Date: 15 June 2018

The Swedish “Total Defence”

Not only the army but the whole society should be prepared for the possible conflict – this sentence summarises the Swedish brochure targeted at almost 5 million citizens. After almost sixty years, Swedes for the first time can find out how to behave in case of the threat of war. On several pages of the government’s guide (published in 13 languages) every Swede can find instructions on how to manage in case of food, water or pharmaceuticals shortages, but also how to enter the “Total Defence” system.


The brochure published last month by the Swedish government shows the initial effects of the decisions made yet in 2015 – the amended defence law. Its most important element is the return to the former Swedish defence concept from the times of the Cold War – the “Total Defence”.

Until the end of the Cold War, neutral Sweden was one of the most militarised countries in Europe. Sweden, which stayed outside the big military-political blocs but was afraid of the possible invasion of the Soviet Union, developed a concept of the state’s unaided defence. It stated that the whole society should be engaged in the defence of the country. A military component which consisted of, among others, the Hemvärnet [Eng. Home Guard] territorial defence formation was one of the elements of the concept. At the end of the 80’s, Hemvärnet was able to mobilise up to 100 thousand soldiers. The second element was a strongly developed component of the civil defence. The Swedish plans at that time provided for the distribution of tasks almost for every citizen.

After the end of the Cold War, Sweden abandoned the further development of the “Total Defence” model and proceeded to the reinforcement of the emergency management and the expeditionary skills of the army, which was typical of most European countries. An impulse, which convinced Swedish elites to return to the former solutions was the changing situation in the region caused by the aggressive Russian policy.

“Total Defence” 2.0

The first stage of the “Total Defence” revitalisation is the development of the resilience potential in the non-military component. The initial conclusions on the defensive planning were presented in the summary of the government’s report: Resilience – the total defence concept and the development of civil defence 2021-2025. The main suggestion in the document is the reinforcement of the competences of the society which would help them survive unaided during the first 12 weeks of the crisis. To achieve that it is necessary to mobilise all citizens and shift their ways of life to the warfare mode. The idea is based on the individual role and responsibility of every citizen, whose everyday activity would be included in solving the problems connected with functioning in the time of the invasion. The concept of the military mobilisation of the society takes into consideration the basic institutions, such as local authorities or hospitals but also private companies, whose specialisation may play an important role in the social protection.

The strategy also reinforces the individual independence from the state’s support in case of crisis: every Swedish citizen should be able to manage without the support of public institutions for 7 days. Basic instructions on how to behave during the first week of the crisis are included in the 20-pages brochure published by the government. It contains information on how to behave in case of danger (to protect oneself and the family) and the possible forms of the foreign aggression. The brochure also instructs how to help other citizens.

The “Total Defence” in the face of new threats

It is important that the revitalised Swedish concept should take into consideration new threats connected with the cyberspace and digitisation of the social life. One of the key methods of the potential enemy is the use of new means of mass media in order to conduct a psychological battle. In new conditions (even more than in the times of the Cold War), it is important to protect the society from the psychological operations. Therefore, in order to use the Cold War concept again, it is vital to focus on the psychological defence of the society against propaganda which aims to discourage the society from the defensive activities. To achieve that, the active enhancement and protection of their own democratic values but also construction and development of the social awareness in this context is necessary. Therefore, it is not surprising that among instructions on how to prepare to the first, toughest days of a conflict, the Sweden authorities teach the citizens how to avoid being deceived by fake news.

In times of dangers connected with new technologies, construction of defence with the advancing digitisation of the everyday life is a constant challenge. Sweden gradually withdraws from cash transactions and communication is dominated by electronic forms – a break in power supply may cause a severe social paralysis. In order to minimise the damages to the economy and social networks, it is necessary to provide the emergency solutions: an access to the alternative credit system or cash and independent energetic resolutions.

Revitalisation of the Swedish defence strategy is still being prepared. Eventually, the government in Stockholm wants to finalise the construction of the full concept after 2025. Currently, Sweden has channelled 510.5 million dollars for the first stage of the concept’s realisation.

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