SÄLEN Commander of the Swedish Defense Forces Micael Bydén is one of the most sought-after interviewees at this year’s Sälen security policy seminar. After all, over the past year, Sweden has both made a historic turn in security policy and applied for NATO membership, and drastically increased its defense spending.
Defense Alliance NATO Europe Commander Christopher G. Cavoli praised Sweden on Monday as a very strong and welcome NATO member.
But how strong are the Swedish defense forces after the decline of the last decades?
According to Bydén, it is true that in terms of men, Sweden clearly lags behind Finland. Finland has a really large army at service in crisis situations, and according to Bydén, that was also the case in Sweden 25 years ago, around 850,000 people. Now the number is around 55,000–60,000.
– The goal for the years 2030–2035 is 120,000, i.e. double the current number. Conscripts are included in the chapter. The number of full-time employees will rise to around 25,000 in the next few years.
Quality over quantity
Bydén admits that the current organization is small after many years of cuts and reductions, but now we are living in a time of strengthening again.
– Let’s talk about capital. We are not many, but our officers, soldiers and sailors are very skilled. Military thinking is modern, our working methods are very NATO-compatible, our technical equipment is at the top level in both the air and sea forces, but also partly in the ground forces, the commander enumerates.
– Our land forces are small compared to Finland’s, but the fact that it is small does not mean that it is bad. You must not confuse quantity and quality, which is high in all areas and is largely based on our personnel.
Bydén also reminds that Sweden is acquiring an air surveillance system, which is of the best quality in the world.
The talk about the army of the week is annoying
In 2013, Bydén’s predecessor Sverker Göranson said (you switch to another service) at the same seminar in Sälen, that if Sweden were attacked, it would be able to defend itself for one week.
The thought of a week in the army makes the current commander irritable and he agrees to continue the interview only because we are not from Sweden but from an excellent country for him, namely Finland.
Bydén finds out that it has been ten years since Göransson’s statement and the answer was related to an imagined situation where Sweden would be all alone against a superior opponent.
– You won’t get an answer from me about how many weeks it would be. The same threat image is no longer realistic. We are not alone even though we are not yet a NATO member. We cooperate with other countries and we have a very close cooperation with one country.
– The defense forces are better and the cooperation patterns are completely different, so the situation is better in all respects. It’s not about seven days.
More than two percent of GDP for defense
NATO requires that its member countries spend two percent of their gross domestic product annually on defense.
According to NATO commander Cavoli, NATO’s goal of two percent must be interpreted as a minimum amount in the current situation. In Sweden, the figure is now 1.3 percent.
According to Bydén, the new NATO country must strive for the set goals. In the case of Sweden, two percent would probably be realized in 2026.
– I want to make it clear, and I have also told the politicians, that the increase in appropriations cannot stop at chapter two.
Bydén admires Finland’s will to defend its country
The Finns’ will to defend their country is top-notch, and the Swedish commander says that he is suffering from the Swedes’ original sin, i.e. envy.
He would like to create a national defense course system similar to the one in Finland.
– We have a similar one-week course. In other words, our course does not build the same kind of network as the courses in Finland are capable of.
However, Bydén points out that the will to defend the country, which is measured annually, is also high in Sweden.
– This was clearly confirmed after Russia attacked Ukraine. The largest number of Swedes signed up for voluntary organizations such as home security forces. We have not seen such an increase before.
– The will to defend is not only dependent on long courses, but they do help.
The Swedish commander participates in the discussion
In Sweden, the commander of the defense forces actively participates in the social debate. For example at the beginning of November Bydén (you will switch to another service) announced his position that Sweden should not set any preconditions for NATO membership.
To a TV news viewer, the possibility that the new government would disagree seemed impossible. However, Bydén denies that he entered the politicians’ plot.
– I was given the task of finding out what I would recommend regarding NATO membership. My point of departure was only military strategic. I was nowhere near politics in any way. But I addressed a question that is important to every Swede.
by Ulf Kristersson the government has taken the line as the commander suggested, i.e. no preconditions for NATO membership. In Sälen, Kristersson said that Sweden acts in this matter just like Finland: no preconditions, but as a member, no nuclear weapons on Swedish soil.
At the end of the interview with Finnish journalists, Bydén says that his most important task as commander is to keep Sweden out of wars. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has not made his work more difficult, but the amount of work has increased and the goal has become even sharper.