Sweden's Armed Forces Ask for Additional Annual Funding

Sweden's Armed Forces Ask for Additional Annual Funding
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The chips may have been pushed to the center of the table, but the other side is unlikely to fold. So it goes for the Swedish Armed Forces.

As in most Westernized nations, the push-pull political theater of defense spending is played out both behind the curtain and in the court of public opinion. As an open democracy, Sweden is, of course, no different, thus resulting in the current state of theater as Sweden's armed forces – bolstered by the contention that Russia's recent behavior represents a clear and direct threat – appeal to the minority, center-left Social Democrat-Green coalition government for a SEK3 billion ($367 million) annual increase to their core budget.

The fragile makeup of the current government, which relies on a tacit agreement between the left-leaning minority government and the four-party centrist Alliance bloc, also would seem to favor the Swedish Armed Forces in their budgetary appeal. Such an unwieldy arrangement would appear on the surface to be easy to split and exploit.

However, the previous Alliance government headed by Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt had generally proved unwilling to heed the military's requests.  Until Russia's destabilization activities in Ukraine in early 2014, Reinfeldt’s regime refused to consider funding increases. Instead the focus up until then had been on continuing to trim the armed forces in order to meet the mandates of the Functional Defense Bill proposal for 2010-2014.

Despite public pressure from the leading opposition Social Democrats, the Reinfeldt government agreed only to a gradual increase in defense funding over a 10-year period. The same Social Democrats previously began the defense reform process with sharp force and funding reductions - during the 11-year governance of their former party leader and prime minister - Goran Persson. The assumed trajectory under the Reinfeldt government's plan called for the highest annual increase to come in 2024, at the back end of the 10-year period. Thus the government was playing a disingenuous game in which it put forth a purely hypothetical plan that it would no longer be in office to administer.

Hope for the armed forces came last October when the new minority government presented its first budget proposal for fiscal year 2015. Surprisingly, the proposal included a larger defense funding earmark than was expected. The proposed military allocation totaled SEK4.16 billion ($509 million) over a four-year period, or roughly SEK1.04 billion ($127 million) annually.

But according to the latest demands by the Swedish Armed Forces, this level of additional funding is nowhere near enough, coming in at just 35 percent of what the military feels is required in order to fill the tasks assigned to it by the Swedish Parliament's Defense Committee.

First and foremost among these tasks is the safeguarding of Sweden's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The latter has become a raw issue in the wake of alleged Russian submarine penetration in the Stockholm archipelago last fall. Strengthening the military presence on the Baltic island of Gotland is also considered crucial, as is an improved standard of air surveillance. The level of air surveillance is another sore spot for the military as the Reinfeldt government had imposed a reduction of the JAS 39 Gripen combat aircraft fleet from 130 to 140 jet fighters down to 100 under its Functional Defense Bill.

Now, Sweden's Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Army Gen. Sverker Goransson, has laid out what he believes is required in order to meet the government's requirements of the military: newer and better equipment; an increase in military exercises and training; more armored vehicles; and a greater quantity of health care material.

All of these, of course, cost money.

But Sweden's economic picture is darkening. Finance Ministry forecasts for GDP growth in 2015 and 2016 recently reduced by 0.6 and 0.5 percent, respectively. These estimated drops are significant for a country with a roughly half-trillion USD economy and a longstanding tradition of providing a strong social welfare safety net for its citizens. Without a booming economy providing the treasury with additional revenues in its coffers, any further defense allocations would come at the cost of siphoning funds from the country's cherished social programs. Under the administration of Social Democrat party leader and Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, that is a clear no-go.

Swedish defense, therefore, is at a crossroads. Years of force downsizings and budget reductions have rendered the military incapable of confronting threats at multiple pressure points, including airspace violations, potential cyber attacks and, most recently, suspected Russian submarine penetration in Swedish waters. Politicians rail about security shortcomings for public effect, but then fail to adequately address these gaps via extraordinary budget allocations. Talk of joining the NATO Alliance is muted at best, or – in the case of the minority government – ignored entirely.

It should also be noted that the armed forces' request does not even include two big-ticket acquisitions the parliamentary Defense Committee has called for: two new-generation submarines (to be produced locally by Saab) and an additional 10 Gripen combat aircraft (likely from the latest E standard that is under development). This simply reflects how wide the chasm is between government expectations and fiscal realities. Or, perhaps, between the military perspective and the politics of the budgetary purse. 

With the armed forces' defense funding request now out in the open, the upcoming negotiations in February between the Lofven government and the Alliance bloc are going to be quite interesting. Once again for Sweden, military funding will be used as a political football. Let the games begin.

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