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How Sweden can collaborate with Canada as part of NATO

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Published in The Globe and mail 13th of July 2023

Sweden and Canada share many values and interests. The two Arctic countries have mutual concerns about an imperialist Moscow tearing down the rules-based order in Europe, and about an increasingly aggressive China that sees itself as a “near-Arctic country,” working to gain world dominance through intellectual-property theft, cyberattacks, market manipulation, bullying, attacks on freedom of speech and threats to invade democratic Taiwan. Both Sweden and Canada have also suffered from troubling forest fires this summer, and will have to grapple with serious climate-change issues in the years to come.

Now, Sweden is set to finally join Canada as a member of NATO. But our co-operation shouldn’t end there.

In a newly released report, the Stockholm Free World Forum made recommendations about how Sweden should develop its total defence capabilities after joining NATO, and several of our recommendations have a direct or indirect Canadian connection. Perhaps the most important one is for Sweden to join the Canadian-led enhanced forward presence group (EFP) in Latvia. We can do so by adding a tank battalion from our South Scanian Regiment and then, over time, building up equipment for a mechanized brigade-size force so that Swedish personnel could be quickly flown over the Baltic Sea as needed to support. This would be modelled after the U.S. Marine Corps’ Prepositioning Program-Norway, which stores American military equipment in caves near Trondheim, Norway.

The Baltic states – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia – find themselves at Russia’s doorstep, and have been calling for NATO’s aid. New NATO member Finland is set to take a larger responsibility in the defence of its ally Estonia, and Germany plans to increase its presence in Lithuania with a permanent force of about 4,000 troops. That means Sweden can focus its contributions to the Baltic defence on supporting the EFP in Latvia. We believe that the Swedish Home Guard – which has become a highly qualified defensive infantry force – should also develop a regional transnational rapid reaction force aimed at defense in Latvia, or wherever it may be needed in the Baltic or Nordic region. An enlarged amphibious corps could also operate where land meets sea in the Gulf of Finland, the Estonian islands, and the Gulf of Riga.

The broader Arctic picture reveals even more opportunities for Swedish-Canadian co-operation. Current projections suggest that by 2030, the Chinese navy will be 50 per cent larger than the U.S.’s, and while the latter is of course far more efficient and battle-proven, quantity has a quality all its own; in the Arctic, numbers count. If China were to move even one-tenth of its 2030 navy to the Arctic, it would add more surface ships than there are in Russia’s entire northern fleet today. With the U.S. Navy and Britain’s Royal Navy largely tied up in the Pacific, it would fall on the other northern maritime democracies – Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden – to face this challenge in the Arctic together. Thus, we recommend that Sweden build more ships, and larger ones, as well as bolstering its small but world-class submarine force, to keep the Arctic and Northern Atlantic safe for the Alliance.

Deepening Chinese and Russian co-operation around the sea lanes in the Arctic has also shortened transportation time between Europe and China by somewhere between 30 to 40 per cent compared to the Suez Canal. We can only speculate as to where Russia’s war of aggression will take Moscow’s co-–operation with Beijing, but the idea of Russia as a junior partner to a “near-Arctic” China with a shipping and supply-line advantage and a huge interest in resources and global dominance is a grim one.

Icebreakers are also vital for staking claims in the Arctic, and while Canada, Sweden and Finland have NATO’s largest icebreaker fleets, they pale compared to Russia’s. Sweden can produce more, and also work to potentially equip them with air defense systems and the capacity to deploy explosive mines.

Sweden can also offer fellow NATO members the ability to launch satellites quickly. Today, the only space-launch site for the European Union on the mainland is in Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city. Space is playing a larger role than ever in conflicts, given the importance of communication and surveillance.

In all these areas, Sweden and Canada would benefit from deepened bilateral co-operation through exercises, exchange and joint development. With Sweden’s expected accession to NATO, we are looking forward to the opportunities for such co-operation with Canada.

Gunnar Hökmark is the president of the Stockholm Free World Forum and a former member of European Parliament and member of Swedish Parliament. Patrik Oksanen is a senior fellow of Stockholm Free World Forum, and a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences and the Royal Swedish Society of Naval Sciences.