The public debate on defence policy swings from one extreme to the other, creating a misleading impression - that the Armed Forces are being phased out, that our national defence is non-existent and that those few parts of our defence forces that do remain in being are located abroad. But – rumours of "the patient's death” are considerably exaggerated. That we have found ourselves in this situation is probably a result of inadequate communication .
Sweden has an extremely well qualified military of a size similar to that of other comparable European countries. There are certain structural problems, inherited from the previous policy doctrine of territorial defence, as well as a number of functions that are at a critical levels in terms of volume.
It is now ten years since the Riksdag passed the reform resolution ”the new defence”. The objective of the reform process has been to realign the orientation of the Armed Forces from defence of the national territory to greater involvement in international operations. But also away from a military defence that was built on large numbers and a doctrine of war of attrition, derived from the Second World War (we calculated, rightly or wrongly, that there an enormous number of casualties be incurred in the event of an invasion).
Volumes & industry
The soldier, the conscript, was a minor cog in the machinery of mass defence, and we imagined that this soldier would get by with a short period of training and a little rehearsal.
It was a defence policy in which political attention was focused more on the volume of National Service personnel, the defence industry and maintaining a comprehensive regional network of garrisons, than on real military effectiveness and on an Armed Forces able to function in live operations.
Accordingly, the reasons for reforming the defence structure were many. The basic contention of the year 2000's policy changes was simple – that we actively defend the security and national interests of Sweden when we participate, together with others, in operations outside our territorial boundaries. A modern and highly skilled defence force is a pre-condition for both national and international operations. Functioning units with few, or minor, deficiencies.
The Armed Forces were to be adapted for "joint" operations with a modular structure – and this presupposed a network based command and control and information functions. This, along with the view that we we would prefer neither to incur casualties during our operations overseas, nor cause injury to third parties, nor inflict unnecessary losses on our opponents, involved entirely new, and heightened, demands on the quality of our units in all respects.
These quality requirements were accentuated in 2004 defence policy review, which further emphasised overseas capability.
This policy was motivated by the fact that then, as now, the globalised state of the world of today means that all countries are more dependent upon each other than ever before.
Problems, threats, crises and other sources of trouble travel rapidly over the world (just look at the so-called financial crisis). We are a part of the globalised world, and of an integrated Europe, whether we like it or not.
The fundamental idea of European integration is one of co-operation, not only to avoid war and conflict but also to build a stronger Europe at all levels. This project of integration is founded on a principle of solidarity.
Sweden has a strong national interest in the success of European co-operation, its failure would expose us to increased risk, we are far too small a country to be able to survive by ourselves if we were to be more directly affected by crisis or conflict.
Our self-interest also lies in maximising our influence in Europe and the wider world. This discussion can be especially difficult in this country for historical reasons - we have followed a policy of neutrality and later non-alignment for 200 years-
Balance of power
Using our military resources to take an active part in cooperating with others for the benefit of our common security is today - in contrast to the situation in previous years - a necessary pre-condition for ensuring that that the Swedish voice is heard in other policy areas.
During the Cold War we could always exploit our position as regarded the balance of power between the two military giants. That role is no longer available.
Today, we have to be actively engaged internationally, even as regards the military dimension in order to maintain our credibility in the international community. Our international partners are, to a significant degree, more familiar then we are not only with the idea of regarding their military as instruments of security policy, but also with acting according to notions of the national interest.
Our Armed Forces – contrary to all rumour – are highly qualified to perform the tasks assigned to them, and that fact, together with the operations we have perform, contributes to high levels of credibility and prestige internationally.
If we were to "withdraw" entirely from these activities and simply focus on territorial defence we would lose credibility and be marginalised within the international community - our opinions would not be taken especially seriously.
Active or passive?
A very simplified description could read something like this: the Swedish parliament has repeatedly taken the decision to make the transition from a security policy based upon self-sufficiency and the motto "strength in isolation" to one that build upon the idea of "one for all - all for one".
