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International cooperation cannot replace cash injection, says commander

Published måndag 16 januari 2012 kl 20.51

As European militaries face budgets cuts, Sweden's commander in chief instead announced he would soon need additional funds. But one way to save money is more cooperation, not only with Nato, but with European and Nordic neighbours. Radio Sweden is at the annual military and defence conference in the northern ski resort of Sälen and has this report.

On paper a neutral nation, last year was a busy one for Sweden. Its participation in Afghanistan continued, and this past summer, the flagship JAS Gripen planes headed south to enforce the no fly zone over Libya.

"I think we contributed with about 50 percent of the surveillance and photo analysis in the mission," Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors told Radio Sweden.

"It's a good thing that countries can contribute not with a little of everything, but instead with one precise capability which is vital for the entire mission," he said.

In military parlance this is called "pooling and sharing", and as most European nations face military budget cuts, it is one way to save money.

Critics say it leaves national militaries too highly specialised but Tolgfors spoke at length yesterday about building trust with other nations.

He also spoke about being a "net contributor" to Nato, which political commentators here in Sälen translated to "the more we help out, the bigger likelihood Nato helps us in the future."

With Sweden's Nordic neighbours, there is already in depth cooperation, and Tolgfors revealed that he and his Finnish counterpart SMS each other during international defence summits.

Yet despite its official lack of military alliances, Sweden has as far back as the League of Nations been involved in international missions.

The military's commander in chief, Sverker Göransson, said those missions will be more and more important - because it attracts fresh talent to a military that 18 months ago scrapped mandatory conscription.

"So far, when you change the system from conscription to voluntary, they have been absolutely the core business, that's where we've been able to show the young generation, girls and boys, that they can be part of something that makes a difference, more so than national defence," he told Radio Sweden.

Sweden is one of few European nations whose funding this year avoided cuts. The defence minister described the ambiance at a recent defence summit as "a darker shade of black" as country after country announced budget cuts.

For Sweden, the decision to abandon obligatory military service was also a finance calculation. Seventy percent of conscripted soldiers leave the military as soon as they can - representing on average 10 months of training and education that went to waste.

The task ahead is to retain the soldiers who voluntarily sign up. And that is why the commander in chief announced yesterday that the military will eventually need more funds.

Sweden's military reform puts it in stark contrast to neighbouring Finland, which has decided it will keep conscription. Finnish Defence Minister Stefan Wallin said it remains the cheapest way to build resources.

For both nations, jointly guarding airspace and maritime borders could be a cost cutter. The Swedish commander in chief announced his willingness to look into such a scheme, but that a decision needed to be made by the politicians.

"Pooling and sharing allows us to save money," Finland's Defence Minister Stefan Wallin told Radio Sweden.

"We have to focus on how to defend our entire country which is why the uniform will shrink, but the muscles will be more visible," he said.

Ann Törnkvist
Radio Sweden

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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