Sweden is committed to NATO’s globe-spanning 360-degree approach to confronting both today’s and tomorrow’s challenges, and that includes both Russia and China, the top Swedish military official told an audience in Washington this week.
“As of today, we see no alarming Russian movements along our borders,” Micael Byden, the supreme commander of Swedish armed forces, said Thursday during an event at the Swedish Embassy in Washington. “Not the least in the ground domain, [Russian] capabilities have diminished considerably due to the war in Ukraine.”
However, Russia still possesses significant capabilities, and Sweden does not “exclude anything, we stay alert,” Byden said, noting that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a “completely new security order in Europe.”
Byden named the joint applications to join NATO by Sweden and Finland last spring among the most notable features of that new order.
Since then, support for NATO membership in his country has grown “even stronger in the summer and autumn,” Byden said.
“We have been warmly welcomed” by countries that joined the alliance earlier, he said. “Warmer than I could have imagined.”
Byden said he initially thought to himself: “When you enter a new organization, a new family, you need to prove yourself. That has not been the case.”
But he pledged that “Sweden will be a net contributor from day one” and “will contribute in strategic depth, increased situational awareness and strong interoperable capabilities.”
Maintaining 'situational awareness'
Byden said he has submitted recommendations to his government to strengthen the country’s military with additional standing units, new equipment and platforms, and a greater number of conscript soldiers.
“Maintaining a high-degree of situational awareness has been a key priority,” he said, emphasizing that “we fully embrace [NATO’s] 360-degree perspective.”
NATO documents describe that 360-degree approach as applying to defense in “the land, air, maritime, cyber and space domains, and against all threats and challenges.”
“We have always kept our eyes and ears towards Russia. We know Russia as our opponent,” Byden said. “We realize now that there are other countries we also need to know more about, because of [their] ambitions, and that would be China.”
Speaking to VOA after the embassy event, Byden said that as his country enters NATO, “we need to understand that things are happening — we need to be able to support other countries within the alliance, and that means that what would be a challenge for them would [also] be a challenge for us.”
He also said Sweden needs to expand its knowledge about some of those challenges facing the alliance.
“First of all, we still need to learn about China and what China is doing, that’s where we are. By ‘we,’ I mean Sweden,” he said.
Eager to participate in NATO
The Nordic region appears to be going through a major shift in its relations with Beijing, as are other regions of the world.
In 2013, Chinese official media reported that “Nordic countries have joined an international race to team up with China in exploring science and technology opportunities.”
But earlier this year, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies wrote in the publication The Diplomat that Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland “are looking instead to limit China’s presence and influence.”
In the same article, its author, Andreas Forsby, wrote, “In the past few years … perceptions of the People’s Republic of China have fundamentally changed in the Nordic countries as security-related concerns and sensitive political issues have come to the fore.”
Forsby noted that both Denmark and Finland have officially adopted the term “systemic rival,” first used by the EU Commission in March 2019, to describe their view of Beijing.
Byden, a trained fighter pilot whose career has included an assignment as defense attache at the Swedish Embassy in Washington and chief of staff of the Swedish Air Force, said Sweden is eager to participate in NATO joint activities, including air policing and participating in an enhanced forward presence along NATO’s eastern border as soon as it becomes a full member.