Sweden punches above its weight technologically, remains a close and trusted NATO partner, NATO Parliamentarians hear

17 March 2020

Brussels, 17 March - Despite its small population size, Sweden continues to punch above its weight in military and information technology. This was a main conclusion of a recent visit of a delegation of the Assembly’s Sub-Committee on Technological Trends and Security. Twelve parliamentarians from seven NATO member countries received a comprehensive set of briefings on a broad range of military-technological issues and Swedish security policy. The delegation, led by Kevan Jones (United Kingdom), Chairperson of the Assembly’s Science and Technology Committee, also discussed Sweden’s relations with NATO and regional security. During the visit to Stockholm from 9 to 11 March, the members had the opportunity to meet with senior officials, including Defence State Secretary Jan-Olof Lind and Andreas Norlén, Speaker of the Riksdag. 

Sweden’s political parties continue to pursue common ground on foreign and security policy, the delegation learned. The Swedish Defence Commission, a forum for consultations between the Government and representatives of all political parties in the Parliament, plays an important part in achieving broad political support on Sweden’s security and defence policy.

Following the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 Sweden decided to reintroduce the “Total Defence” concept, an approach it had pursued during the Cold War to plan and prepare the country for a possible war. The Swedish Defence Commission’s two reports, guiding the discussion and decision-making process, put forward both military and civilian measures. Swedish efforts to bolster civil defence are designed to strengthen resilience and include plans to clarify emergency power solutions, secure food and water supplies, as well as provide healthcare and pharmaceuticals. In the military realm, Sweden plans to increase the defence budget from SEK 58 billion in 2019 (c. EUR 5.37 billion) to SEK 84 billion in 2025 (c. EUR 7.78 billion), which represents approximately 1.5% of its GDP. The additional investment is the biggest increase in defence spending since the 1950s. The Commission also proposed to enhance defence cooperation with other states. 

Riksdag Speaker Norlén informed the delegation of the Swedish Parliament’s participation in the “Total Defence” exercise that is conducted throughout the year and includes all levels of government and society in Sweden. The Riksdag’s participation in the exercise not only provided a good opportunity to increase knowledge about the role of parliament among the Swedish public but also made it possible to parliamentarians to learn how to deal with crises. 

Moscow’s provocative actions has led Sweden to enhance its national war fighting ability, Defence State Secretary Jan-Olof Lind informed the delegation. However, although Russia is an ongoing topic of discussion, China and its actions on the international scene have become a main issue for Sweden. With 50% of its GDP generated through exports, Sweden is extremely dependent on a rules-based world order. Therefore, everything that poses a threat to this order is a concern for Sweden, and Stockholm is interested in understanding China’s international activities and growing military clout.

The only relevant divisive security policy issue among the Swedish political parties and among the Swedish population concerns the country’s relationship with NATO. According to Kenneth G. Forslund, Chairperson of the Riksdag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Swedes are not united in whether the country should have a close cooperation with the Alliance or whether it should seek membership. Regardless, Sweden is and remains a close partner of the Alliance. While cooperation is closest with NATO’s Science and Technology Organisation, Sweden also continues to contribute to several NATO missions, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo, State Secretary Jan-Olof Lind said. He also stressed that, as a member of the EU and close partner of NATO, Sweden has a strong interest that these two organisations cooperate closely together.

At Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications company, the delegation received a comprehensive overview of 5G technology and cybersecurity. With about 30% of the world market, Ericsson is a global company, stressed Ulf Pehrsson, Vice President and Head of Government and Industry Relations. Ericsson is the world leader in 5G technology, he said and noted that “It is impossible to be behind in 5G when nobody is in front of us“. 5G use will increase dramatically, from currently 13 million subscriptions worldwide to an estimated 2.6 billion over the next five years. Although 5G is, compared to 3G and 4G, the most secure standard from a technical point of view, cyber security becomes ever more important as the number of cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure and political processes is increasing. This situation is compounded by the fact that 5G will allow much deeper integration of gadgets in the future. Together with increasing intensity of use, this creates a new situation, where supply chain security is of crucial importance. Ericsson places a strong emphasis on vulnerability management and keeps track of every piece it has acquired, and almost 75% of all development is done in-house.  

The challenges of developing technologies for defence and security, defence innovation, as well as the appearance of a new class of weapons – hypersonic missiles – were at the heart of the meetings at the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) and the Swedish Defence University. NATO delegates also discussed Swedish experiences and approaches to capability development with senior representatives from the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV). Presentations on hypersonic weapons and technological developments in urban warfare to Saab concluded the programme.

Photos of the visit are public and can be found the NATO PA on Flickr account 

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