STOCKHOLM | For the first time in its history, the Swedish army deployed an anti-aircraft defense system on Sunday to counter a bombardment on the capital, Stockholm, as part of the largest military exercise organized in Sweden for 30 years.
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“The brutal attack on Ukraine in 2022 has truly shaken the foundations of our common security in Europe (…) This is a reality that could last for a long time, so we must prepare accordingly”, warns General Carl -Johan Edström, Head of Joint Operations of the Swedish Armed Forces.
Photo Anne-Caroline Desplanques
General Carl-Johan Edström, Head of Joint Operations of the Swedish Armed Forces.
General Edström points out that the enemy, Moscow, is not far away. And this time he attacked Sweden in a fictional scenario developed for the Aurora 23 exercise. The electrical grid and the telecommunications network were sabotaged. The mobilization began last Monday with a radio alert. Since then reinforcements have arrived from 13 allied countries.
But the bombers are now threatening the capital. It was therefore necessary to deploy the very sophisticated American Patriot anti-missile system there. These machines are very rarely deployed in the middle of civilians, even less in Sweden on the edge of a civilian airport in a bucolic landscape where cyclists and dog walkers circulate.
Counter a nuclear attack
Their mission is to destroy ballistic missiles or aircraft carrying nuclear weapons. To achieve this, they are armed with missiles capable of striking as far as 160 km away and are equipped with radars to detect combat aircraft at a distance of up to 130 km.
Photo Anne-Caroline Desplanques
Swedish Defense has four Patriot systems ready for deployment across the country. In addition to the United States, manufacturer of these machines, about fifteen countries are equipped with them, but not Canada which has no equipment to intercept the missiles. Ottawa has refused for years to integrate the American anti-missile shield for fear, in particular, of exacerbating international tensions.
But the war in Ukraine has shown that anti-aircraft defense is essential, notes General Edström. Coordinated with the air force and the navy, it is the “backbone” of national defense and regional security, he underlines.
Resist the warrior call
Kerstin Bergea, president of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Association, the oldest anti-war organization in the world, however, encourages Canada to resist the call of the hawks.
For her, Sweden is now helping to make the world “more polarized and more militarized”, despite having championed disarmament for years in the name of a safer world.
Mr. Bergea calls on Justin Trudeau to stand firmly on the side of pacifists by promoting diplomacy and cooperation and by calling for more spending, not on defense, but to fight climate change, the first threat against humanity, she points out.
In this vein, several hundred people demonstrated against NATO membership and exercise Aurora 23 two weeks ago in several towns across Sweden. Largely in favor of this vision before the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the majority of Swedes have however changed their tune, according to local polls.
Return from military service
STOCKHOLM | Around the gigantic devices of the Patriot system deployed 15 minutes from downtown Stockholm, very young people with faces made up in green watch, automatic weapons on their shoulders. They are the conscripts of the Swedish Armed Forces.
They are some 300 to participate in this exercise. This is the last of their one-year military service. And they are ready for a real fight. For 15 days, they have been sleeping in tents, in the mud and the cold, as they would in a real war.
Faced with personnel shortages even as tensions rose in Europe following the 2014 invasion of Crimea, Sweden reinstated military service in 2018. 13,000 18-year-old boys and girls are drafted every year. They pass a series of physical exams and the best ones are conscripted for nine to 12 months.
This is the case of Adela Olsson, 19, who received her conscription letter last August.
“I was very excited when I received it, I couldn’t wait,” she says. And after nine months, she is not disappointed: “The experience is very different from anything I could have done in civilian life. Learning to resist stress, learning leadership, it will serve me all my life.”
“In ten months, I grew up like no one,” adds his comrade in arms Edvin Ostberg, 20. But beyond that, he says, “I think everyone should be able to defend their country when needed and that’s what we learn here, we make sure we can all respond to the call even if we are not career soldiers”.
A model to follow?
Speaking in Ottawa in March, Latvian Deputy Defense Minister Janis Garrisons stressed that Swedish military service is a role model for all NATO nations, especially those that are faced with a major human resources crisis. This is the case in Canada where one out of ten military positions is not filled.
“People have to understand that they have to pay something to their country,” Mr. Garrisons told the Ottawa Security and Defense Conference.
This report was produced thanks to a grant from the Fonds québécois en journalisme international.