Swedish Politicians at Odds Over Whether Patriot Missile Defence System Should Be Linked to NATO
While the liberal-conservative Moderates and the Liberals believe this is the way to go to make the most of what is seen as one of Sweden's largest defence procurements in the modern era, the national-conservative Sweden Democrats warn of risks of being drawn into a superpower conflict.
A recent offer by the US to link Sweden's newly purchased Patriot air defence system to NATO has sparked a political debate in the formally non-aligned Scandinavian country.
It was US Army Commander for Europe and Africa Christopher Cavoli who came up with the proposal during his recent visit to the air defence regiment in Halmstad, who received the new system.
"The fact that Sweden acquires Patriot gives it an opportunity to – if Sweden so wishes – join a community of armies that have Patriot too and have the ability to establish a network of defence systems. This means a very powerful opportunity", Cavoli told the newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
In Sweden's neighbourhood, such a network could include NATO members Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands, as well as the US. Militarily, such a connection would provide Sweden with benefits like more complete radar information about threats from the air and ballistic missiles fired.
Yet, both the US general and Swedish Chief of Staff Karl Engelbrektson emphasised that the link to the Patriot network is purely a Swedish political decision.
The chairman of the parliament's defence committee, Pål Jonson of the liberal-conservative Moderates, said the issue hasn't been formally discussed yet. However, the Moderates are strongly in favour of linking the Patriot systems with the Baltic Sea region.
"It is a natural step when we have acquired Patriot and should be seen in light of the Swedish defence policy being based on security in collaboration with other countries. It is also a key Swedish interest to protect the transatlantic link and deepen defence cooperation with the US", Pål Jonson explained.
Jonson pointed out that Russia has in recent years strengthened its capacity for long-range combat, which implies that Sweden must enhance its own defence capabilities. According to Jonson, stronger Swedish cooperation with neighbouring countries and the US may serve as a deterrent to war.
Liberals defence spokesman Allan Widman noted that in order to have an optimal effect, Patriot should be included in this system. He also emphasised that coordination had been considered before the purchase in 2018.
By contrast, the national-conservative Sweden Democrats, who were against the acquisition of Patriots, struck back against this perspective.
"I say a resounding no. We have not received any information or analysis of the consequences. Who will control this, is it the NATO countries that will decide when we will use our systems? Should a superpower conflict occur, we risk automatically joining the war. This is something the government is doing", Sweden Democrats defence spokesman Roger Richthoff said.
14 May 2021, 04:58 GMT
Social Democrat Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist called the Patriot purchase a "very important and strategic decision" that strongly boosts Sweden's defence capability. He confirmed that the aforementioned type of coordination is indeed a possibility, yet declined to comment on it.
"I cannot comment on any agreements or anything in that matter. It's for secrecy reasons. Right now I represent a transitional government so I cannot comment on future assessments", Hultqvist said.
At the same time, the defence minister emphasised that the recent defence plan adopted in December 2020 entails continued and expanded cooperation with, among others, NATO and the US.
With a price tag of at least SEK 10 billion ($1.2 billion) in the first phase alone, the Patriot procurement, finalised in 2018, is seen as one of Sweden's largest arms deals in modern history, if not the single-largest. The first missile systems were delivered earlier this year.