Military For Members

Swedish defence analyst: 'We should be worried about war in Sweden'

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
Swedish defence analyst: 'We should be worried about war in Sweden'
How worried should we be about the prospect of war in Sweden? Photo: Tim Aro/TT

Earlier this week, Swedish politicians and military leaders warned that people living in Sweden should prepare for the possibility of war. The Local spoke to Fredrik Fors, senior analyst at the Swedish Defence University, to understand what’s going on.


“Many have said it before me, but let me do so in an official capacity, more plainly and with naked clarity: There could be war in Sweden,” Civil Defence Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin said in a speech at the annual Folk och Försvar defence conference, held at a ski resort in Sälen.

So, how worried should we actually be, as people living in Sweden?

“I think we should be prepared, we should be worried,” Fors told The Local. “We should also remember that we have a total defence, we have armed forces, but we as citizens in Sweden also have a responsibility.”

Neither Fors nor Bohlin suggested that an armed conflict in Sweden was a guarantee or imminent, but more underlined the fact that everyone should be prepared for the theoretical possibility of war in Sweden, despite it being a traditionally peaceful country.

“We have, for decades, allowed ourselves to think of more pleasurable things than war, and forgotten why we have to prepare for and plan for war,” Fors added.

He said that there had been a decline in recent years of the kind of preparedness that Sweden had during the Cold War, but that Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 changed attitudes towards Nato, funding for the Armed Forces, and speaking more bluntly about the risk of war.

Fredrik Fors, senior analyst at the Swedish Defence University. Photo: supplied

Sweden’s Supreme Commander, Micael Bydén, echoed Bohlin in his own speech at the conference in Sälen, where he encouraged Swedes to prepare for war.

Finnish journalist Pirjo Auvinen from Yle, Finland’s public broadcaster, reacted to his comments with surprise.

“I reacted very strongly,” she told public broadcaster SVT. “Words like this, phrases like this, aren’t used in Finland. They’re interpreted as if you’re calling for a war or you’re a warmonger. You don’t play with the word ‘war’.”


Fors disagrees that Bydén’s rhetoric was too strong.

“I think this is reasonable, given the background, given that Russia is threatening and waging war in Ukraine, but has also threatened the Baltic states, threatened Finland and threatened Sweden. This is for real now. And I think the message that the ministers and the Supreme Commander would like to get through is that it’s real.”

The blunter rhetoric isn’t just for the domestic audience, Fors believes, but it’s also aimed at Russia as a deterrent.

“It’s both, I think,” he said. “A domestic audience, citizens, people living in Sweden – you and me – civil servants, people working with total defence like myself, but also people who have not necessarily thought very much about the risk of war and thought about the fact that they have an important role to play if Sweden was attacked by another country, which is often Russia in these cases.”

Sweden's Supreme Commander, Micael Bydén, at the Folk och Försvar conference in Sälen. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Fors feels that the fact that Sweden is not yet in Nato “could be” a reason for the stronger language being used, while highlighting the fact that language like this is also often used by other politicians in the Baltic states.

“I think it’s more about again, Russia as a close country to Sweden waging war on Ukraine and threatening the Nordic countries. Therefore, Sweden is in a more severe situation than compared to say, Spain or Portugal, who are both Nato members.”

“I think Sweden moving into Nato, if we get there eventually, would not necessarily change that much. Yes, we’d be part of an alliance, but we would still continue to work to strengthen our total defence, meaning the armed forces and the civil defence, and in other ways planning for war in order to deter against war.”


Also at the defence conference in Sälen, opposition leader Magdalena Andersson accused Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson of implying that new Swedish citizens would be less willing than others to defend the country when he gave a speech saying that everyone who wants to be a Swedish citizen should consider what it means to sacrifice their life for the country.

“I don’t know if it was necessarily about immigrants applying for citizenship,” Fors said. “I think what he was describing was, if push comes to shove, and if Sweden is attacked by another country, then everyone in Sweden, citizen or not, is expected to do what they can in order to support the total defence.”

For citizens, this could mean, in extreme cases, being tasked with taking up arms in order to defend Sweden, Fors said, which could ultimately lead to them being killed in combat.

“I think again, the blunt rhetoric is about saying that we live in serious times, and you need to think this through. If you live in Sweden and apply for citizenship, or if you’re already a citizen, this could be your task at the end of the day, and this is another way of saying that we need to change our focus a bit.”

“Five years ago, ten years ago, this wasn’t necessarily the case, but in extreme cases, that’s what citizenship is about.”


In his speech, Civil Defence Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin also indicated that the government should take shortcuts wherever possible in its preparations, saying that “good enough tomorrow is better than perfect in five years”. Fors believes that this is less about asking the government to take shortcuts with legislation, and more about getting into the right state of mind.

Civil Defence Minister Carl Oskar Bohlin. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

“This minister has been saying this since he came into office, that we’re moving too slow. We are thorough when we look at legislation, prepare legislation and implement legislation, and that’s all well and good in peacetime, but sometimes you need to be able to move faster.”

“I think it was more interesting when he stated a few rhetorical questions and asked if you as a civil servant have done what you can to prepare yourself and your organisation for a crisis or war. If not, do so.” 

The most important aspect of any kind of crisis preparedness, Fors said, is försvarsvilja, or "willingness to defend".

“Without willingness to defend, nothing else matters,” he said.


In the event of an attack on Sweden, everyone in the country is expected to defend and resist until the bitter end.

“If Sweden is attacked by another country, we will never give up. All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false,” the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, MSB, states in its brochure If Crisis or War Comes, detailing how citizens and residents should prepare.

The brochure also recommends that each household is prepared enough to support themselves for at least a week.

“You can and should be able to sustain yourself for a week,” Fors said. “Without water, without food, without electricity, without heating. You should look over your own preparations and turn a bit more into a prepper, if you like.”

You should have enough supplies at home to survive for a week or two in the case of an emergency. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

This is not just in order to protect yourself, but also in order to lighten the load on infrastructure and society, so those more in need of help can receive assistance faster.

“If you are reasonably capable yourself, the rest of society can focus on taking care of those who are not that capable, like our elders, people at hospitals and so forth.”

If you have taken care of yourself, Fors said, the next step is to ask what you can do to support the rest of society, be that your local community or Sweden’s total defence and armed forces.

“Willingness to defend the country, it starts with you and your preparations,” he added.

Interview by Paul O'Mahony, article by Becky Waterton. Listen to the interview and hear The Local's journalists' analysis on the next episode of our Sweden in Focus podcast, out this coming Saturday.


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Jean Martin 2024/01/12 22:20
I agree with Finnish journalist, what's with all this sudden war-mongering talk in Sweden, and what's with this raft of war-related articles on the Local? So what exactly is the great benefit for Sweden of joining NATO? So that the country can be dragged into a conflict by the war-mongering Americans? Neutrality sounds pretty good to me.

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