Speech by Ulf Kristersson

Speech by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at Folk och Försvars annual national conference 2024

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Your Majesty, 

Your Royal Highnesses, 

Soldiers and seamen, 

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here again – at Sweden’s most important conference on national and international security issues. At a time when more and more are beginning to understand just how important these issues are.

Because Sweden faces a new and more dangerous reality. The free world and rules-based world order are being challenged by authoritarian forces in pursuit of an order where ‘might is right’. 

Sweden and its neighbours are living in the direct shadow of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. But Russia’s threats, disinformation and cyber attacks are an attempt to destabilise the whole of Europe. 

This leads me to a few key conclusions. 

Firstly, persistence is essential in Sweden’s, the EU’s and the US’s support to Ukraine. Continued US support requires strong European support. Criticism of insufficient US engagement rings false if we do not stand up for our own continent. 

Or, as Per Wästberg said in his latest book, which I read over the holidays:

“Our destiny is playing out in Ukraine – the struggle to remain who we are and dare to believe in ourselves. Ukraine is facing an existential threat – this is a threat that we share.”

On Zelenskyy, he concludes, “It is our security he is defending.”

Secondly, Sweden’s natural place is in NATO. 

This is a conviction that many of us here have held for decades. And there is now broad political consensus on this major paradigm shift. In the face of acute threats we are still able to come together. I believe we must do so more often.

Sweden has unique military capabilities – in the air and under sea, with our intelligence capacity and winter-ready soldiers. We can shoulder a greater responsibility in the Baltic Sea region and within NATO command structures. And we know the maritime conditions in this area that will now be enclosed by NATO Allies – with its brackish waters, low mean depth, varying topography and short distances. 

We connect the Baltic region to the transatlantic link. And we have a key role to play in the deployment and transport of Allied combat forces, enabling NATO to operate in our part of Europe.

We will contribute to NATO’s deterrence and defence. 

Last year, I announced that Sweden was – in addition to contributing to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing and cooperation to boost European air defence – ready to provide ground combat units to the defence of the Baltic countries. Today, I can report that the Government intends to contribute a reduced battalion to the Canadian-led forces in Latvia. 

But Sweden also offers all its other strengths: a strong economy, an advanced defence industry and our Swedish values. Joining the free world’s defence alliance is something new – but it is still a homecoming. 

We waste no time awaiting the final ratifications. Because, thirdly, Sweden is arming itself – swiftly and forcefully. 

This year, we are investing an additional SEK 27 billion in military defence and will reach the NATO spending target of two per cent of GDP. Defence expenditure will have doubled between 2020 and 2024 – and with greater resources comes a greater responsibility to use them effectively. Defending Sweden in war is our defining task. 

In December, Minister for Defence Pål Jonson signed a historic defence cooperation agreement with the United States. In the past, Sweden’s defence cooperation with the US was secretive – as Staffan Carlsson brilliantly described in his new book on Dag Hammarskjöld. Today, we are transparent and have identified 17 military facilities where we are making preparations to be able to receive military support.

Fourthly, Sweden’s build-up must take place on a broad scale. 

The military, civil and high-tech components must form a single whole. Our opponents seek to exploit any and all vulnerabilities of our open society. This threat must be taken seriously. 

Internal and external security go hand in hand. In every speech at Society and Defence since 2018, I have called for a Swedish national security council that takes an overarching approach to addressing major security issues – from the campaign against Swedish social services, to gang crime and support to Ukraine.

The operational work is being led by National Security Adviser Henrik Landerholm, who remains in contact with his European, American and other international counterparts. 

Sweden now has a better overall capacity to analyse and coordinate vital Swedish security interests. As you are aware, Sweden has a tendency to compartmentalise. But nothing is less suitable for compartmentalisation and ministerial turf battles than national security issues. 

For the first time since the end of the Second World War, the Government has also appointed a specific Minister for Civil Defence. Carl-Oskar Bohlin’s mandate is to ensure society’s robustness during times of heightened alert or war. Experience from Ukraine has shown that resilience must be built from the ground up. When President Zelenskyy visited Harpsund, the CV90, Archer and JAS 39 Gripen were obviously high on the agenda. But so too were energy production and the people’s will to defend themselves. 

And when I visited the Kyiv School of Economics, wi-fi in shelters was a central theme – in terms of both instruction and defence. Step by step, we are now building up the new total defence. On 19 January, Sweden will reactivate the civilian service.

Ukraine has taught us that a country’s most important resource in war is the people’s common will to defend themselves. We, too, must begin to discuss the expectations that come with Swedish citizenship. Ultimately, it is about defending Sweden, our values and our way of life – with weapons in hand and our lives on the line. Citizenship is not a travel document.

Finally, my mandate and that of my Government is to prioritise, provide resources and make decisions. But ultimately it is we citizens – all of us – who build a more secure Sweden. 

Many people serve every day in the Swedish defence – as civilians and as military, as conscripts and professional soldiers. During my first year as Prime Minister, I have seen what you are capable of. From the conscripts in my own daughters’ platoons in Skövde and Enköping, to seamen on the submarine Gotland in Karlskrona and combat vehicle personnel in Boden, to the Swedish special forces units in Karlsborg. I am proud of your work. 

Yours is no ordinary job. You are defending our country’s freedom. We are defending our country’s freedom.

Thank you.