Historically neutral Sweden is set to increase its defense budget by a substantial amount — and for the first time in decades — in the face of renewed Russian aggression.
The increase in spending for the Swedish military will come no matter what the final composition of the new government will look like in the wake of recent parliamentary elections.
That’s because all mainstream political parties campaigned on building a stronger national defense that will see spending increases over the course of the next decade at least.
“Sweden needs a more resilient national defense capability that is better funded and resourced,” said Stefan Löfven, head of the Social Democrats Party and Sweden’s prime minister.
Defense News reports on the new political makeup of parliament:
The SDP is hoping to assemble a new government in partnership with the Leftist and Green parties. These three parties secured a 40.8 percent share of the popular vote in the recently concluded September 2018 election.
Löfven’s main challenge is the center-right Alliance group, which includes the Moderates, the Center, Liberals and Christian Democrats. Together, the four Alliance parties won 40.3 percent of the popular vote.
“Sweden’s national defense has been neglected for decades. What has happened is shameful,” said Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderates and someone being widely tipped to become Sweden’s next prime minister.
“The budget allocated to the armed forces must reflect needs, operational realities and the requirement to replace outdated equipment. The goal should be to raise spending on defense to 2 percent of GDP, the recommended NATO level, inside 10 years,” he added.
“The [Swedish Armed Forces] needs to be able to afford to run essential equipment-replacement programs. We need more Army brigades, more fighter aircraft, and among other things an increased cyber defense capacity,” Kristersson said.
The buildup will take time. In 1963, in the depths of the Cold War, Sweden’s defense budget was 3.68 percent of gross domestic product.
In 2015 defense spending had fallen to just 1.1 percent of GDP, and today it stands at a historic low of 1.03 percent.
Defense News also reported on the proposed force structure of the Swedish military:
A force development plan endorsed by the armed forces favors an increase in annual spending on defense to between $7.36 billion and $9 billion by 2025.
In the longer term, and by the year 2035, the military would like to see defense spending rise to more than $12.1 billion. At the same time, the Swedish Armed Forces would be strengthened from the current 50,000 personnel of all ranks to 120,000 by the year 2035.
This proposed new look, improved capability and reinforced organization would comprise at least four brigade-level units, a light infantry special forces regiment, a fleet of 24 surface combat naval vessels and six submarines, eight fighter squadrons, and 120 Gripen combat aircraft.
Analysis: Sweden does not belong to NATO, therefore does not fall under the alliance’s mutual defense agreement.
That doesn’t mean that European partners and the U.S. would sit idly by and watch Russia devour Sweden, but the country’s recommitment to high defense spending reflects the reality that no other country would be obligated to come to Sweden’s defense.
Without question Sweden’s motivating factor is Russia. The Russian military has become far more active and threatening in recent years than it has since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Much of that is because President Putin seeks to reestablish Russian influence over regions that historically have been in Moscow’s sphere.
Sweden isn’t one of those historically ‘Russian’ countries, of course, but as a small historically neutral country, it is exposed. Part of the plan is to turn the entire country into a fortress so that if attacked, its population could exact a huge toll on the aggressor and, with luck and much preplanning, halt any enemy advances long enough for help to arrive.
While the new military spending will definitely help, the government’s go-to plan in the short term is to mobilize the entire country for war, should it come.
Sweden is only separated by the heavily militarized Russian enclave of Kaliningrad by 220 miles of ocean. Long and narrow, the country is also vulnerable to air assault from both sides. The mobilization plan calls for Sweden to hold out for as long as three months. Included in increased defense spending are plans to spend an additional $500 million or so per year shoring up infrastructure within the country so it can be used in a dual-role civil defense capacity.
These are big expenditures for Sweden, which indicates how serious political leaders believe the threat to be.