13 June 2017

Nuclear weapons developments influence Swedish security policy

Nuclear weapons have in recent years played a more visible role in Russia’s defence and security policy, among other things. This is going to affect Swedish security policy. These developments make discussion of a number of issues from a Swedish perspective particularly urgent, according to a new FOI report.

Soldiers with bombcloud

Photo: SVT/TT.

In the report, the researchers at FOI focused on several questions that touch on non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe.

“Non-strategic nuclear weapons are also called tactical, or battlefield, nuclear weapons. They usually have less yield than strategic nuclear weapons, which can wipe out entire cities,” says Martin Goliath, department head at FOI. “In our part of the world, the development of nuclear weapons is driven by Russia. For decades, Russia has been energetically maintaining and developing current and future non-strategic nuclear weapons systems for security and defence purposes.

Nuclear weapons developments affect existing so-called conflict scenarios.

“In exercises in Sweden and our immediate vicinity, nuclear weapons play a minor role, for now. In debate and analyses of conflict scenarios in our part of the world, the nuclear weapons perspective is almost entirely absent. But if, for example, Russia calculates on actually threatening with, or using, nuclear weapons in an open conflict, and conducts exercises that reflect that, then that affects us,” says Niklas Granholm, Deputy Research Director at FOI. “Russia might also imagine, as France did earlier, dealing with a conflict by executing a single nuclear weapon strike against an isolated enemy target.”

Indirectly, nuclear weapons development in the rest of the world also affect Sweden and northern Europe.

“We are in a situation where, no matter what Sweden or the UN says, a number of states continue to develop nuclear weapons. The question of the stance that Sweden shall have and its reaction to this development is acute,” says John Rydqvist, researcher at FOI and leader of the project. “The work to increase our knowledge, conduct games and take military and political action needs to intensify.”

Russia’s long-term modernisation of its battlefield arsenal, in combination with its striking public threats about nuclear weapons, means that other states must react.

“France, and now Britain, have decided to retain and modernise their respective arsenals. The USA is upgrading and extending the lifespan of the non-strategic weapons that are positioned in a number of European countries,” says Mike Winnerstig, Deputy Research Director at FOI. “Development of missile defence and finding a new balance between conventional and nuclear deterrence in Europe are of particular importance.”

The work continues

The researchers in the project will now proceed to delve more deeply into a number of questions. Several examples:

  • What measures can Sweden take, militarily, to reduce the consequences of nuclear weapons blackmail, or of a nuclear weapons attack?
  • How is planning for civil and total defence affected? What do government organisations and departments know and not know? Which preparations are being made and which are not?
  • Can the Swedish government continue to pursue the issue of banning nuclear weapons and simultaneously rely on other countries for its defence, when several of them assess the nuclear weapons threat in an entirely different way than Sweden?
  • What, for Sweden and Swedish defence capability, is the most appropriate political mix between disarmament, non-proliferation, arms control, and acceptance of our partners’ choices and assessments?
  • How can Sweden best act to temper the pace of those states that are developing nuclear weapons most offensively?