13-16 JUNE 2005 - VISIT TO SWEDEN AND NORWAY [DEFENCE AND SECURITY]
1. Seventeen members of Parliament led by Sven Mikser of Estonia visited Sweden and Norway from 13-16 June. The delegation met with Government Ministers, military commanders and members of the Swedish and Norwegian Parliaments. The members also visited the NATO Joint Warfare Center (JWC) in Stavanger, Norway where they observed training for the next rotation of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan.
2. Both Sweden and Norway are working to transform their militaries into smaller, networked, and deployable forces. This is a major challenge in most countries in Europe, but the Swedish policy of non-alignment during the Cold War left it with a heavy military structure that requires considerable effort to transform it into one focused on international operations. As a NATO member, Norway developed a different military structure, but is also in the process of restructuring it into a smaller and more deployable force. Both countries, however, plan to retain conscription despite the fact that they can only use a small proportion of the available youth in their restructured militaries.
3. In Sweden the delegation was particularly interested in the continued non-aligned posture of Sweden, how it has changed in recent years, and how it continues to evolve. Although there appears to be little popular support in Sweden for joining the Alliance, Sweden participates in many activities in NATO and plays a significant role in NATO operations.
4. Sweden is undertaking a complete transformation of its armed forces. Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces General Håkan Syrén and his staff described the ongoing transformation in some detail. Sweden is moving from a force designed to protect the national territory from a large-scale assault to one that is focused on international operations. As part of this process, Sweden is closing 10 of its 13 garrisons in the country and reducing the size of the armed forces by 40%. The defence budget will also decline by about 10% within the next few years but Swedish commanders expect that the savings from base closures and the reduced personnel structure should still leave additional funds available to pay for international operations.
5. Interoperability is a key feature in the transformation of the Swedish armed forces. The old model of Swedish defence was based on the ability to rapidly mobilize 800,000 troops from the population and use mainly Swedish-produced equipment to defend the national territory in the event of an attack. It was a model that did not require interoperability and much of Sweden's equipment was designed specifically for local conditions.
6. Sweden is now moving to a model where the armed forces will increasingly participate in international operations with a variety of partners in a range of environments. This requires equipment that is light enough to be transported by air and is compatible with NATO forces. As Swedish commanders pointed out, the old model for the defence of Sweden was based on the idea that a conflict would last one week at the end of which Sweden would either be destroyed or victorious. Therefore, their ground vehicles were designed for short, intense use and armored to withstand severe combat conditions. Now Sweden needs light and deployable vehicles that will run for many hours with relatively minimal maintenance. This is only one example, but it gives some idea of the depth and scale of the transformation of the Swedish armed forces.
7. Sweden has been contributing to international missions for many years, but it is increasing its participation and making that the focus of the military for the near future. Sweden currently has nearly 1000 troops deployed abroad, mainly in Kosovo and Afghanistan, but also participates in EU and UN operations. They plan to double their contribution to international missions to 2000 over then next three years. This is a significant number considering the relatively small size of the Swedish population- at 9 million it is less than that of Belgium.
8. Part of the increased participation in international operations will come through Sweden's leadership of the Nordic Battle Group as part of the EU Battle Group Concept. Sweden is the framework nation in this project, which includes Norway, Finland and Estonia. Most of the personnel will be from the Swedish military with significant contributions from the other participants. When deployed, the Nordic Battle Group will use the UK deployable headquarters under Swedish leadership. The Nordic Battle Group will be one of approximately 13 EU battle groups, each one consisting of 1500 personnel who can be rapidly deployed for a range of military actions.
9. A large part of the transformation involves changes in personnel policy. Sweden is moving away from the mass mobilization and conscription model to one that is smaller and more professional. Sweden plans to retain conscription but is now only taking a minority of the eligible young men into the military each year. Some members of the delegation asked if this was sustainable given the inequities of drafting some but not all of the available youth, but Swedish commanders were confident that the population supports the conscript system and that it is an important tool for recruiting contract soldiers. Those contract soldiers drawn from the conscripts will become an important part of the Swedish armed forces in the coming years.
