Defence issues have been debated more intensely during the last months than for a long time. The debate has dealt with immediate issues – not least economy – as well as with long-term strategic choices. It is an important discussion. The radical defence transformation over the last ten years has been carried out without broad public discussion and too many people are still finding it difficult to understand and to support the new direction.
The defence policy is facing important new choices and it is important that the new decisions are firmly anchored through a broad discussion. The special security-political summer seminar in Visby this week, in parallel with the political debates at Almedalen, is aimed towards that end. I welcome the fact that it has been possible to gather so many authorities and organisations with interest in peace and security under a common umbrella. I see this as a timely sign, reflecting the complexity of today’s security issues.
The fresh interest for defence issues in the media is indeed welcome. However, it does not necessarily signal a rapidly rising interest for the deeper substance of security and defence policy. It is evident that the interest of media to a large extent has been linked to the fact that defence politics for a while got onto the stage of hot domestic politics.
In such situations, inputs from the defence authorities easily are turned into weapons in media-campaigns, where the authorities are at risk of being pressured against its political masters. The political intensity of the debate has now subsided making it appropriate for me to provide some comprehensive comments on the present situation of the Armed Forces and on the important choices we are facing in the coming year.
The defence decision in 2004 formally covered only the three years 2005 to 2007. However, as it also included the Swedish commitment to be framework nation for one of the EU Battle Groups in the first half of 2008, the decision has had a decisive influence on the planning up till now. The defence decision period thus in reality has just been concluded.
Much has been achieved! The politically set goals for the period have been reached. This has been done within the shrinking economic budget, which the parliament and the government decided. This is a fact, which has often been overlooked in the recent debate about the defence economy.
The economic concerns of the Armed Forces are not related to any overspending. The issue is rather about how to secure a balance between operational output and available economic means in the coming years. The problem confronting us is how to manage increasing costs within a constant budget. We do not have any deficit that has to be met by more money, but we do have to make cuts in our plans to make sure that we can stay within budget. The current problems in the end reflect the fact that the ambitions given in the defence decision 2004 cannot be maintained in the long term within the present budgetary level.
The Armed Forces has carried out a rapid reduction and transformation of the entire organisation. To meet budget reductions of about ten percent, substantial and fast structural reductions were necessary. We have closed every third establishment. In total the number of personnel (military officers and civilians) has been reduced by about 3500 (i.e. one out of six).
In parallel with this transformation the ambitions to contribute to international missions have been raised. We have carried out demanding missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Liberia, Congo, Lebanon and now recently also in Chad. The total number of military personnel on missions abroad continuously has been around 1000. To this should be added the special focus on the Nordic Battlegroup that has meant that an additional 2300 have been in immediate readiness for international deployment.
The NBG commitment has politically as well as militarily been complex. It has required broad preparations and a great deal of support from the entire Armed Forces. The task has been fulfilled in a professional way. That assessment has been clearly confirmed by EU as a whole as well as by the other four troop-contributing nations (Estonia, Finland, Ireland and Norway). The Nordic Battlegroup has been seen as a model. Building on our own experiences we have been able to actively contribute to the further development of the Battle Group concept. In retrospect it is easy to note that the full implications of the commitment to take on frame-work nation responsibility were not known when the parliament and the government took the decision in 2004.
The NBG-efforts have been vitalising for the Swedish Armed Forces in a number of ways. Experiences and lessons learned have been useful both for the general development of our capabilities and in the further build-up of international capabilities. The establishment of the NBG has put immediate requirements regarding manning as well as procurement of equipment. It has worked as a catalyst for the whole transformation to a readily deployable force structure.
It has provided valuable experiences on which we are now building. In a short time we have established a new system for soldier training and manning of our units. After the initial training period, the conscript soldiers on a voluntary basis can opt for a contract for an additional third training semester. The training period is then followed by a contract period in a deployed unit or in readiness for deployment. It is a new system and we have got valuable insights into the demands for individual support of the soldiers that are employed on contracts for longer periods. With regard to procurement we have developed new processes to meet the tight timelines associated with putting new units in readiness for deployment.
The NBG-commitment has in a concrete way demonstrated the Swedish will and readiness to be an active and advanced contributor to the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). That has been reflected also by other activities. The Swedish Armed Forces in fact have contributed to all EU-led military missions so far (FYROM, Bosnia-Herzegovina, DRC twice and now Chad). Sweden has also actively supported the work in Brussels to further develop the military capabilities of the EU.