An example of how this policy change was established came when Sweden held the European Union presidency in 2001. The then government was faced with the alternatives of pursuing an active or passive approach to the issue of development of the common European security and defence policy - and chose to be extremely active.
In which case, what are the difficulties? One problem has been that the political level has not always expressed itself clearly concerning changes to security policy.
Has this lack of clarity something to do with the sensitivities involved in changing approach from self-chosen isolation to active engagement? So, rather than saying plainly that we operate militarily outside Sweden because such activity is the foundation of our new security policy, a distinction is, instead, made between national and international operations.
Bosnia, a turning point
Our international operations are described in terms of primarily offering assistance to others, and thus have little to do with our own security. The picture that is painted of current international missions is one of a continuation of Sweden's long tradition of involvement in peace keeping - despite the fact that the reasoning behind engagement in international operations, and the missions in themselves, have changed entirely in character.
The mission in Bosnia was the real turning point – despite the fact that the new security policy has yet to be formulated.
Motivation for engagement changed from one of primarily "helping others" - as was the case for UN missions from the 1950's to the 1980's - to being one of managing the crisis in Yugoslavia, which indirectly threatened stability in south-eastern and central Europe - and thus risked affecting Sweden ... at least indirectly if it had continued or escalated.
Missions following that in Bosnia, in Africa or in Afghanistan, are depicted as motivated by solidarity with vulnerable populations, i.e. that we are there primarily "to help others".
Admittedly, it is sometimes mentioned, though hardly as a primary motive, that we are there in order to contribute to international security; and it is very seldom discussed that we might be motivate by our own national interest, i.e. to create a security climate that actually benefits Sweden.
As a result it is not at all strange that many people do not understand the new defence principle, that is a natural consequence of a changed security policy. There are sure to be many people who wonder why we are operating abroad ("that has nothing to do with our own security, especially with the rumblings to be heard from Russia at the moment").
Correcting the picture
What can be done to correct this erroneous picture? One desire is, naturally, for the political level to be clearer in its presentation of the new security and defence policy.
But what can we do ourselves in the Armed Forces?
We must also speak plainly.
We ought not to describe our operations in terms of overseas development and aid, but rather talk more openly of the tougher security dimension, including its military aspects.
We should not present ourselves as another international development agency, our primary task lies in produce soldiers, commander and officers skilled in "armed combat", regardless of changes to the environments in which we operate. However, we must, of course, continue to recruit those who with those good qualities necessary for being able to perform both roles - "soldier" and "peacemaker/humanitarian"; but we must not forget the core of our profession.
Cease dividing up the organisation
We must, as soon as possible, cease dividing national from international operations, even if legal considerations place limits on the extent to which this can be accomplished. All operations are of benefit to the national interest and increase our security regardless of where in they are performed - inside our territory, in our near vicinity, in Europe or across the World.
We have to free ourselves from terms like "overseas force" (as distinct from our national operational structure).
We live today, still, with two parallel organisations - one for international missions and another for national operations. This division is in many ways unfortunate, being expensive and leading to organisational disorder.
To put it simply, the division can be described in terms of the tax-payer spending thousands of millions on a structure for military operations that is never used, it can, instead, be likened to a resource pool. For each mission that takes place external to Swedish territory an "ad hoc" unit of an "overseas force" has to be formed out of the resource pool.
As a consequence much needed knowledge and experience drains away from the permanent national operational organisation, since international units are dissolved when they have returned home. This has also meant that the Armed Forces have had to train greater numbers of national service personnel than would otherwise have been required.
To give a yet further example, we talk a lot these days about our "international veterans". In many of our neighbouring countries they would be described as "national veterans" (or simply as veterans), even if they had happened to have served their country beyond its territorial boundaries.
From the inside and out
The very idea of a military oriented towards operational engagement contains within it the requirement that the same units should be able to be deployed wherever they are needed - domestically, at home, in our near vicinity, in Europe or in other parts of the World. One needs, however, to distinguish between how a military defence force is structured and how it is used.
