WASHINGTON ― The supreme commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, Gen. Micael Bydén, recently met in person with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chief’s of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, to discuss the threat posed by Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border.
In a Dec. 15 interview with Defense News, Bydén said this visit, and future ones, to Washington are part of Sweden’s efforts to deepen international defense cooperation. He also visited Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, weeks after American and Swedish marine units practiced seizing maritime terrain on the Stockholm Archipelago.
Sweden borders the Baltic Sea — a body of water also adjoining Russia.
The northern European nation is not a NATO member but cooperates closely with the alliance. Like others in Europe, Sweden bolstered its defense budget after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine 2014, and the government is continuing to deepen pan-Nordic defense cooperation.
This interview dated Dec 27, 2021 by Joe Gould for US based DefenseNews includes these critical questions:
How would Sweden react if Russia invades Ukraine?
At a politically high level in Sweden, the support to Ukraine has been there over time. What is happening in Ukraine will definitely have an impact on security in Europe. So it’s bilateral; the support is very clear. What we have done has been under the umbrella of unifier, so it’s multilateral, under the umbrella of the Canadians. That would be training, it would be advising, that support down to the practice level. We would continue on; we would probably add more in that direction. There’s clear support from the Swedish side to Ukraine, whatever happens.
What’s your level of confidence in the West responding, specifically the U.S. and NATO?
When I spoke with Gen. Milley yesterday [Dec. 14], I also expressed my appreciation for the very clear support they have given us ― meaning sharing information, sharing their views ― because it has been very transparent and open.
These questions and the answers are also very significant:
What’s driving the planned 40% increase in Sweden’s defense spending? Is it linked to Russia’s recent activities?
A general answer would be “regional security,” and that would be very much focused on Russia and what Russia has done over time: in 2018, Georgia; and in 2014, the illegal annexation of Crimea and starting a war in south eastern Ukraine. It’s a mix of a World War I and a more modern warfare with high-end capabilities. On a political level, I have the mandate and the budget. The political administration has done its part. Now it’s up to me to deliver, and I welcome it. After years of decline, now we build.
It’s a combination of investments in manpower and modernization. What will that look like?
Five new Army regiments, one air wing. We inaugurated three regiments during the fall.
What we call the “wartime organization” would be about 55,000 people. By 2025, we will be at 80,000; and by 2030, more or less 100,000. Most of that would be conscripts after the reintroduction of the conscript system in 2018. It’s gender-neutral, it’s very positive. We have 100,000 young women and men every year, and right now we take about 5% of them — 5,500 this year, which will go up to 8,000 in 2024.
New capabilities would also come. What we need to develop would be under headlines like “cyber,” so we started the cyber training for soldiers, but it also needs to be complemented with new technology. We will hopefully sign an agreement with the U.S. during the spring when it comes to space. Other areas include electronic warfare and artificial intelligence. We don’t have contracts for everything, but we do have plans, and now it’s high time we go from plans to acquisition.
The interview concludes with these questions:
Offer some insights about Russia’s approach to warfare, both in Crimea and this recent massing of troops.
It’s modern capabilities and modern technology like electronic warfare and unmanned platforms. I went to the trenches to see the bad guys over there.
They are experts in what they call “nonlinear warfare” ― which others would call “hybrid warfare.” It could be military, diplomatic or economic. They know exactly how far they can go before [passing a threshold that would lead to traditional conflict].
It could also be information operations, influence operations, cyberattacks continuously happening; the challenge here would be attribution. They are ready to use their military assets, and they take the opportunity while it’s there. As long as it’s in line with their interests ― to be a major power again, to protect their territory ― they are able and capable and ready.
Is the West ready if it comes to that?
We are more ready today than we were just a few years ago. We are more aware [and focused]. If we are ready to go to action if things happens, [time will tell].
Back to my visit here: Having a very good dialogue with one of my most important counterparts is not only a good start — it’s a good place to work from.
About Joe Gould
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.
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Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Micael Bydén stands in front of a radar system, right, and other military equipment in Visby, Sweden, on July 1, 2019. (Henrik Montgomery/AFP via Getty Images)