BERLIN/BRUSSELS/STOCKHOLM(Own report) – Officially neutral Sweden can be considered a “de facto member” of NATO, a Swedish foreign policy expert confirmed in a new German foreign policy periodical. Last fall’s large maneuver in Sweden sent a clear “message” that the country’s neutrality has “de facto been suspended,” completely changing the entire military “map” of the Baltic region “to NATO’s advantage.” In fact, back already in the 1990s, Sweden had begun to build links to the western war alliance; crucial decisions had been taken already before the Ukraine conflict’s escalation and Crimea’s integration into the Russian Federation. The Bundeswehr is heavily involved in integrating the Swedish armed forces into NATO’s structures, focusing on naval cooperation. This cooperation is aiming at including the Swedish military into NATO’s naval operations. The cooperation of the naval forces is not limited to NATO’s framework, but may also be within that of the EU.
Sweden’s Linking Up with NATO
Already in the 1990s, officially neutral Sweden began developing closer links to NATO. In 1994, Sweden became a member of NATO’s “Partnership for Peace” (PfP) and in 1995 of the “PfP Planning and Review Process,” aimed at strengthening the military capacities of the member armed forces and increasing the interoperability of the war alliance’s armies. Since 1996 Sweden has been participating in NATO-led interventions, first in Bosnia-Herzegovina, since 1999 in Kosovo and in Afghanistan following NATO’s occupation in 2001. In 2011, Sweden even participated in NATO’s war on Libya with eight Gripen jet fighters. Since 2013, it is an official member of the NATO Response Force (NRF). In a next step, it signed the Host Nation Support Agreement at the NATO summit, September 4/5, 2014 in Britain’s Newport. This agreement provides NATO the possibility of using Sweden’s infrastructure at any time – also in the event of war. The official claim that this move was in reaction to Crimea’s integration into the Russian Federation is inaccurate. The Swedish government’s intention to sign a Host Nation Support Agreement with the western war alliance had been made known already on November 20, 2013 – even before the Majdan protests began. Last year, Stockholm even announced its interest in participating in the Framework Nations Concept (FNC), a closer cooperation of NATO’s European armies, being particularly promoted by Berlin.
The Baltic Commanders’ Conference
Beyond Sweden’s military forces’ direct link up with NATO, Germany is seeking to integrate the Swedish navy into a regional cooperation format that can be used in connection with both NATO and the EU: the Baltic Commanders’ Conference, an annual meeting of naval commanders of all Baltic Rim countries – except Russia – which was organized for the first time in Mai 2015 by the Naval Command in Rostock. According to the German navy, the conference “focuses on the territorial and alliance defense in the Baltic Sea.” Sweden and Finland, two non- NATO member countries, are participating in these meetings; Norway on the other hand, is a non-EU member and Denmark – officially – does not participate in EU military policy. Since 2016, the German Navy has been seeking to invite the navies of all the Baltic Commanders’ Conference countries to participate in combat exercises. The largest Swedish naval visit to Germany so far, was last November, with the participation of the 3rd Flotilla of the Swedish Royal Navy and nearly 250 soldiers on six vessels. The next German-Swedish naval exercise is planned for this spring – this time, in Swedish waters.
On Joint Mission
The Bundeswehr is explicitly including the Swedish naval forces in maneuvers within NATO’s framework and, in the future, even in NATO operations. For example last year, the German Navy had not only carried out its annual Northern Coasts combat maneuvers – the largest regular maneuvers in the Baltic Sea – with the participation of Swedish soldiers, but it was also in waters off the Swedish coast. Not only will a general exchange of personnel with the Swedish naval forces be intensified in the future, but a closer cooperation on missions is also planned. As a first step, “Sweden was offered the possibility of sending soldiers to the commanding staff of NATO’s minesweeping unit in the Mediterranean,” as Commander Martin Schwarz, of the 3rd Minesweeping Squad of the German Navy was quoted. In July, the German Navy takes command of the squad. Following last November’s visit of the Swedish flotilla to Kiel, experiences during the mission off the Lebanese coast and at the Horn of Africa were exchanged, it was reported.
House-to-House Combat in Stockholm
Sweden’s political scientist Stefan Hedlund recently described the principle significance of Sweden’s military cooperation with NATO. At the end of last year, Hedlund, a professor at Uppsala University’s Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies, described in the new German foreign policy periodical, Sirius, how the Aurora 2017 maneuvers were carried out in Sweden in September of that year. Troops from NATO’s USA, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and France participated, alongside those from – the still neutral – Sweden and Finland. According to Hedlund, this was the largest combat maneuver held in Sweden since 1993 – with around 19,000 soldiers, both conscripts and reservists. The maneuver was obviously conceived to impress the public. Stockholm’s residents could witness “not only heavy troop movements throughout the city,” writes Hedlund, “but even intense house-to-house combat in various places.” One part of the exercise was “the largest helicopter airborne landing operation in Sweden’s history.”
De Facto NATO Member
Hedlund draws a double conclusion. On the one hand, with Sweden’s firm involvement in NATO structures and operations “the regional security policy map has been fundamentally redrawn.” In the event of war, for an operation in Estonia, for example, NATO would no longer have “to fight its way up the Baltic.” “The route through Sweden should be much easier and more secure.” This alters “the regional security map … – to NATO’s advantage.” In addition, the official neutrality of the country – maintained at least for the Swedish population – “has been de facto suspended.” “Sweden considers itself a de facto member of NATO.” If “those parties in Sweden, continuing to rely on disarmament and absolute neutrality, can be restrained,” writes Hedlund, “then a completely new ball game has begun in the Baltics.”