do people want us to tell them?". He who wants someone else to listen should place the listener at the centre of attention, not himself.

This issue of Mission&Defence takes us deeper into several areas of current interest. The new feature Blue pages touches upon, amongst other matters, homecoming soldiers, issues of threat and security, new demands on our commanding officers and the state of the public debate on defence policy going on in our neighbouring countries

And, while the world goes through changing times, and the storms of debate rage at home, our indefatigable personnel just keep on going.  Both here at home, and out on mission abroad. I was recently in Afghanistan, being cast from pillar to post in one of our armoured vehicles, and gained a feeling for, and insight into, the concrete work that is being done, in rebuilding the social fabric and improving the security situation, by our units stationed in the north of the country. I was, together with the Inspector General of the Army, able to visit our forces on ground in Sheberghan, and came into close contact with Afghan boys and girls who are now able to attend school in safety thanks to support given to the country by Sweden. Many of them gave me a thumbs up and some shook my hand.

I take great pride in belonging to the same organisation as those soldiers of FS 15. I saw energy and enthusiasm shining from the eyes of those who have dedicated seven months of their lives to helping others in a place 7000 kilometres from home. In making a personal sacrifice they help to make Europe safer. I hope that the current storm around defence policy will enable more members of the public to understand how Armed Forces' operations far away build peace and security at home.