Researcher Magnus Ranstorp and Lieutenant Colonel Per Dahlbom of MUST present their picture of a global threat from which Sweden is by no means excepted.
“Today's threats differ significantly from the military threats of the Cold War era. The rich countries of the world are inter-connected, through the transnational economy, in a network of mutual dependence. War between two states belonging to this network has become inconceivable since the balance of international relations would be destroyed and the whole world would be thrown into chaos.
“Threats to our security cannot be discounted. They have simply taken on a new form.”
Magnus Ranstorp, head of research at the National Defence College's Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies, elaborates:
“We have been spared a major attack on, or threat to, Sweden, but the secondary effects of international events are felt in Swedish social structures. Our thoughts are often dominated by the physical destruction associated with terrorism, not the long term social consequences.”
The terrorist threat to Sweden is often, in people's minds, identified with an attack on central functions located in Stockholm.
That perspective on matters can lead to a short term and distorted picture of what a threat, is or could be. A pandemic, a worldwide plague, rarely has an address and does not explode upon us like a bomb. Threats of this type can have major social repercussions with long term effects.
Taking security threats seriously can be politically unpopular, which means that decision makers can find themselves in a situation in which they are more scared for the political fallout of their decisions than of the threat itself.
Decisions regarding quarantine or protective slaughter can amount to political suicide, if it is later shown that such measures were unnecessary.
Sweden arrests bin Ladin
Magnus Ranstorp explains that terrorism is by no means a phenomenon that only emerges from ideological currents within modern society:
For many hundreds of years terrorism has been used by both states and political groups as a means of imposing their will on others or to invoke fear in the minds of dissidents.
An attack can come from anywhere, at any time. Sweden's role in international operations exposes this country to potential threats.
The situation can be described using the term "Glocal" - combing "global" with "local". The contents of a small country newspaper can be seen as a great insult in another part of the world, and a new crisis develops.
The converse would occur if Swedish troop were to arrest bin Ladin, how would the world around us react? In both cases the threat level is transformed over night. "How does one deal with that?", Magnus Ranstorp asks himself.
Pull in the same direction
Is it all possible to protect ourselves from terrorist attacks?
“Being effectively prepared requires a strategy for managing crisis situations. The terrorist threat is global, which means that cross-border co-operation is becoming increasingly important.”
Such co-operation is founded on bilateral relations between the various countries' security services, or multinational organs, such as Europol and the European Union's Terrorism Working Group (TWG).
Threats in the near vicinity
Pär Dahlbom, Lieutenant Colonel in the military intelligence and security service, MUST, argues that present day threats consist, to a large degree, in "shadow states" (criminal networks that have established a state like authority) and other actors outside the sphere of the state.
The majority of threats in Sweden's near vicinity are neither traditional nor of a military character.
Pär Dahlbom reasons further:
“How will the balance of power in our region change over time? Who holds rights to exploit the mineral reserves of the Arctic region once climate changes make such exploitation, not least oil extraction, economically viable?”
The possibility of military threat cannot be written off entirely. What will be the effects on the rest of Europe of the missile bases that NATO plans to locate in Poland and the Czech Republic? The threat of military intervention remains as long as there are national interests to defend.
Pär Dahlbom warns:
“If the balance is disturbed the resulting backlash will have far reaching consequences for Swedish society”
Fact file: What is terrorism
The United Nations has attempted to define terrorism, without much success, for half a century. Kofi Annan proposed a definition in December 2004:
Any action intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such an act is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organisation to carry out or to abstain from any act”
Combating terrorism in Sweden
Anti-terrorist activity focuses on so-called intelligence work, i.e. directing, gathering, processing, analysing and sharing information. Information is collected with the assistance of, amongst other things, traditional reconnaissance, radio signals intelligence gathering, monitoring of electronic communications and public sources, as well as interrogations.
The credibility and trustworthiness of the source of intelligence is appraised prior to analysis. Intelligence analysis seeks to assemble an account of what has occurred, what is happening right now and how events could develop in the future. When the information has been analysed it is passed on to the relevant sections of the security police and, if necessary, to other public authorities, organisations or companies.
By Felix Björklund
Photo by Niklas Ehlén