Strategic Air Lift is in short supply all over Europe and is an area that from a Swedish perspective requires special attention. It is an area where the European nations have to co-operate in order to develop functioning solutions. Sweden has actively been searching for common solutions and we are now very much welcoming the future oriented co-operation, the Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC), which is just about to be established. SAC will be an air transport asset consisting of three large C-17 aircraft that are commonly owned and operated by fifteen nations. Sweden will be the second largest stake holder in the common pool and will also contribute substantially to the manning of the main operating base located in Hungary.
SAC is a good and concrete example of how European capabilities can be strengthened through a pragmatic interplay between EU and NATO. It is an interplay that has special significance for the two EU-nations Sweden and Finland.
While it is true that the NBG effort in itself has meant a heavily EU-directed engagement, it is important to keep in mind that the major part of the Swedish contributions to ongoing missions since many years are taking part within the framework of our partner cooperation with NATO. Since several years our two largest contributions are directed to the NATO-led missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan (KFOR and ISAF).
Those are both missions that put high demands on our participating personnel. In Kosovo Sweden has during several periods been responsible for the command of one of the five multinational task forces and in northern Afghanistan Sweden since a couple of years has the lead for one of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT)..
Independently of the organisational frame-work the task is to contribute efficiently to the collective global peace-building efforts. The permanent task of the Armed Forces is to be able to produce capabilities that can be flexibly contributed to the UN, to the EU, to NATO or to the OSCE.
The Armed Forces are contributing directly to the different ongoing missions, but are also contributing substantially to the ongoing development of new concepts and tools. The characters of the missions are increasingly turning to multifunctional missions, where robust military crisis management has to be combined with large and complex civilian state-building tasks. This implies demands for new comprehensive approaches as well as for new command concepts. Under different names those demands are now reflected in the priorities of all major international organisations. Sweden and the Armed Forces have been putting a lot of effort into this development work for a long time, the VIKING series of exercises being one very concrete output.
Together these efforts by the Swedish Armed Forces are providing possibilities for Sweden to influence and contribute to the common security building efforts.
From these largely positive starting points the Armed Forces are now focusing the attention towards the future..
We are doing it in a situation, where we are increasingly being reminded of the economic implications of the budgetary reductions carried out during the last years, of the rising international ambitions and of the continuously increasing costs. It is now vitally important that our planning for the coming years is based on realistic economic assumptions and considerations. It is indeed not convenient to consider the effects over time of continuous cost increases, when our plans are already very tight to start with. It is however a necessity if we want to establish sustainable plans and if we shall not constantly be forced to improvise highly inefficient short-term cost-cuts.
It is an irrevocable fact, that the present main task of the Armed Forces - to be able to deliver efficient, deployable military capabilities – is increasingly costly. It costs more to have well trained and well equipped units in Afghanistan and Chad then to maintain units in storage in a defence based on mobilisation.
We are facing great challenges. During the last months the government, as well as the Defence Commission, have formulated ambitious and demanding future tasks, however without yet signalling any corresponding readiness to strengthen the economic base. This means that the implementation will rest heavily on the possibilities to save costs through more rational production.
The management of human resources is a key area. In principal terms we are reasonably well aware of the requirements for a new soldier system. We have to establish a system based on voluntary service contracts, which makes it possible to use the trained soldiers in an efficient way in our deployable units during a number of years. However, how to implement this in practical terms is still not possible to describe in greater detail.
We do not know today what will be needed to attract the required numbers of qualified young citizens to devote a number of years to service in the Armed Forces. We know for certain that will require a number of significant and costly measures and incentives. The costs will most likely add up to more than our current assessments predict. In spite of radically lower training volumes, it is thus far from certain that the costs will be lower than for the conscript based system that we have had so far.
Nevertheless it is a fact that such a system will no longer be an available alternative. The time when the Armed Forces could build its operations on compulsory service duty of the male part of the population is coming to an end. Thus, it is now urgent to establish an efficient system that in the end is based on voluntary decisions by the individuals. At the same time it is vital to assure efficient forms for reaching the young generation. My own preference would be a recruitment process that can build on a short compulsory session providing a broad picture of the Armed Forces for all young male and female citizens. The political commission that is presently investigating the future of the conscript system has indeed a most important task.
