Sweden’s Military Budget and Armed Neutrality

In the preceding post Sweden and NATO it is clear that Sweden’s military expenditure has decreased, units have been disestablished, and budgets have been cut since the collapse of the USSR in 1990. At the end of that post I was critical of these cuts and still am.

It is worth pointing out here that Sweden always practices budget balancing, probably the only remnant of Sweden’s earlier ordoliberalism, which was already declining when I first came to Sweden in 1972. Notably cuts were made by Ingvar Carlsson (second term 1994-6, during which he also made up the deficit created by the Bildt Government), by the Göran Persson governments of 1996-2006, and the Reinfeldt Government (1996-2014). Unlike the Bildt Government, the Reinfeldt Government has continued the policy of budget balancing that was one of its strengths. Until then it was always the Social Democrats that prided themselves on budget policy.

The following website http://militarybudget.org/sweden/ shows the fluctuating costs over the last eleven years (2001-12). Expressed in USD, defence spending has fallen from 7656 millions to 6424 millions, expressed as a percentage of GDP it fell from 1.8% to 1.2%.

I have to say that I watched these cuts being made with growing incredulity. It is not possible to run an efficient Armed Neutrality policy on “fair weather expectations”. It is, of course, in some senses understandable that they did so, but surely someone in the Defence Ministry must have understood that NATO was expanding continuously after the collapse of the USSR, helping to widen the EU expansion eastwards (see, for example, the post on Georgia after the end of the USSR in EU: Ramshackle Empire).

Many cuts were supported by the Greens in coalition with the Minority Persson Government. But the cuts in general were done across party lines by both Social Democratic and Bourgeois Governments.

The period includes Sweden’s contribution to two neo-colonial wars, Libya and Afghanistan, both working with NATO, are the ones I remember most clearly.

Swedish Intervention in Libya in 2011:

“The Royal Swedish Air Force committed eight JAS 39 Gripen jets for the international air campaign after being asked by NATO to take part in the operations on 28 March.[128][129] Sweden also sent a Saab 340 AEW&C for airborne early warning and control and a C-130 Hercules for aerial refueling.[130]

The entry ends with this statement: “Sweden was the only country neither a member of NATO nor the Arab League to participate in the no-fly zone.”

This was a voluntary  Swedish contribution during the Reinfeldt Government,  to a NATO-led effort that was a fiasco, as Libya descended into civil war a couple of years later.

Swedish presence in Afghanistan: (Radio Sweden, in English). The text is brief, reproduced below in its entirety:

“Traditionally neutral and non-aligned, Sweden has actively sent troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world, from the Congo to Kosovo. There are currently some 500 Swedish soldiers taking part in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, stationed around Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.

But the mission is controversial with some voices calling for more development assistance instead of a military presence, especially after the deaths of Swedish soldiers in February 2010.”

But armed neutrality has given Sweden the possibility of contributing to those UN interventions that have been agreed by the Security Council, and to which whoever was in office at the time could contribute if they felt it both worthwhile and non-partisan, and where Sweden’s special abilities were useful. This is the great advantage of Sweden’s position.

The situation currently is that there is a weak Social Democratic minority Government that wants to retain Sweden’s armed neutrality, but the Moderates, Liberals, and Christian Democrats want to either join NATO or come “closer” to it (whatever that means). The general principle that abandoning the Armed Neutrality policy that Sweden has followed for 200 years will not be done unless there is broad agreement between the two main parties. Just about the only thing in the Social Democrats favour right now is that they stick with Armed Neutrality. Otherwise there is now little difference between the Social Democrats under Löfven and the Bourgeois parties in any policy area.

Joining NATO would be to put Swedish foreign policy in the hands of the USA, which spends as much as the rest of the world combined on defence including its military policies to place bases everywhere. Sweden would be one small insignificant voice in a global alliance run by the USA in alignment with whatever its President thought would be helpful to it. This much the same as is the case with membership of the EU, where the Nomenklatura decide the big decisions, often in close collaboration with the USA.

The two cases of NATO-based co-operation that Sweden undertook during the Reinfeldt years were hardly successes. The US did manage to depose and then murder Muammar Gaddafi but as with so many other US overthrown governments has ended in a situation of complete chaos. In Afghanistan the same lack of success is evident, with the growing strength of the Taliban.

I have to say that my position is to keep well out of NATO, pick and choose where to participate, this is the best of both worlds.

Löfven would prefer to govern with bourgeois parties than with the Left Party. Stefan Sjöstedt has already made it clear his party is now in opposition, and only votes with the Social Democrats on issues that Left policies agree with. They need to reconsider all their policies to give the Left Party a distinctive profile. The same also applies to the Greens whose policies on nuclear power and privatizations are being compromised in return for minister posts in the Löfven Government.

The Sweden Democrats hold the balance of power in the Riksdag and have made it clear that they want Sweden to stay out of NATO (Swedish text only). Sweden’s prime minister Stefan Lövfén has to present a new budget and the proposals include heavy increases in defence spending. The details are in this Radio Sweden (English) broadcast. It will be interesting to see what the final budget looks like when it is passed, and what the arguments will be.

The draft budget that will be resubmitted to Riksdag includes large increases in defence spending, amounting to an extra SEK4 billion a year for the years 2016-2019. In addition from 2020 there are capital costs of 10 Jas-Gripen, one u-boat, cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles. This amounts to SEK31 billions. The Minister for Defence Peter Hultqvist has made it clear that this is heavily rationalised work that has been further trimmed by reductions (information taken from Dagens Nyheter, 24 January 2015 p.14 “Försvaret kräver nya miljarder”).

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