The Swedish government has approved sending a cargo plane to help with the military operations in Mali. But, against the background of a decade of defence spending cuts, sending a plane to Mali reportedly probably means not sending it to Afghanistan.
The end of the Cold War saw years of major reductions in the size of the Swedish armed forces. But the cost-cutting has a had a price. Nowadays, Sweden shares three C-17 cargo planes, with 11 other countries.
But now that the government has decided to send one of the C-17s for forty flight hours to help out in Mali, it turns out the plane is fully booked during February and March. The only way to get a plane to Mali, Swedish Radio News reports, is to cancel a flight to the Swedish forces in Afghanistan.
Lieutenant General Anders Silwer is the military’s task force commander. He tells Swedish Radio News “It’s a resource we try to use as optimally as possible, so normally all the cargo planes are fully booked, so we can use them as efficiently as possible”
One reason for the booking problem, he says, is that EU and NATO operations have higher priority, so an aid mission like the one to Mali, comes farther down the list.
The alternative is to divert a plane bound for Afghanistan. That wouldn’t be a huge problem, the general says, as with the mission there winding down, those flights are bringing home equipment, which can wait.
Another problem, though, is that the C-17s might not be allowed to carry the heavy vehicles needed in Mali.
"There’s a risk," General Anders Silwer says, "that some of the equipment isn’t certified under the American regulations that apply to the cargo flights."
The discussion comes in the middle of a debate over defence spending here. The Supreme Commander of the Swedish military said recently there are only resources to defend one part of the country in the event of an invasion, and then only for a week.
That led two parties in Sweden’s center-right coalition, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats, to call Monday for more funding to the military.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose conservative Moderates are by far the largest party in the coalition, was asked about this during a press conference Monday.
"The government parties are free to change priorities and increase funding," Reinfeldt said, that’s part of the political process. He went on, "I think it’s important to have resources for employment policies and for more teachers’ hours in schools."