Swedish Armed Neutrality

There are already a couple of posts on this blog about Sweden’s armed neutrality (see below for links). There was a recent Swedish TV programme (17 April 2015) on the history of armed neutrality in Sweden. I had not realised just how strong Sweden’s armed forces were in the early postwar period. The air force was particularly strong with somewhere between 200 and 300 J fighter planes, one of the strongest air forces in the world. By 1945 fighter aircraft numbers rose to 600. Of course, this was during wartime. But even after that Sweden added to its air force to make it over 800 strong. The army itself was some 1,000,000 strong, by far the largest in Scandinavia.

A word about fighter aircraft deployment. Sweden is a large and heavily forested country. Fighter aircraft were not concentrated at major airfields but spread out in small numbers across the forests of Sweden, moved frequently, and kept camouflaged. They could all take off at short notice from stretches of closed off straight road. All this to deter a hostile enemy from undertaking a massive strike to knock out as many as possible on the ground. Hitler had used this surprise tactic with effect in earlier invasions. The Swedish deployment neutralised that possibility. At the same time, Norway and Denmark being occupied the Germans had a land route invasion, albeit across mountainous terrain, in the far north of Sweden.

There is a useful Wikipedia item on Military Equipment of Sweden during WW2, for any who want item-by-item listings throughout the war and during the early part of the Cold War.

The other aspect I would mention is conscription and the repmånad, a month in the field with the unit which each conscript was initially allocated to. I believe three such months were applied to each conscript, to familiarise the soldier with new weapons and technology. This was a sort of Dad’s Army and it is interesting to compare that hilarious TV series this with a Swedish film about Repmånad. The line of middle-aged conscripts is very similar in both cases. Differences? I would say that Dad’s Army shows the group standing while the Brits have a captain officer sitting in the front of the line, with an upper class sounding name – Captain Mainwaring (pronounced Mannering), played by Arthur Lowe, and reflecting the British obsession with social class distinctions.

The impact of Neoliberalism on Sweden’s armed neutrality

The common explanation for the advanced state of Swedish disarmament was the end of the Cold War after the end of the USSR and of the Warsaw Pact. This is, I believe, a delusion, perhaps a handy explanation to make ferocious cut backs. I do not believe that Swedish armed forces intelligence had not made it clear to the Government that armed neutrality should not be greatly weakened. What was the real reason? I believe it was the emergence of neoliberalism in the early 1980s, that resulted in cheeseparing cutbacks in all areas, steadily throughout the decades and the changes of Government, Social Democratic to Bourgeois and vice versa. The cutbacks were most draconian in education, health, welfare, old age pensions and elderly care. Naturally cutbacks in defence were much greater. Each hospital closure was fought over by local protesters. A search for sjukhus nedläggningar brings up a number of posts all in Swedish which show how local protesters demonstrated against closures, especially in rural areas.

The army was an easier mark, All they needed to do was to fail to modernise or replace old equipment, and to close down underground storage and air raid shelters and disestablish numerous units. Disestablishing military units did not bring out the popular storm that disestablishing hospitals did. Now  Sweden’s coast are littered with these massive concrete constructions. So cutbacks were especially drastic in defence.

EU-NATO Collaboration and Co-operation

The 1980s neoliberal revanchism coincided with the breakup of the USSR, but during this time NATO continued to expand to include the Baltic States and parts of Yugoslavia. Tito died in 1980 and by 1992 the fragments of the former Yugoslavia were being absorbed by the EU and NATO. So by chance, the disintegration of Yugoslavia coincided with the expansion of the EU and NATO eastwards. The first country to join NATO and the EU was Slovenia. Others have been following suite. Georgia has done the same.

Georgia is an especially interesting case, as it was part of the Soviet Union and it was preceded by the Rose Revolution, which overthrew the popular and legitimately elected President, the former USSR Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. This was in 2003. The USA established army bases in Georgia and the EU began to set in process its cumbersome yet ineffective 5-year plan (yes, it was actually called that, in the best spirit of the EUSSR) to make Georgia a candidate country. See this old Guardian article on the unravelling of the US-EU account of the aftermath of the Rose Revolution: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/30/georgia-rose-wilted.

This is the pattern of co-operation between the EU and the USA – the EU may get a new member state and the USA gets one or more army bases. The Rose Revolution was the violent overthrow of President Shevardnadze in Georgia. The Maidan coup was the parallel in Ukraine to the Rose Revolution. Except NATO has not yet gained a base in Ukraine (but then it is only a year since the Maidan coup). The USA must have dearly loved to take over Sevastopol so their frustration and fury must be almost unbounded, which I think explains Putin’s carefulness in Ukraine.

A search for armed neutrality on this blog, Ordoliberalism, brings up two posts: one on “Sweden’s military budget and armed neutrality“, and one on “Sweden and NATO“.

On my blog EU: Ramshackle Empire there are other posts relevant to this, the most recent being https://mixedmarriage.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/swedens-anti-russian-hysteria/.

Other reference are this website, a very pro-Swedish argument entitled “Swedish Security Model: Peace-loving, well-armed neutrality”. See also The Financial Times article on “The Wacky Economics of Germany’s Parallel Universe”. I would not call ordoliberalism wacky, but it is symptomatic of the neoliberal success in dominating thinking in the world. Ordoliberalism is anything but wacky, a very sensible balance between state and market. In the 1930s ordoliberalism flourished as it did in the early postwar years, when German and Swedish ordoliberalism were most successful.

So the Lövfen government is starting to rebuild Sweden’s armed forces after half a century of disgraceful neglect, including ordering two submarines for coastal defence. The closer ties to Finland (also neutral) are another positive development, for which we can thank the Swedish political parties’ collective paranoia over Putin.

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