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Sweden's defence slammed in global report

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Sweden's defence slammed in global report
A military operation looking for Russian submarines near Stockholm last year. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT
13:36 CET+01:00
UPDATED: An international think tank has warned that Sweden might not be able to defend itself against Russia, should its Baltic neighbour become more aggressive in future.

Estonia-based International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS) has slammed Sweden’s defence, claiming the country would be unable to safeguard its own borders, let alone those of its Baltic neighbours, in the event of a military attack.

A new paper from the think tank flags up increased Russian military activity in the Baltic sea, including last year’s submarine hunt in the Stockholm archipelago.

“If we look at the recent incident of foreign submarine near Sweden’s coast in October, then it becomes clear that Sweden’s defence ability is so weak that another country is able to conduct submarine operations in its territorial waters. If Sweden cannot ensure its territorial integrity during peace time, then it is obviously unable to do so during the war,” ICDS deputy head Martin Hurt told Estonian newspaper Eesti Päeveleth.

Sweden's limited defence capabilities also came under fire from critics on home soil.

Military expert Johanne Hildebrandt told The Local on Wednesday: "The downsizing of the military has gone so far that the country's defence abilities are paralysed. That a submarine hunt in the Stockholm archipelago is referred to as an intelligence operation, because there are no resources to chase the intruder violating the country's borders is dismally shameful."

Russia has been showing its teeth in the region lately. 9000 troops, 250 tanks and 55 ships were involved in military exercises near St Petersburg and Kaliningrad in December. And the Swedish Foreign Department called in the Russian ambassador after a Russian military plane almost collided with a Swedish SAS plane taking off from Copenhagen airport.

Last year Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told The Local that the country's new coalition government was looking into developing a deeper cooperation with other Nordic countries to boost security in the region. He said: “We have no immediate threat against Sweden but we have a security environment around us that has changed in a negative way and that is why we need to develop and deepen the discussions about how we cooperate with other countries.”

He added: "And we also have the Swedish partnership with Nato and the connection to the European Union and the United Nations. It is always important for Sweden to have this transatlantic link that we have developed during the years."

Read The Local's interview with Sweden's defence minister

Earlier this year an Ipsos poll for newspaper Dagens Nyheter showed support for Nato membership has gone up. Figures showed 33 percent of Swedes consider Nato membership to be a good idea, up from 28 percent in a similar survey in April last year.

Hildebrandt said: "The strange thing is that the country still has a close relationship with Nato but as non-members we can't affect anything. It is as if we were a mistress who in spite of several proposals refuses to get married, despite the fact that it would be beneficial to us in many ways."

But whether Sweden joins Nato or not, the ICDS paper concludes that the country has lost valuable time. Even if military capabilities are upgrade, the report estimates it would take 7-10 years for the country to reach necessary defence levels.

Hurt said: "There have been reforms for many years, but the new military structures are not properly equipped or manned. Following the Crimea annexation, Swedish politicians have not taken decisions that are backed up by the defence budget."

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