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If we want peace, must we prepare for war?

Sweden’s ability to deter armed aggression and resist hostile pressure is a highly topical aspect of our defence policy. In a new study from FOI, two scientists address this question and conclude that much still remains to be done both in the form of concrete measures and in the context of wider discussion.

Madelene Lindström and Fredrik Lindvall are the joint authors of the report “If you want peace, prepare for war. Perspectives on capabilities raising the bar”. In the report they analyse Sweden’s ability to raise the so-called threshold against armed aggression and against other hostile military pressure.

“A threshold can be seen as a combination of components designed to deter a possible aggressor. In the case of Sweden these components relate mostly to stabilisation and peace sustaining measures, in fact a limited form of deterrence,” says Fredrik Lindvall, Deputy Research Director at FOI.

How does one establish a threshold?
Establishing a threshold is a substantial military challenge. Not least it requires a clear overall concept in which the political dimension forms an important part. The threshold is built up from three components:

  1. The clear will to respond to an armed attack.
  2. The capability to respond to an armed attack.
  3. Credible communication of the will and capability to respond to an armed attack.

Thus it is not sufficient just to possess the military capability to respond to an attack. If a potential aggressor assesses there to be no clear political ambition on the part of the state to act in response, then that aggressor may not be deterred.

A threshold effect can, to a certain extent, also be built up through reliance on the capability of others, for example through membership of NATO.

Fredrik Lindvall quotes an example of how a threshold can be built up through a country’s reactions to violations of its territory or sovereign rights:

“The submarine hunt last autumn led to government statements and press conferences with the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and the Supreme Commander, showing clearly that Sweden took the matter seriously. Military and political responses, together with the associated media coverage, demonstrated convincingly that it could be costly for foreign submarines to intrude into Swedish territorial waters.”

Sweden needs to develop its own threshold concept

No one can say exactly how Sweden would withstand a military attack. But looking at the three components of a threshold, the scientists believe that some shortcomings are apparent. This applies both to the capacity of the Swedish Armed Forces and to the political readiness to respond.

“At the present time we do not have a developed threshold concept, something that should be borne in mind when discussing the development of the Swedish Armed Forces,” says security policy analyst Madelene Lindström. Swedish politicians have long been saying that there is no risk of an isolated attack on Sweden. This is probably a view shared by much of the Swedish public, especially if one is thinking of a full-scale war or occupation. But a threshold has several steps. The country must not, for example, be susceptible to threats or other pressures that would compromise Sweden’s ability to make political choices free from external influence.

As a democratic and relatively small country Sweden will never take military action against another state before an attack has started, even though we may suspect that such an attack may be imminent. This means that we will always be one step behind. We must therefore have the ability to react rapidly if and when the need arises..

Madelene Lindström continues:
“We cannot wait until something happens before we build up a credible threshold. We must be forearmed. Another aspect is that the Swedish population must be kept aware of this so that they are ready to accept the measures that the state would take in the event of an attack. This in turn underlines the need for wider discussion and awareness of these matters.


Madelene Lindström

Fredrik Lindvall

FOI, Swedish Defence Research Agency

Swedish Defence Research Agency
SE-164 90 Stockholm

Phone +46 8 555 030 00
Fax +46 8 555 031 00

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