10. Discussions in the Swedish Parliament focused on the defence and foreign policy of Sweden as it adjust to its larger international role. The delegation met with members of Parliament and key staff responsible for the direction of policy. Michael Mohr, Principal Secretary of the Swedish Defence Commission, described the unique role of the Commission in moving Sweden's transformation process forward. The Commission is a joint effort of Parliament and the Government to create a body somewhat removed from the political issues of the day. It includes representatives from all political parties and operates on consensus rather than votes. This pushes all members of the Commission towards compromises that are in the interest of the nation as a whole. As Mr Mohr noted the Commission is focused on "the issues that we can agree on." Those include developing the ability for rapid reaction, assessing security threats, and improving crisis management coordination between the military, police, and emergency services.
11. This led to many questions from the delegation, mostly focused on who or what exactly determines the national defence policy. The Commission is an unusual structure and does not have counterparts in most other governing systems. In short, the Commission is an advisory board and a forum for dialogue. Because it is somewhat removed from politics it can discuss radical ideas and potential solutions to different problems of military transformation.
12. The delegation met for an extensive set of discussions with their counterparts on the foreign affairs and defence Committees in the Swedish Parliament. Over the course of a wide ranging discussion it became apparent that there is little popular support for NATO membership in the country although Sweden is moving very close to the alliance. As was noted above, the bulk of Sweden's deployed forces are in Kosovo and Afghanistan with NATO missions, and Sweden is working toward full interoperability with NATO standards. Sweden will also soon take command of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in northern Afghanistan. Sweden continues to play an important role in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) and takes its commitments under Partnership Action Plan very seriously.
13. All of this led some members of the delegation to ask what still drives Sweden to maintain its non-aligned policy. As one member said, "what are you non-aligned against?" Various Swedish parliamentarians added that the preferred term is "military non-alignment" but for several members of the NATO PA delegation this did not clarify matters because Sweden was clearly aligning itself in missions and interoperability standards with NATO.
14. Nevertheless, the direction of Sweden both in Military and Foreign Affairs appears to be clear. The military will continue with its transformation regardless of any conceivable political changes in the country. Sweden will not consider joining NATO, but will continue to emphasize international operations often under NATO command and participate in NATO structures such as EAPC.
15. In Norway the focus was on that country's role as a NATO member that remains outside the European Union. Divided public opinion and Norway's unique economic position make it unlikely that it will join the EU in the near future. But Norway cooperates closely with the EU on many matters and is a member of the newly created Nordic Battle Group with Sweden, Finland and Estonia.
16. In meetings with military commanders at the Norwegian Field Operations Regional Headquarters in Stavanger, the delegation heard about the direction of Norway's military transformation. As in Sweden, the Norwegian military is reducing its command structure eliminating one of its two headquarters, reducing the Home Guard from 18 to 13 units and trimming the total number of personnel that can be mobilized from 83,000 to 50,000. As in Sweden, Norway plans to retain the conscription system despite not being able to take in a majority of the draft-age male population. Although members of the delegation question the viability of an inequitable conscription system, military commanders and members the Norwegian Parliament believe that it is a useful system for recruitment.
17. The Norwegian military is focused on increasing join operations within the services and constructing joint commands to facilitate those operations. In 1998, Norway decided to increase its ability to deploy forces and now has about 500 troops outside of Norway, mostly in Afghanistan. Norway has a population of approximately 4.5 million, so this represents a significant number in percentage terms compared to larger allies. Norway is also committed to supporting the NATO Response Force with approximately 2,500 ground troops, 5 naval vessels and 2 transport helicopter units. Norway also has a special expertise in training for cold weather environments. Although this may seem less useful in the post-cold war era, extreme weather training is important for a variety of climates and proved to be particularly useful in preparing forces for Afghanistan's extreme climate variations.
