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What is Sweden’s strategy of ‘Total Defence’?
Sweden, like Ukraine, Switzerland, and several other countries, has a ‘total defence’ strategy. This means that it is not only members of the Swedish Armed Forces who are responsible for defending the country in the event of an invasion, but every individual adult and every institution in society.
Sweden’s defence strategy is divided into two separate, but supposedly well-coordinated arms: Military Defence and Civil Defence.
All government agencies, municipalities, voluntary organisations, regional councils, businesses, unions, trade bodies, and religious organisations are required to prepare for and, in the event of an invasion, take part in Sweden’s defence.
The idea is that a strong pre-prepared resistance movement will act as a deterrent. An invader might be able to conquer large parts of the country, but maintaining an occupation will be difficult and costly.
How long has Sweden had this doctrine?
Sweden decided to begin rebuilding its system of Total Defence in 2015, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Since then, every public authority once again became responsible for taking part in defence and preparing and planning for a possible attack. Sweden reintroduced military conscription in January 2018.
The system of Civil Defence has its origins back in the 1930s, when the country began building up a network of air raid shelters and a system of civilian air raid wardens. This system was then firmed up with new laws in 1937 and 1938, which set up the Air Protection Inspectorate (Luftskyddsinspektionen) and the Evacuation Commission (Utrymmningskommissionen), which was tasked with coordinating the evacuation of citizens from areas under attack.
During the Second World War, the system was formalised, developed, and extended across society, with the two agencies combined into the Swedish Civil Defence Board set up in 1944. The board continued to manage Civil Defence in Sweden until 1986, when its functions became part of the Swedish Rescue Services and the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency.
It was only from 1995 that Sweden’s system of Total Defence began to be dismantled. At its peak in late 1960s, Sweden could theoretically call up reserves of some 850,000 men in the event of an attack.
Who has a duty to defend Sweden in the event of an attack?
According to If Crisis or War Comes, a brochure sent to 4,8m households in Sweden by the Civil Contingencies Agency in 2018, “Everyone is obliged to contribute and everyone is needed.”
Under Sweden’s 1994 law on Total Defence, “every Swedish citizen has a duty to take part in total defence from the start of the calendar year in which he or she turns 16 until the end of the calendar year where they turn 70”.
The duty applies to everyone of that age who is in Sweden, even if they are not a Swedish citizen.
What might I be asked to do if Sweden is invaded?
Even if you have had no formal training and have not volunteered to be part of the Home Guard or Hemvärnet, you might still be conscripted to fight in the event of an attack.
You might also be conscripted into other government organisations, or posted by the Swedish Public Employment Service to do any job at all, from digging defensive trenches, to working as a driver, cook, or cleaner.
You might also be asked to give up your property, such as your house, your car, or your business to aid Sweden’s defence.
If Sweden is put on a “heightened state of alert”, the government gains power to “requisition private property that is of particular importance to Sweden’s total defence”.
What else should I do?
Even if you are not called up, it is still your duty to resist the invader in any way that you can.
“If Sweden is attacked, resistance is required,” the brochure states and this continues to be the case even if all state agencies are overrun and Sweden’s leaders announce a surrender.
“If Sweden is attacked by another country, we will never give up,” the brochure asserts. “All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false.”
For Swedes brought up during the Cold War, these words have the same sort of resonance as “Keep Calm and Carry On”, do for the British.
You should also prepare yourself for a potential invasion. If Crisis or War Comes contains a list of foods and other useful and necessary items that everyone should stock away.
This is not only supposed to help individuals, but also to strengthen the ability of the country as a whole to resist.
When the brochure was reissued in 2018, this still seemed like a far fetched scenario.
With the Ukrainian City of Mariupol under siege, it is easier to grasp how much better Sweden’s towns and cities would be able to resist an invasion if every household had weeks of food supplies stashed in their cellar.
You should also know where your nearest bomb shelter is. See our guide here.
What’s the current state of Sweden’s Total Defence system?
By Cold War standards, it is still weak.
Even after the rapidly growing investment of the past seven years, Sweden’s military remains much smaller than it was in Cold War times.
At the same time, a survey from the end of last year from the Swedish Defence Research Agency showed that less than half of Swedish adults described themselves as “quite” or “very” willing to put their lives in danger or fight in combative role for Sweden’s defence.
Some 77 percent said they would be willing to put their lives in danger in a non-combative role, and 84 percent said they would be willing to play a role, so long as it was non-combative and their lives were not in danger.
When it comes to home preparations, only 22 percent said they had made any preparations for war, or other crises, with 18 percent saying they stored drinking water for more than a week, and 36 percent saying they have food for more than a week.