Bringing Sweden and the Baltic Countries Closer Together in the “New” Security Environment

The Swedish King Gustavus Adophus in 1628, during the Thirty Year War, stated that ‘…the enemy should be prevented from gaining a foothold on the Baltic coast and that the war should be waged on foreign soil’. This statement has again been addressed more recently by a working group established at the Royal Swedish Academy, where the ‘core of the study was an analysis of future Swedish military capabilities relevant to possible solidarity actions in support of Baltic states’  [C, p. 13] or in other words – capabilities to support neighbours to ultimately prevent an enemy from gaining foothold on Swedish soil. According to K. Neretnieks, a former President of the Swedish National Defence College, access to Swedish territory and airspace is critical for NATO to defend the Baltic States. He argues that the current Swedish military posture is jeopardising its own security and that of its neighbours. [1]. The purpose of this article is to address key considerations when assessing the role of Sweden in the context of the Baltic States’ military security and to identify potential coordinating activities between the Baltic States and Sweden to contribute to the overall stability of the ‘Wider Baltic’.

Swedish defence planning - matching policy with capabilities

Swedish defence and security policy is defined on a yearly basis by the Government. This is however supported by the Försvarsberedningen (Defence Commission). This commission represents a forum for consultations between the Government and representatives of the main political parties in the Riksdagen (Parliament). The Commission is assembled on request of the Minister of Defence for any defence and security policy issues. In this construct the Commission creates the settings for long term acceptability and sustainability for the ruling government policy decisions. Besides formulating defence and security policies, the Commission is an important contributor to the public debate related with security and defence matters. [B] The key tool by which the Commission communicates defence matters is through Defence and Security Policy Reports. The last defence related report was issued on 15th May 2014. What makes the latest report significant is the fact that it incorporates a change in considerations related with Russia’s increased activities and the Ukraine crisis. In one key part of the report regarding the Baltics it is stated:

The Nordic and Baltic Sea region is characterised overall by stability, dialogue and cooperation. The policies pursued by Russia, on the other hand, are unpredictable and destabilising. It is inconceivable that a military conflict in our region would only affect one country. A separate military attack directly targeting Sweden remains unlikely. However, crises and incidents - including those involving military force - may also occur and in the longer term the threat of military attack can never be ruled out. Russia's aggression towards Ukraine demonstrates that the risk of this has increased, also in our region. [B]

There are a number of conclusions which can be drawn based on this statement. Firstly, it implies, that Russia could become a military threat to the region, which gives enhanced interest to the EU and thus the Swedish Declaration of Solidarity [1]. One could say that this declaration forces Sweden, but also Finland, as non-NATO members and stakeholders in the security environment of the Baltic Sea Region, to operationalize the practical implications of the declaration. In Sweden’s case, but also applicable to Finland, this is even more important since it lacks the solidarity protection that a NATO membership implies which is relevant for the majority of the other EU member states. Within this context standardisation and interoperability with neighbours become key issues. It is therefore understandable why Sweden and Finland are forwarding the agreement with NATO regarding Host Nation Support and the enhanced NATO partnership programme. By working within the framework of standardization and exercises, Sweden is gaining the key benefits and at the same time not addressing the NATO membership question.

The second conclusion is that Sweden is not ruling out a future military conflict in the region and that it will only affect one nation. No matter if or how that interdependency will play out, it leads to a conclusion that Sweden needs to have a military capability which can support the policy. The Royal Swedish Academy working group report has found out that there are discrepancies between Sweden’s declared commitments and its capabilities. In the report there are two interesting deductions which have implications for the Baltic States. Firstly, actions of Sweden in support of the Baltic States are mainly possible together with NATO member countries. Secondly, the research group admits that Sweden’s capabilities to provide Host Nation Support for NATO / US troops currently are limited to ‘small units or ships’. [C, p. 15] Until a change in a policy or improvement of Swedish military capabilities occur, the Baltic States and NATO and US planners will have to include into their plans the assumption that in the case of crisis, there is low chance for the Baltic States that Sweden single handily could help buying time before the deployment of NATO forces. Secondly, currently NATO/US operations from Swedish soil would be limited and directed mainly towards air/navy operations.

