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Speech from Peter Hultqvist

Speech by Minister for Defence Peter Hultqvist at Hanating, 17 November 2020


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Ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to thank Hanaholmen for hosting this conference and giving me the opportunity to participate and give a speech.

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As you all are aware of, we are living in unpredictable times with new challenges and threats. We are witnessing an increasingly challenging security situation both globally and in our neighbourhood. At the same time, we are in the middle of a pandemic with profound impact on our countries and in our societies. This is happening in a time when stability and security is already being contested.

We all have lessons to learn in terms of resilience, security of supply and preparedness. Another obvious conclusion is that better international cooperation and coordination is needed, not the least before decisions are made that affect populations in more than one country. We must be humble in this and be ready to find new ways to cooperate.

On the other hand, the Nordic defence cooperation has proven to be functional and robust through this crisis. Last year we introduced the so-called NORDEFCO Crisis Consultation Mechanism. The purpose is to support information sharing, communication and coordination among the Nordic countries in the case of crisis.

The mechanism was activated at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis to discuss the situation and the consequences for our armed forces. Consultations and information sharing are done frequently, often on weekly basis, among the countries’ ministries of defence and the military headquarters. Beyond that, and as a routine we share information and discuss security and defence policy issues of common concern.

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Sweden’s international defence cooperation and national defence efforts constitute the two pillars of Swedish defence policy. In line with the Swedish Government’s new defence bill for the period 2021-2025 we are increasing the defence spending to reinforce our national military capability. We continue to improve our military capability and deepen our international cooperation, a work that was started in 2015. The defence bill should be seen against the background of the deteriorating security situation in Sweden’s neighbourhood and in Europe over time.

We still face a Russia that challenges the European security order and breaks international law. The Russian aggression against Georgia and Ukraine demonstrates that Russia is willing to use military force to pursue political goals. Most recently we have seen how Moscow has responded to the popular protests in Belarus, Russia’s closest partner. It is safe to assume that Russia will not allow the opposition to oust Lukashenka or take Belarus in a political direction out of Moscow’s control. If Russia gets free access to Belarusian territory and airspace it will have a tool to create uncertainty and ambiguity, namely the threat of moving military resources into Belarus if Moscow deems necessary.

Add to this a continued Russian military build-up including nuclear weapons in our vicinity, increased military presence in the Arctic and a continuation of hybrid, cyber, and disinformation activities against other states. That will be the reality of tomorrow as it is of today.

The new defence bill represents the largest increase in defence spending in 70 years. This is a clear signal to the Swedish people and our neighbourhood that we are taking the security situation seriously. During the coming 5 years, the level of funding to the Armed Forces will increase by SEK 27.5 billion. In total, funding for the military defence will have increased by 85 percent in fixed prices between 2014 and 2025. The investments mean that total defence capabilities continue to be strengthened to meet an armed attack against Sweden, including acts of war on Swedish territory.

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For Sweden a security policy characterised by solidarity is the foundation. Threats against peace and our security are best averted in collaboration with other countries. Challenges must be met through cooperation and joint action. When I look at the map it is obvious that the North Atlantic, the Artic and the Baltic regions are strategically connected – and of considerable importance to transatlantic security. In 2018, a new vision for the Nordic defence cooperation was adopted. We agreed to improve cooperation in peace, crisis and conflict.

A historical step in this regard was taken in September this year when my friends and colleagues Antti Kaikkonen and Frank Bakke-Jensen, and I signed a trilateral Statement of Intent on enhanced operational military cooperation between Finland, Norway and Sweden. This new Statement of Intent outlines our common ambition to be able and ready to conduct coordinated operations in crisis and conflict. This new trilateral cooperation will improve our ability to act together.

A possible outcome from this enhanced cooperation is coordinated operations planning in areas of common concern, for example the northern parts of Finland, Norway and Sweden. We foresee an improved interoperability between our armed forces that enable common military action, if separately so decided. This is a good example on how we step by step are building a security web in Northern Europe, a web that raises the threshold for military conflicts.

To achieve our goal of peace and stability in our part of the world we also need an active, broad and responsible foreign and security policy combined with enhanced security policy co-operation.

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The defence cooperation between Finland and Sweden is more ambitious and more extensive than ever. The cooperation is by all standards all inclusive, including the strategic, operational and tactical level. This is becoming a routine, where civil servants, military officers and military units cooperate, communicate and exchange information on a daily basis. This is a historical new normal in our relationship.   

The interoperability between our armed forces is improving day by day. Together with Antti, I had the pleasure to visit the Finnish air defence exercise Ruska earlier this autumn. Seven JAS 39 Gripen fighters together with more than hundred Swedish soldiers and technicians were deployed at Lappland Air Base in Rovaniemi. It is important that we continue to maintain a close exercise cooperation despite the COVID-19 situation. The exercise Ruska showed that it is possible.

I was impressed by the level of integration between the Finnish and Swedish air force. We have come a long way in developing a capacity to conduct combined military operations in support of Swedish and Finnish defence. It is clear that we can act together!

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In challenging times, we must continue to stand together, confront the challenges and unite in maintaining peace and stability. We are stronger together! Thank you for listening!