This article was originally published on Medium, on the 21st of November 2014.
The expression “a distinction without a difference” means that if I tell you the consequence of an action and then tell you the cause, and you correct me, because you and I know that there can be multiple causes for that consequence or the cause is irrelevant — then I could say “that is a distinction without a difference”. It does not really matter what the cause is och who is causing it because the consequence is what we should be worrying about. It is particularly used when consequences has connotations associated with it that one party to an argument prefers to avoid…
The saying is very relevant to the Swedish society in the civil contingency perspective today. Sweden has during the eight years of conservative regime and the twelve years of social democrats before that reduced national robustness, resilience and readiness for crisis to such an extent that whatever the reason or whoever is trying to affect the country — distinctions are without a difference.
Even if that sounds strange, if you take a deeper look in to Sweden, one of the most stable democracies on earth, you will find numerous examples of areas where peace-loving, blue-eyed, naïve and short-sighted political leaders, for different reasons, mainly due to micromanagement and compromises, started to deconstruct the Swedish civil and military defence from being one of the best examples of comprehensive robustness throughout any social and civil institution down to being a high-tech drenched, highly fashionable and advertising-bureau-staged paradise balancing on a very sharp edge.
The legitimacy of the State is the most important pillar of the Rule of Law. A community based on rule of law has a correlational bond to the population regarding on one hand asking or demanding that the citizens pay their taxes and on the other hand providing the security and in the end — civil contingency. Of course a lot more goes in to the term “Rule of Law” but in this context, national civil contingency is of particular interest.
How do you gain the trust of the population? How does the state maintain its legitimacy?
First of all the taxes must be fair and collected in a manner that is understandable for the people. Secondly the police must do their work in manners that seem efficient and reasonable for the law abiding citizen. Thirdly medical and social care must be managed and performed to the public’s satisfaction. And fourthly emergencies e.g. firefighting and environmental hazards must be taken care of properly. Last but not least the financial transactions e.g. pensions and sick leave allowances must be handled correctly.
The next level of governmental commitment regards the long term perspective. There is a large number of areas where the government support the nation’s and the people’s welfare but let us focus on security and civil contingency.
The Swedish armed forces and the arms industry was some fifty years ago part of the backbone of the private sector, as well as a large portion of the publicly owned enterprises. A company like Ericsson has the armed forces to thank for being the perfect environment for R&D and testing new technologies. The radio division at the national telephone company together with Ericsson and the armed forces developed technologies for military use, later exploited to reach huge success for Swedish cell phone products.
In the 50’s the Swedish air force was one of the largest in the world (at least per capita) and in the 60’s and 70’s the army included 4–5 divisions, more than 30 brigades. In the Swedish navy you could find some of the best submarines ever built — and they were constructed and manufactured in Sweden. The Swedish fighter jets were all constructed and built in Sweden and were also regarded as some of the best in the world. The armed forces were well trained and especially the air force and the navy had a high level of integration training. On top of that the coastline was fortified and armed with hundreds of coastal artillery cannons with very high readiness levels. All of them are gone.
|In the 90’s all coastal artillery facilities were dismounted
After the cold war ended there was a period of hesitation. Was Russia really defeated? The main part of the armed forces remained untouched for a decade and some say we have never been better than we were in 1997. But around the millennium things started to deteriorate. Today there are embryos of two brigades, there are approx. 100 JAS 39 Gripen, 4–5 submarines and a number of very small functional units in the armed forces like logistic battalions, engineers, CBRN, rangers etc. We have no air defence or artillery systems at all. At least not to make any difference on an operational level.
The civil readiness and robustness was slowly deteriorating and today most of the shelters are abandoned, there are no gas masks for the population, very few are informed about and even less trained in how to handle a crisis situation.
This might to a large extent be explained by the reduced threat but the side effects of dismantling a whole area of expertise are aggravating. Some 20–30 years ago the phonebook, distributed to all households by the state owned telephone company, included a manual of how to behave in case of war or crisis. Hospitals that used to be prepared for mass casualty scenarios were closed and deconstructed. The stockpiling of food and oil has been reduced to a minimum in the era of lean production. Transport resources and organisations specifically for public needs are dissolved, all transports are performed by private corporations — outsourcing it to cheaper foreign firms.
Now back to the header — “a distinction without a difference”. If the population of a country learn from media and from friends and relatives working within the armed forces, civil contingency agencies, medical care or the energy or transport sectors about the disastrous management of these imperative areas of interest — what will that lead to?
