Friday

26th Apr 2019

Opinion

Questions raised as Sweden confirms submarine incursion

  • Stockholm: Sweden's Cold War-era naval defences have shrunk (Photo: Neil Howard)

In October the Swedish Navy, after several years of calm, once again mounted an operation to identify and avert under-water intruders operating in Swedish territorial waters.

Media speculated wildly about the reasons why anyone (read Russia) should have a reason to conduct an operation in the Stockholm archipelago; war preparations, infiltrating agents, discourage Sweden from joining Nato and several other possible motives were put forward.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The usual array of apologists and sceptics also offered their opinions; there was nothing, if there was something it was a Nato submarine, it was some kind of animal or a shoal of fish, the Navy just staged the operation to get a larger budget etc.

But the debate very seldom went beyond this isolated incident.

That there was an intrusion in October is now confirmed. The Swedish government and military authorities stated that very clearly at a press conference on Friday (14 November), when a report of the incident was presented.

But also here the discussion of why, and possible implications for the future, was quite shallow, at least in those parts of the report that were made public.

If you put this latest incident in a larger, and also historical, context the picture becomes a bit clearer.

One might also be able to draw some conclusions about the future.

During the Cold War the Soviet Union systematically conducted under-water operations in Swedish waters. The most dramatic proof came when U137 ran aground in southern Sweden in 1981, the “Whiskey on the Rocks” incident.

But there were also a large number of other occasions when the Navy was engaged in different activities to uphold Swedish territorial integrity under the surface.

In those times it was quite easy to find different reasons for the Soviet Union to operate in Swedish coastal areas.

If you are planning military operations against Sweden then of course you have to make preparations. Contingency planning is a task for all military organisations.

At that time, just to mention one geographic area, the Stockholm archipelago was defended by three coastal artillery brigades with some 20 fixed artillery batteries, pre-laid (in peacetime) mines in all shipping lanes leading into harbours, and sensor-systems above and under water.

The brigades also had many different mobile assets; sensors, light and heavy missiles, mines and seaborne ranger units.

If you plan to get through such a sophisticated defence system you have to localise its different components and make preparations to eliminate them.

Secondly, the archipelago was (and is) the basing area for the Swedish Navy.

If you could disturb its operations, by, for example, laying mines in narrow passages, it would be advantageous if you plan operations in the Baltic Sea where the Swedish Navy could be a threat.

This would also strangle the Swedish economy. Swedish imports and exports being 90 percent carried on keel.

Thirdly, the bases of the Nato navies in the Baltic Sea, situated on open coasts, were (and are also today) very vulnerable compared with bases in the Swedish archipelago.

Preparations to prevent Nato using this option had to be made.

Fourthly, in all military planning it is essential to have good knowledge about your possible opponent’s readiness and capabilities. These can assessed by closely following exercises and by staging provocations.

Only a fool would disregard the broad array of options that submersibles offer when it comes to solving many of these tasks in a clandestine and, when needed, a provocative way.

The Baltic Sea is eminently well suited for such operations considering the very challenging hydrographical environment it offers.

It is therefore quite surprising, considering today's security environment, that anyone is surprised when Sweden again is subject to hostile under-water activities.

Nato has once more become the bogeyman in Russian war planning.

Sweden, with its close co-operation with Nato and its “Solidarity declaration” (pledge to help its neighbours) is considered, as it was also earlier, a de facto member of the alliance.

The geography is the same. From a Russian point of view therefore not much has changed.

The motives to prepare for different contingencies are the same as earlier.

This leads to the disturbing conclusion that there have been many more incursions during the last years, not only this one.

One could then ask: Why have they not been detected and acted upon? The answer is simple.

The coastal artillery brigades with their different assets to monitor and defend Swedish coastal waters have been disbanded.

The Navy has shrunk from some 30 surface combatants and 20 mine-countermeasure ships to seven and five, respectively. The number of antisubmarine helicopters have gone from 14 to nil.

The naval presence along the Swedish coast (2,400 km) is not what it once was - very far from it.

In today's security situation, with the very limited Swedish possibilities to detect and act, one could perhaps add another aim to under-water operations: psychological warfare.

If it is obvious that you can't do anything about what's going on that probably creates a sense of inferiority. It perhaps also makes the threat look greater than it really is, making you overly cautious and afraid of doing anything that could be seen as provocative.

You create “self-deterrence”.

Such a state of mind could influence the ongoing discussion in Sweden about joining Nato.

By making it obvious that Sweden is not able to protect its own territory it could also influence the image of Sweden among its own partners: “Can we trust that they will do their bit if there is a crisis in the region”?

To sum it up; we have had under-water incursions earlier, we have them today and there are very few reasons to think that won’t have them tomorrow.

Karlis Neretnieks is a fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences and an op-ed contributor to en.delfi, a Lithuanian news agency

Interview

Kasparov: Stop Putin now or pay the price later

Twenty five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kasparov, a former Soviet chess icon, tells EUobserver that Europe risks entering a dark new chapter in history.

Closer EU-Caribbean ties mean greater prosperity for all

The foreign affairs minister of Haiti calls for the replacement EU-Africa, Caribbean, Pacific 'Cotonou' agreement of 2000 to be updated to take account climate change, infrastructure and tourism to help the country transition away from aid-dependence.

'Next Juncker' must fix EU's corporate power problem

The time for genuine lobby regulation and a stop to the risk of corporate capture of EU policy-making is now. It is a question of survival and must be a priority for the next head of the European Commission.

How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament

British plans to - maybe - take part in EU elections risk legal chaos in the next European Parliament, which could be resolved only by treaty change - an unlikely prospect.

News in Brief

  1. EU: Russian citizenship plan 'attacks' Ukraine sovereignty
  2. Deutsche Bank hands over Trump loan documents
  3. UN: Europe is badly prepared for new refugee crisis
  4. Macron to set out 'Yellow vest' counter measures
  5. Italy requests EU action plan for new Libya migrant wave
  6. Far-right party leaders meet in Prague
  7. Priest shames politicians at reporter's funeral in Belfast
  8. Putin offers Russian citizenship to Ukraine regions

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Greens commit to air quality 'super commissioner'
  2. Far-right Facebook networks removed before Spain election
  3. EU and Japan in delicate trade talks
  4. Closer EU-Caribbean ties mean greater prosperity for all
  5. Details of EU Brexit talks with Blair and Soros kept secret
  6. Weber vows to block Nord Stream 2 amid 'sue' threat
  7. 'Next Juncker' must fix EU's corporate power problem
  8. EU want Facebook pan-EU advert fix for May elections

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us