The easy fix for Sweden would be increasing the defence budget and acquiring missing capabilities to fulfil the policy aims. This would also be in line with the recommendation from the Defence Committee; to increase the defence spending; significantly boost air defence and the maritime component capabilities; and strengthen Land Forces, the Home Guard; and improve the potential of cyber operations. However the time to develop capability and national austerity makes this a challenging but yet necessary direction to take. Until that is reached, Sweden most likely will continue to compensate for the missing capabilities through co-operation with mainly the US and NATO in various forms and forums; further development of Nordic Defence Co-operation[2] and the bilateral co-operation with Finland.[3] Taking into account the Swedish Defence Committee report, it is then logical that the appreciation of the non-allied Finland in the security of the region, regional co-operation and common approach to NATO naturally becomes the first choice. This could be a fundamental conclusion that the Baltic States needs to consider. Current governments in Finland and Sweden are in this way synchronising their activities and approach to NATO without addressing the membership question.

How can the three Baltic States contribute to the implementation of the Declaration of Solidarity?

Traditionally, the Baltic States are perceived as consumers of the security environment created by other Baltic Region Countries. However, the given circumstances allow for looking at matters from a different angle. There are a number of areas where the three Baltic States have the potential to significantly boost the credibility of Sweden’s Declaration of Solidarity and thereby find a common ground for cooperation.

The most critical task would be to link Sweden into the security network built by the US and NATO for the defence of the three Baltic States. The range of activities would include active promotion of Sweden as a security gatekeeper of the Baltic countries, endorsement of Sweden into NATO / US defence planning for the Baltic region and Swedish involvement in the Baltic States’ NATO/US organised exercises in the region.

Furthermore, the Baltic States should promote the participation of Sweden in Multinational Corps Northeast as well as in the multinational command and control elements – the NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs), which will be established in the region with the purpose to ‘facilitate the rapid deployment of Allied forces to the region; support collective defence planning; and assist in the coordination of multinational training and exercises’ [D].

The second field of actions would include facilitation of the debate regarding the security of the Wider Baltic. The factor slowing down more practical co-operation between the Baltic states and Sweden probably could be a historical ‘mental link between “neutrality” and “peace”’ [D, p. 10] rooted into public opinion in Sweden. However due to the openness of the Swedish society and critical debate of the defence force, this field of wider strategic thinking is currently feasible.

Thirdly, the three Baltic states have never overlooked the military threat represented by their Eastern neighbour. Therefore, some of the best expertise related to Russian military capabilities, tactics and techniques can be found in the three Baltic States. This knowledge combined with Swedish expertise would have a potential to establish a regional hub of situational awareness and information sharing, which could be utilised by all stakeholders in the region’s security.

Finally, on basis of the Swedish Declaration of Solidarity, the next natural step would be to strive towards collaborative defence planning which would fit into the overall defence concept of the Baltic sea region.

Ugis Romanovs and Mathias Järvare both are working at the Baltic Defence College in Tartu, Estonia.



K. Neretnieks, “Sweden and stability in the Baltic Sea Region,” Atlantic Council, Washington, DC, United States, 2011.


K. Neretnieks, “Sweden and stability in the Baltic Sea region,” Stratfor Global Intelligence, 25 06 2013. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 08 2014].


“Government Offices of Sweden,” Ministry of Defence, 15 05 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 02 02 2015].


NATO, “Statement by the NATO Defence Ministers on the Readiness Action Plan,” [Online]. Available: [Accessed 06 02 2015].


A.-S. Dahl, “Partner number one or NATO ally twenty-nine? Sweden and post-Libya,” Research paper, September 2012.


B. Hugemark, Friends in Needs. Towards a Swedish Strategy of Solidarity with her Neighbours, Stockholm: Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences, 2012.


J. Gotkowska, “Sitting on the Fence. Swedish Defence Policy and the Baltc Sea Region,” Point of View, April 2013.


NORDEFCO, “Nordic Defence Cooperation 2020,” 2013. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 30 01 2015].


 “International Defence Cooperation Efficiency, Solidarity, Sovereignty,” Ministry of Defence of Sweden, Stockholm, 2014.


[1] Declaration of solidarity is the EU based Swedish unilateral declaration that it would not remain passive in the event of a disaster or armed aggression affecting one of the EU members or a Nordic state, and that it expected those countries to do the same. [7, p. 17]. The declaration is the Swedish approach to the EU Lisbon Treaty, paragraph 42.7, which states that if a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have an obligation towards it of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.

[2] The purpose and objective of the Nordic defence cooperation is to strengthen the Nordic countries’ (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) national defence, explore common synergies and facilitate efficient common solutions. The cooperation areas include Human Resources & Education, Training & Exercises, Operations and Armament [8]

[3] In 2014 Sweden and Finland has signed action plan with the purpose to deepen defence co-operation.

Published 23 February 2015

Author Uģis Romanovs