War starts here - the militarisation of Sweden

Cattis Laska

The global war machine each year, kills directly and indirectly, millions of people, destroying entire communities, and destroing nature. Contrary to the popular image of Sweden, both at home and abroad, Sweden plays a major role in the war industry. Sweden is the world's largest arms exporter per capita, Sweden participates in NATO's war in Afghanistan, and Sweden has the largest practice area for war within its borders.

Sweden is at war and it is waged in our name, even though we have never been asked. It’s a war waged as a means to uphold an unjust world order in which a small global elite maintains its economic and political power. Although Sweden isn’t an official member of NATO, most Swedish soldiers work under the NATO flag. Sweden also has an embassy at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Last winter, Wikileaks-leaked documents from the US Embassy in Sweden showed that our so-called policy of neutrality is just a lie and that employees at the US Embassy in Sweden are well aware that Sweden plays an active role in NATO.

In February and March 2011, Ofog went on a lecture tour in Sweden to talk about war, militarism and the way that Sweden is involved in ongoing wars in the world. The focus was on the military training area NEAT in Norrbotten, which is used by, among others, NATO and the United States to drop bombs on practice targets. During the tour, we asked those we met in what ways they saw militarism around them, and it became clear that militarism and Sweden's war policy is something that is rarely discussed. This is while an extensive militarisation of Sweden is going on, in many places around the country, and on several levels. It's about an increase in military training areas, advertising campaigns from the Armed Forces, and a military that gets increasingly more and more influence in our society.

NEAT is the largest but not the only military training area in Sweden. In both Gothenburg and over Lake Vättern, the Armed Forces have applied for extended military exercises. At the lake, they want to expand the current 20 days of exercises a year to 80 days, to conduct air and shooting activities, including JAS 39 Gripen. In Gothenburg, the Armed Forces are now allowed to shoot 1.3 million shots during 115 days per year, against the previous 100 000 shots during 25 days a year.

Another part of the militarisation that is going on is the transformation of the Swedish armed forces from being just a defence force to becoming a professional army and attack power. Last summer general conscription was abolished. In connection with this the Armed Forces marketed themselves with an advertising campaign (worth 2.5 million euros) in order to recruit more soldiers. The campaign was based on the idea that all the problems of the world (both imaginary and real, floods, natural disasters, "violation of Sweden's borders", etc), should be resolved by military means. Those who disagreed that it was a good solution was not worth listening to, they did not have "what it takes to have an opinion". When the military no longer receives an automatic intake of soldiers from conscription, they need to promote militarism. Many of the young people we met during the tour had received a letter in which they were encouraged to go onto the military's website to test whether they were good enough to be soldiers. The profession of a soldier is marketed as an attractive job where you have to be smart enough, fast and strong. Military intervention is marketed as the only way to really do something; the alternative is to do nothing. Military restructuring also means that other parts of society are affected and drawn into this militarisation. The Employment Service is now part of the war machinery as a distributor of military jobs.

But we do not accept being part of war and militarism. We do not accept the fact that Sweden is at war, that weapons which shoot people in resistance movements, protesters and freedom fighters are manufactured from north to south in Sweden. We do not accept that unmanned fighter planes that drop bombs on civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan are trained and tested in Norrbotten and that the soldiers who are part of NATO's occupying army are sent from here. The fact that war starts here means that we have the opportunity and duty to stop it. We can mark out the places where war starts, we can interfere with the preparations and trainings; it is here and now that we can build a sustainable and just world instead of supporting that which destroys it. This summer we invite you to an international action camp in Luleå against Europe's largest military training area NEAT in Norrbotten. Together, we show that we do not accept that war is started – either here or anywhere.