In building up a military defence structure the main focus should be from the inside out.. This is on order to possess, as early as today, an operational capability relevant to our near vicinity. But also in order to be prepared to meet the outcomes of negative developments in our part of the world, as well as ensuring that we are seen as credible so that we can, in turn, be given support in the event of increased threats or risks.
Meeting our needs, when considered as a whole, requires a modern Armed Forces with a sufficiently large strength of qualified personnel able to engage in combat on land, at sea and in the air, together with a national protection force.
National protection force
However, the Armed Forces should be used from the outside in.. An active response to meet problems and threats as far as possible from our own territory is logical (who would wish to fight in their own country unless it were entirely necessary?)
The reform process will soon have been in progress for ten years and at this juncture the conclusion can be drawn that Sweden has found the transition to an internationally engaged defence force (which is the norm in almost the whole of Europe) unusually difficult.
The main reason for problematic transition is to be found in the difficulties experienced in accepting changes to the strictly defined model of National Service (which came first six years into the reform process with Nordic Battlegroup when contract employment was permitted). It is quite simply impossible to make reality of an internationally engaged defence model with National Service as the main method of personnel provision.
It was therefore a moment of historic importance when the Defence Commission in its report of last summer concluded - with all seven political parties in agreement on the issue - that "in future no conscripts will be included in the operational structure".
Personnel for the Armed Forces operational structure are to be recruited on a voluntary basis, and can either serve as in reserve or active units.. How conscription and National Service enlistment are to be adapted to fit in with the new voluntary system will be an issue for the official government inquiry on conscription to address in proposals due to be published in the beginning of 2009.
How can the right balance be achieved?
What is the correct balance between active and reserve soldiers? The Defence Commission describes a scenario in which a greater number of soldiers fall into the latter category.
It is, however, a matter of concern that certain heavyweight politicians have expressed the view that no active (professional) soldiers should be employed. One of the reasons given for this position is that one ought to avoid employing soldiers "just to stamp around on the parade ground". A remarkable statement that could almost certainly only originate from this country.
The outstanding good fortune of not being at war for 200 years can result in losing perspective on what soldiery is all about.
The role of the soldier today does not involve stamping around on the parade ground, instead it requires service in difficult, tough and often technically challenging environments.
Soldiering is much more complex now that for only a few years ago; the soldier is required to be both "warrior" and "peacemaker". It is a profession in which decisions that could mean life or death for others or for oneself must be made in a second.
This consideration also gives a further reason - in addition to the view that the same units should be available for deployment in all geographical areas - for concluding that the system of National Service is no longer adequate: periods of training and rehearsal are far too short.
Permission to be professional
Quite simply, one has to be allowed to be good at what one is doing, to be a professional at it, which requires years of education, training and yet more training. In no other sector of society would one accept that "amateurs" be allowed to perform the work of qualified personnel (especially one that concerns issues of "life and death").
It is, therefore, important now that the proportion of active soldiers is not allowed to fall to low, at the same time as the opposite would be appropriate for reasons of cost.
A proportion of professionals is required - who should be able to be employed for five to eight years, not only for reasons to do with rapid reaction capability and competence development, but also for reasons to do with operational security in peacetime.
A certain degree of uncertainty is also likely to surround the shape of the reservist system: for example, in what light will a civilian employer look upon an employee who is also a soldier that may be called up at a short notice?
How will the same employer look upon the fact that the soldier will be engaged in long and recurring periods of training, preparation and operational service? How robust will the system prove to be in terms of recruitment? Will all really turn up for duty when required?
The conclusion to be drawn is that it will take a number of years to find the right balance, but that to rule out, at this early stage, the very possibility of the existence of "professional soldiers" (a highly charged term in our country, but one that is self-evident - and perhaps even a badge of honour - in the greater part of Europe)would leaves us ill prepared for building an organisation capable of engaging in armed combat in the operational environments of the present era.