To transform the military officer system to meet the changing demands is also a task that contains difficult challenges. This has been very evident already during the transformation process of the passed years. In spite of a broad consciousness about the needs for radical change of the officer structure, we have only been able to take very limited steps forward. In order to meet the budgetary constraints we had to make quick cuts in the number of personnel, but this could be implemented only in parallel with a temporary halt in the recruitment of young officers. The predicted result, rising average age of our officers, is now clearly observable. In fact the whole net reduction in number of military officers falls in the age group up to 40 years.
However one important element of the future system is now in place. In line with most other armed forces we have now established a more flexible officer system permitting different careers. Of course it will take many years for this new system to have a major impact on the overall structure. It is important to understand that a quick transformation of the officer structure can only be achieved through a process that actively encourages personnel outside of the deployable units to find new civilian careers. Adequate resources have to be allocated to create the vitally important parallel headroom for recruitment of young officers.
The whole defence sector has to continue to search for more rational production methods. The defence commission has estimated that between three and four Billion Swedish Crowns could be transferred from general support to operations (corresponding to about ten per cent of the present defence budget). This would imply a radical restructuring of the entire defence sector (including all the different authorities).
However, no one should imagine that this will provide any quick roads to cost reductions. Finding more rational production forms, i.e. more efficient forms, can only be achieved through continuous, long term efforts. In the best of situations that can reduce the impact of the overall cost development. We have to be careful not to equal more rational production with cost reductions. A substantial part of the cost reductions envisioned by the defence commission should rather be described in terms of reduced ambitions than in terms of more efficient production.
The largest potential for increasing the efficiency today is to be found in a more rational international burden sharing, i.e. in more efficient international defence cooperation. The armed forces of all European countries are to varying degree struggling with the problem of managing a cost development that makes it increasingly difficult to sustain all the desired capabilities.
In the absence of budgetary increases the qualitative development necessitates continuous reductions of numbers. We are thus facing a continuing erosion of the number of units. The cost of sustaining the structural basis for different capabilities is gradually becoming increasingly unreasonable in comparison with the related operational output. Of course this is a particular concern for small countries. In Sweden we have now reached levels that cannot be further reduced.
This is the background for the great efforts that the Swedish Armed Forces has made to find new ways to develop mutually supporting cooperation with our Nordic neighbours, Norway and Finland in particular. This work has come a long way. The potential no doubt is considerable. Together we have found that there exist great opportunities to use our total resources more efficiently in a large number of areas. They relate to areas such as education, training, exercises, training ranges, supply of materiel and logistics, but also to operations particularly linked to international missions (The Nordic Battlegroup is a good illustration).
But even if the opportunities for improving long term efficiency are significant, it is important to understand the magnitude of the challenges that remains to be met and also that it will take time to get new cooperative structures in place. We are all aware of the local resistance to most proposals for more rational production within our respective countries. The resistant forces across the national borders will most likely be even stronger.
Politically we will need to take on a comprehensive approach meaning that “justice” between our countries must be shaped within the total overall frame-work rather than in every individual area. Bold decisiveness will be required politically as well as from the armed forces of our countries. However, my own assessment and belief is that the common understanding of the absence of real national alternatives is now so firmly rooted, that it will be possible to break new paths that have until now been seen as impossible. The recently published common report by the armed forces of Finland, Norway and Sweden is a clear expression of that fact.
The defence commission in its report emphasised the need for deployable capabilities here and now. It is worth underlining that the availability of deployable capabilities over time builds on continuous investments in capability build-up and development. The need for deployable forces here and now is just as relevant tomorrow as today. Thus the requirement for capabilities here and now must never be seen as conflicting with the needs for future oriented preparations.
I want to conclude by pointing at the maybe greatest challenge facing us, i.e. to develop the Armed Forces in such a way that it remains an efficient instrument for the government in managing the security political challenges ahead of us. The Nordic area is situated in the centre of a strategically dynamic area, linked to an increasing role for European and global energy supply. That fact is gradually changing the requirements on military surveillance and on the upholding of sovereignty in our close vicinity.
The international cooperation dimension is growing in importance also in this respect.
It is therefore important to carefully consider the focus of future Swedish capabilities providing for the necessary independent capabilities as well as influence in the relevant cooperative structures.
The defence commission has touched upon those issues by clearly emphasising that all future security political threats will be common and that they have to be met together.
However, more thoughts and analysis are needed before the general solidarity declaration that the commission has formulated can be translated into clear and concrete priorities and choices guiding the future direction of the Armed Forces.
The Armed Forces can contribute by clarifying the available options under different assumptions, but in the end these are fundamental security policy issues that have to be decided by the parliament and the government.