Speech by Minister for Defence Pål Jonson at Folk och Försvars annual national conference in Sälen on the 8th of January 2024
Check against delivery.
Your Royal Highnesses,
Soldiers and Seamen,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Clouds are gathering. The world has become more dangerous than it was just a year ago.
The war in Ukraine has developed into a cruel war of attrition that brings to mind the Western Front in the First World War.
But there is uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic surrounding long-term military support to Ukraine.
At the same time, Russia has mobilised its economy and defence industry for war.
And with the conflict in the Middle East we are forced to divide our attention among several crises.
There is uncertainty about where the United States will be heading after the presidential elections in November.
I therefore share the Defence Commission’s view that Sweden finds itself in serious times and that it is high time to focus our efforts and rapidly build a stronger total defence.
An armed attack against Sweden cannot be ruled out. War can also come to us.
These serious times require clarity of vision, capacity to act and persistence.
Clarity of vision to understand that Russia’s goal remains the eradication of a free Ukraine and creation of a Europe in which ‘might is right’, with buffer states and spheres of interest.
We have already experienced this in the past. We must not go back there and allow our children to grow up in that kind of Europe.
In essence, Ukraine is Europe’s shield against Russian military expansionism. And the future of the European security order is being decided on the battlefields of Ukraine.
And if this shield were to fall due to a lack of clarity of vision, capacity to act or persistence among the countries supporting Ukraine, the future world would – quite rightly – judge us harshly.
It would create a much more dangerous Europe for us all.
This is why persistence is needed to ensure that the efforts made by Ukraine – but also by us others – are not in vain, but rather help build a free Ukraine and a better Europe.
Because the war has so far been a strategic defeat for Russia.
It has led to the largest rearmament in Europe since the end of the Cold War, the expansion of NATO to include Finland and soon Sweden, and historic decisions whereby Ukraine will become member of the EU and NATO.
Ukraine’s military capabilities have been reinforced with defence materiel worth more than SEK 900 billion.
Russia, for its part, has met with international isolation and 12 rounds of sanctions, and lost over 300.000 soldiers.
The Ukrainian people’s will to defend themselves and the unity of the West have made a difference, and we will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.
To do otherwise would undermine our own security.
But the support needs to be further developed and tailored to Ukraine’s needs and our capabilities.
The capability coalitions now being created within the Ukraine Defense Contact Group will be key to increasing the endurance and predictability of the support.
The focus will be on training and newly produced defence materiel to strengthen Ukraine’s operational capabilities here and now. But also on building up the country’s future defence forces and ensuring their interoperability with NATO.
I want to particularly thank all of you in the Armed Forces and the Swedish Defence Material Administration who have worked with the military support to Ukraine. It is thanks to your professionalism and dedication that Sweden is able to make such a valuable contribution to Ukraine’s cause.
Your efforts make it easy to be proud in international contexts as Sweden’s Minister for Defence.
In these serious times, later this year Sweden will adopt a historic total defence resolution. It will be the first such resolution based on Sweden’s status as a NATO Ally. And it will be the first adopted while a major war rages in our neighbourhood.
It requires us to draw on lessons learned for the development of our own defence capability. I would like to highlight four lessons in particular that I think will be crucial.
Firstly, the war demonstrates that endurance and quantity matter on the battlefield.
The core of our defence capability consists in being able to quickly mobilise combat units that have the necessary personnel and equipment and have taken part in combined exercises.
The focus now must be on strengthening this core by striking a better balance between combat and support units so as to enhance endurance.
The absolutely decisive factor in enhancing our defence capability is personnel. Without it we cannot grow. The personnel inquiry announced yesterday is aimed at increasing the availability of both conscripts and professional soldiers for the wartime organisation.
Secondly, the war demonstrates that a strong defence industry is an important part of a country’s overall defence capability.
But Europe’s defence industry is designed for peacetime conditions.
This is unsustainable with a major war raging on our continent.
We are therefore opening up the possibility to employ long-term procurements of cartridge ammunition and use each other’s framework agreements within the Nordic region to shorten lead times on new defence materiel for ourselves and for Ukraine.
And the government is co-financing investments when defence companies apply for EU funds to prevent bottlenecks in production.
One aim is to triple the production of artillery shells in Sweden within a couple of years.
Thirdly, the war in Ukraine demonstrates that innovation and the use of civilian technologies are crucial on the battlefield.
Sweden is one of the world’s most innovative countries and has the conditions to play a central role in this area.
But due to decades of underfunding of defence – including military research and development – we have a technological deficit. The war in Ukraine demonstrates why this trend must be broken.
Sweden must be better positioned to use cutting-edge civilian technologies to strengthen our defence capability. This includes not least the use of unmanned systems in all arenas, space-based services and AI technology for planning and decision support.
For this reason, today the Government is presenting a defence innovation strategy. The aim is for the Swedish Armed Forces to achieve technological superiority on the battlefields of the future through the ability to adapt civilian technologies to military capabilities.
Fourthly, the war in Ukraine demonstrates the need to be able to expand rapidly. When the war broke out 684 days ago, Ukraine had 27 brigades. Today that number has more than doubled.
This year, the budgetary appropriation for Sweden’s military defence will increase by SEK 27 billion. In international terms, this is a high figure. But to get the most out of these investments, the pace of our own rearmament must increase.
When Russia mobilises for war, we must not be restricted by working methods from an era when money was lacking and time was an endless resource.
In this serious security environment, slow and circuitous processes that hinder the development of military capabilities are a fundamental threat to our national security.
The Government is therefore working with the relevant government agencies to establish a growth-based defence.
It is a matter of delegating responsibilities while at the same time strengthening follow-up and of streamlining procedures and better coordinating defence materiel, personnel and infrastructure.
It is time to focus our efforts in these areas as well.
Your Royal Highnesses,
In conclusion, we need to act as fully engaged NATO members when Sweden’s defence capability soon becomes part of NATO’s collective defence.
While NATO is in its most transformative phase of development since the Cold War, Sweden’s national defence needs to be developed and reinforced to contribute to NATO’s joint capabilities.
We will fulfil the high requirements and expectations of Sweden as an Ally. Our geographical location coupled with our capabilities will be crucial to the defence of northern Europe and will strengthen the Alliance as a whole.
We must ultimately be prepared to defend our country, our people, our democracy, our freedom and our way of life by force of arms.
We are living in serious times.