It is inevitable to ask yourself these disturbing questions: What part of the country will be protected? Who will be protected? Who will take these decisions?
If this continues we will experience an escalation of the citizen’s discontent with their political leaders and a decline in the legitimacy of the state. It is yet not at an alarming level but it is a clear signal to politicians and citizens when almost 30% voted for non-traditional political parties. Almost 13% voted for the far-right party; the Sweden democrats. More than 3% voted for the single-issue party, The feminist party, almost 6% on the former communist party, nowadays named “The left” and 7% voted for the Green party.
On top of that the far-right Sweden democrats are on the balance of power and are able to stop the government bills in the parliament. This creates particular distress since it is a well-known fact that Putin is flirting with a majority of the far-right political parties of Europe. And they are flirting with him.
If you have the some understanding of Russian intelligence strategies you will quite soon come to the conclusion that looking in to the parliamentary, security policy and civil contingency situation in Sweden — it is a sitting duck.
Vladimir Putin has indirectly and through his representatives stated that it is an imported goal for Russia that the expansion of NATO stops. In several different statements Russia has sent some clear messages to the governments of Finland and Sweden that if they join NATO the tension in the Baltic sea area will rise. And that is from a level that is almost back at the same as it was during the cold war.
The foreign minister of Sweden, Mrs Margot Wallström, proudly presented a new foreign policy for Sweden. It is to be the world’s first feministic foreign policy. It means that soft power is to be used as a foreign policy tool at least on the same level as hard, traditional power. The problem is that Russia sees soft power as absence of power.
Don’t get us wrong, Putin and the Russian intelligence community along with parts of the armed forces are well trained and capable using soft power themselves. But not to support peace and trade but to project power. The mind-set of the Swedish leaders reminds a bit of the naivety among the students on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Lately the tone has changed a bit. Recently the prime minister, the defence minister and the supreme commander arranged a press conference stating that the Swedish navy had proof of a foreign submarine trespassing Swedish territorial waters. The message was clear and harsh. Next time — you will be bombed. But not a word about who the trespasser might have been, even though the former foreign minister, a right-wing hawk, immediately claimed it was Russia.
|Defence minister Peter Hultqvist, Prime Minister Stefan Lövfen and the Supreme Commander Sverker Göransson
Even if the government and the military leadership have a big dog attitude everyone can see it is a small knee dog in the lap of the United States. The conclusion for Russia is that as long as no direct kinetic energy is used, virtually any other use of power projection will not cause any intervention from the US. NATO is of course not an option since Sweden is not a member. Leaving the field open for Russian sixth generation hybrid warfare — with the purpose to keep Sweden (and Finland) outside NATO and at best make us doubt the peace-keeping effectiveness of the European Union.
If, what and why Russia does what it does is a distinction without a difference. Russia will project power and go as far as possible to protect its economy and vital interests. It is aggressive, revisionist, expansionist and is very much driven by interior problems. Most part of Russia’s foreign activities are aimed at the own population. When Putin invades Ukraine the popularity rates are off the chart. When Putin acts like a naughty boy at the G-20 meeting in Australia it is not to gain popularity abroad — but at home. And it works.
So when Putin wants to keep the gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea open, when he wants to weaken and divide EU and NATO, when he wants ice-free harbours and coastlines and when he wants to find new customers for the Russian arms and energy industry — he will affect everyone and everything in his way — but in the most cost effective way possible.
Sweden is nowadays a very cheap target for him. To influence Swedish leaders he only has to hint what he is capable of with military jets and submarines. He can let SVR agents infiltrate extreme organisations, criminal networks or even political parties in the parliament. He can let illegal residents use undercover and clandestine methods to target the civilian population and the private sector. In short — he can show force without firing one shot. And thus making policy makers receptive for his power, his will and work for his goals, maybe even without knowing it.
|Putin executing soft power
If Sweden is to counter this threat as a robust and resilient society the civil readiness must be raised, Sweden must join NATO and increase the defence budget. Exercises and training events must occur much more often. Volumes must increase as well as depth and width regarding personnel, materials and support covering the whole of Sweden and the whole population. A robust defence against propaganda and psychological operations must also be re-established. Information- and communication technology must be resistant to computer network attacks. We must be able to store food and oil in case the country is cut off. We must be able to protect water supply systems and the power grid in case of crisis. The trauma care must be able to handle mass casualties.
Why? Is it because Putin is threatening us? Or is it because we otherwise jeopardize the legitimacy of the state?
That is a distinction without a difference.
By the way – we recommend that Sweden joins NATO.