18. The delegation also visited the JWC in Stavanger. There the members observed military personnel from a range of countries undergoing realistic training for their upcoming rotation in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. Mock-ups of the command centers and role-playing exercises with incidents derived from recent experience on the ground made for solid preparation. The members of the delegation were also impressed by the significant emphasis placed on interaction with non-governmental organizations and civilians likely to be encountered in the course of the mission in Afghanistan.
19. In Oslo the delegation met with members of Parliament, the Defence Minister and the Foreign Minister. In meetings with members of the parliamentary Committees responsible for Defence and Foreign Affairs the delegation heard that although the EU membership will always be an issue under discussion, Norway is unlikely to join anytime in the near future. The reasons are primarily economic; Norway derives much of its national income from fishing and oil and natural gas. They cooperate closely with the EU on many issues including security and foreign policy and are contributing 150 troops to the Nordic Battle Group. Public opinion, however, especially after the rejection of the European Constitution in France and the Netherlands, remains against joining the EU.
20. Mrs Kristin Krohn Devold, Minister of Defence, discussed some of the particulars of the Norwegian military's transformation plan with the delegation. Effects based operations is a key term guiding the process. The idea is that military operations must be thought of as part of a strategy to achieve a desired outcome. In the current operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, it is clear that military operations must be closely linked to civil capabilities to achieve the desired goal of constructing peaceful, self-sufficient societies. This is a vision that comes from Allied Command Transformation (ACT) but it heavily influences Norway's plans for transforming its armed forces.
21. As a country with a small population and a large territory, Norway faces some particular challenges. It has to monitor and defend an economic zone in the oceans around Norway that are several times larger than the land territory of the country. Protecting that area is of critical importance because Norway derives its income from the sea- Norway is the third largest exporter of oil and fish in the world. At the same time Norway is an active participant in international operations. This requires some specialization and teaming with strategic partners. Norway is not unique in this but it does see the utility in more multinational funding from certain capabilities, especially strategic airlift and sealift. Norway is the lead nation in a multinational program to develop strategic sealift across the Alliance.
22. The Defence Minister reiterated military commander's comments on the restructuring of the armed forces but emphasized the degree to which Norway is shifting its investments. By closing and consolidating facilities, Norway has cut one-third of its base infrastructure. It has also reduced conscription to about one-third of the eligible youth. This has freed funds for investment in new equipment and operations and Norway now devotes about one-third of its defence budget to investment in new equipment. She underlined some of the important purchases such as stealthy littoral combat vessels, helicopters, and night vision equipment.
23. In response to questions from the delegation, the Minister emphasized the need to address the issue of national caveats and reduce them to a minimum. She also reiterated the importance of building on the strategic vision of ACT which includes understanding the link between international development and military action, and noted that there are significant opportunities for cost savings in better logistics coordination between the allies.
24. Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Petersen noted that NATO means more to Norway than most other members because it is not part of the EU. He emphasized the need for a broad Transatlantic strategic dialogue and that it should take place in a NATO context so that Norway is not left out of the discussion. As much as other problems in the international environment may dominate the headlines, he warned that it is vitally important that we finish the job in Afghanistan. The Minister focused on the important role of the "high north" and Norway's territorial waters. He noted that probably 25 % of the world's unexplored oil resources are in the Arctic and that we need to carefully exploit this resource with the best available technology to avoid damaging the delicate Arctic environment.
25. The Foreign Minister also discussed Norway's improving relations with Russia on a range of issues including nuclear waste clean-up. He noted that this is an important non-proliferation effort because such materials could be used in a radiological bomb if they fell into the hands of terrorist organizations.
26. In response to questions from the delegation, the Minister discussed a wide range of issues including the final status of Kosovo and UN reform. He noted that Norwegian Ambassador Kai Eide is currently preparing the report on the implementation of standards and that we are at a critical juncture for resolving the situation in Kosovo. He stated that Kosovo has not been high enough on our agenda for some time and that this lack of attention is dangerous to the stability of the region. The Minister also underlined the importance of UN reform although he felt that changing the Security Council composition should be considered separately from other reforms. He supported creating a Human Rights Council to replace the current Commission and stated that new members of the security council should not have veto rights.