Swedish Top Politicians at Cold Response: Important Signal about Defense Cooperation

De svenske styrkene som nå øver i Nord-Norge med norske og finske styrker, samt styrker fra andre Nato-land, fikk i går besøk av sin statsminister Magdalena Andersson og opposisjonslederen Ulf Kristersson. (Foto: Torbjørn Kjosvold/Forsvaret).

Swedish PM Magdalena Andersson and opposition leader Ulf Kristersson visiting the Swedish forces currently exercising in Northern Norway along with Norwegian and Finnish forces, as well as forces from other NATO countries. (Photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces)

On Monday, Swedish PM Magdalena Andersson (A) and opposition leader Ulf Kristersson (M) were in Northern Norway to meet the Swedish forces currently participating in the Cold Response 2022 exercise. The NATO issue is currently hot in Sweden.

On 14 March, the Norwegian-led military exercise Cold Response 2022 started. It goes on in Norway, with main emphasis in the North, and takes place every other year, having participation from allied and partner countries.

This year, some 30,000 soldiers from a total of 27 countries are participating. These are NATO countries along with Sweden and Finland. This is the largest Norwegian-led exercise in Norway since the Cold War.

The exercise is to last until 1 April, according to the Joint Operations Headquarters, and has in recent days taken place in Nordland and Troms counties. The program also includes a series of visits from political and military leaders from the participating countries, such as the Swedish top politicians, as well as NATO leaders.

The Swedish forces’ brigade headquarters near Bjerkvik just outside Narvik were the destination of Swedish PM Magdalena Andersson (Social democrats) and opposition leader Ulf Kristersson (Moderates). The Swedish forces are localized together with Finnish forces in Skoglund Camp.

“This visit was very important. This exercise has been planned for a long time. It is important that we, based on the current security situation, send an important signal about there being interaction, cooperation and preparedness to defend our territories, the PM said at a joint press conference, according to Swedish daily Aftonbladet.

Sweden has some 1,600 soldiers involved, both land forces and fighter plane forces, according to the Swedish Armed Forces. These come a.o from the North Bothnia regiment, the country’s northernmost county. The Finnish battle group of 680 soldiers operates as a part of a Swedish brigade, according to the Finnish Armed Forces.

The NATO question

The PM and opposition leader’s joint visit to the military exercise took place at the behest of the former. Such an invitation across political borders was well received by the Moderates’ leader.

“When there is a war in Europe, we do all we can to cooperate”, Kristersson said during the visit, according to Aftonbladet.

Last Friday, he stated that if the Moderate Party wins the upcoming fall elections, Sweden will apply for NATO membership. Kristersson argues that he would prefer for the Swedish application to be submitted as early as this spring, along with a Finnish application, referring to both Swedish and Finnish debate about the NATO issue in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Center Party, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats are also positive to Swedish membership in the Alliance. The Swedish Democrats do not rule out quick support of this line if the security situation so requires, according to Swedish radio.

The Moderates’ election promise has been criticized by Foreign Minister Ann Linde (S), who warrants “broad political consensus” on the NATO issue, the same radio channel reports. The Left Party and the Environmental Party stick with their “no” viewpoint, SVT reports.

Earlier in March, PM Andersson said that a fast application process now will contribute to escalating tension and to further destabilizing of the security situation in Europe, Reuters reports.

Last week, the Swedish government initiated cross-political dialogue and analysis of the consequences the new security situation will have for Swedish security policies.

The government also announced a strengthening of the Swedish Defense with nearly SEK 3 billion in 2022, a proposal receiving support from the entire political spectrum represented in the parliament.

“It is important for me now to try and establish broad support of the policy. We now look into how we can facilitate resources for the Armed Forces. And we have just started going through our security policy. Here, we try to cooperate closely with the other parties of Riksdagen [the parliament]”, Swedish PM Andersson commented while visiting Skoglund camp, Aftonbladet reports.

Sveriges statsminister Magdalena Andersson var med på å kjøre stridsvogn under besøket av svenske soldater på Cold Response 2022. (Foto: Torbjørn Kjosvold/Forsvaret).

Swedish PM Magdalene Andersson got to ride a tank during her visit to Cold Response 2022. (Photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces)

Stronger defense cooperation

The defense cooperation between Norway, Sweden and Finland has been bolstered in recent years. In 2019, some 4,600 soldiers from the Northern Brigade of the Norwegian army participated in the Northern Wind exercise on the border between Sweden and Finland.

During the past two years, the three countries have signed agreements for more joint operational planning, amongst others for their respective northern areas. Last month, Norwegian broadcaster NRK reported about a new and close cooperation between the three countries’ armies, illustrated through the respective Chief of Armies’ meeting at the garrison in Porsanger, Northern Norway.

The troika is also part of NORDEFCO, the Nordic Defense Cooperation, which also includes Denmark and Iceland. Within this framework, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark in February signed an agreement about joint acquisition of uniforms.

Finland and Sweden also attended parts of the extraordinary defense minister meeting in NATO on 16 March regarding the situation in Ukraine and the Alliance’s further managing of the crisis.

“As Chair of the NORDEFCO defense cooperation, Norway has initiated running dialogue and coordination with Sweden and Finland about this crisis”, Norwegian Defense Minister Odd Roger Enoksen (Center Party) stated in a press release from the MoD following the NATO meeting.

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.