Sweden ups defense budget 40% due to regional tensions

December 15, 2020 GMT

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s Parliament on Tuesday approved a 40% increase in the defense budget for 2021-2025 because of tensions in the Baltic Sea region in recent years, with officials saying Russia is the main reason for the move.

The 349-member Riksdag assembly approved the largest hike in 70 years, bringing the annual defense budget by 2025 to 89 billion kronor ($10.6 billion).

Defense Minister Peter Hultquist told the assembly before the series of votes that “it is the largest investment since the 1950s.”

“We see a new security environment and that they (Moscow) are ready to use military power also to fulfill political goals,” Hulquist later told The Associated Press.

He said the increase was “because of the new security situation with Russian aggression toward Georgia, annexation of Crimea, the conflict in Ukraine, activities in Belarus, upgrading of Russian military capability, very complex exercises, activity in the Arctic and in the Baltic Sea area.”

The proposal was put forward in October by Sweden’s two-party Social Democrat-Green Party minority government, and it received immediate backing from two smaller opposition groups.

“There is much to suggest that Russia’s military capabilities in absolute terms will increase throughout the next 10-year period,” the adopted proposal read.

The plan will see the armed forces grow from the current 55,000 positions to 90,000 by 2030. Several disbanded regiments will be reestablished and the number of conscripts will increase to 8,000 annually, which is a doubling compared with 2019. The Navy will receive new equipment, including a fifth submarine, and upgrades in armaments.

Sweden also would boost its ability to prevent and deal with cyber threats, and want the armed forces — together with intelligence agencies — to establish a cybersecurity center.

“We have this problem all the time,” Hultquist said of attacks on Swedish interests, both public and private. “And it’s sometimes on a daily basis.”

“The Chinese are very active, the Russians are active, and there are also other actors,” he added.

Sweden currently spends 1.1% of gross domestic product on defense. Guidelines issued by NATO, of which Sweden isn’t a member, advise that members spend 2%, although many do not achieve that target.

In December 2017, Sweden decided to establish the nation’s first new military regiment since World War II — a unit of 350 soldiers based on the strategically important Baltic Sea island of Gotland.

In the same year, Sweden also introduced a selective military draft for men and women, having previously abolished a men-only draft in 2010.

The Swedish parliament also decided Tuesday that Sweden — like neighboring Finland, another non-aligned nation — should express readiness to join NATO as a possible security policy option.

The so-called “NATO option” doesn’t mean that Swedes would apply for Alliance membership but rather that Sweden would consider it down the road if deemed necessary for security. In 1949, Sweden chose not to join NATO and declared a security policy aiming for non-alignment in peace and neutrality in war.

Sweden and Finland have worked with the alliance since the mid-1990s, when they joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace, and have contributed forces to NATO-led peacekeeping and monitoring missions. Also, they engage in dozens of exercises annually with alliance members and their militaries’ weaponry is NATO-compatible. There has been an active debate in both countries on the question of NATO membership.

___ Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.