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Berlin Security Conference 2017: Sweden states case for increased European defence co-operation in face of growing and evolving threats

28 November 2017
A Gripen fighter of the Swedish Air Force departs on an air defence sortie at a time when Europe is facing its greatest security challenges since the end of the Cold War. Source: Swedish Air Force

Europe must maintain its unity and solidarity if it is to head off the greatest challenges that it has faced since the end of the Cold War, a senior Swedish minister said on 28 November.

Speaking at the Berlin Security Conference at which Sweden is this year’s partner nation, the country’s defence minister said that regional instability, mass migration, terrorism, and the issue of Brexit and the rise of populist tendencies on the continent are all issues that Europe must now face up to together.

“Nearly all of Sweden’s security problems are those of the EU as well,” said Peter Hultqvist who has been Sweden’s defence minister since October 2014, adding, “No European state can face these problems alone. We need unity and co-operation – EU solidarity is the key!”

With the theme of the 16th annual congress of European security being ‘Europe under pressure; security and defence in unpredictable times’, Hultqvist noted that a “provocative” Russia has lowered the threshold of force through its actions in Georgia in 2008, in Crimea in 2014, and in eastern Ukraine today. “Over the last few years Russia has embarked on a major modernisation of its armed forces,” he said. “That it now spends 5% of its GDP on defence sends a very clear message of priorities.”

Hultqvist said that Europe’s response must be “clear and long-term”, and that it must stand up for the international rule-of-law and for the rules-based world order through the EU, NATO (of which Sweden is a Partnership for Peace [PfP] nation), and the trans-Atlantic partnership with the United States.

For its part, Hultqvist noted that Sweden has approved its largest defence budget in more than 20 years, with a EUR2.6 billion (USD3 billion) investment in defence to 2020. The country has also recently reinstated conscription into its armed forces, with the first conscripts set to arrive at their units in January 2018.

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