France, Sweden to Deepen Defence Cooperation to Meet 'Challenges' From Russia, China
© REUTERS / GONZALO FUENTESFrench Defence Minister Florence Parly speaks during the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, France, September 21, 2021.
© REUTERS / GONZALO FUENTES
The nations' Defence Ministers Florence Parly and Peter Hultqvist cited Russia's recently completed Zapad drills as a "demonstration of strength" and "increasing military influence" from China as among the geopolitical challenges the deepened cooperation is expected to parry.
Today, Friday, Sweden and France will sign a declaration of intent on in-depth defence cooperation.
According to both countries' militaries, the idea is to boost the ability to carry out joint efforts, whenever necessary. This cooperation will also include crisis management, measures to boost resilience, capacity building, and partnership.
To mark the occasion, Defence Ministers Florence Parly and Peter Hultqvist have penned an opinion piece in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, laying out the foundations of the future cooperation and explaining the threat picture that allegedly includes Russia and China.
Above all, the ministers stated that we live in an "unpredictable time", venturing that geopolitical challenges are greater and more complex now than at any time since the Cold War and suggesting that "global commons" such as space, cyber, our oceans, and skies are "increasingly contested". They then proceeded to single out concrete threats.
Among other things, Moscow's recently completed Zapad drills carried out in western Russia and Belarus was called a "demonstration of strength" showing Moscow's "extensive military capability". China, by contrast, was suggested as using its economic power and "increasing military influence" in many parts of the world. Furthermore, both nations were named as threats in terms of disinformation and hybrid activities that have "become part of the new normal".
In other parts of the world, especially in the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa, extremism, terrorism, trafficking in human beings and drugs was named a threat to Europe's internal and external security.
To counter the said threats, the two ministers called to bolster Europe's common security and increase its "strategic autonomy". This despite Peter Hultqvist having been a staunch opponent of the idea of a united EU force, floated in France and by various EU politicians.
"Europe's security is first and foremost Europeans' own responsibility. European strategic autonomy must increase in a way that both strengthens and is in tune with transatlantic and global security", Hultqvist and Parly wrote.
Citing common interests, values, and a shared history of France and Sweden, the two ministers called for more active military and security cooperation between the two countries, which at present includes the Task Force Takuba in Mali, to which Sweden contributes 150 soldiers, as well as numerous regional drills such as Aurora, Arctic Challenge, and Northern Coasts.
Unlike NATO member France, Sweden remains formally non-aligned, despite having bolstered its military cooperation with the alliance and the US in recent decades and regularly contributing to their overseas operations, including in Libya and Afghanistan.
Of late, Sweden's establishment, including politicians, military bosses (including Defence Minister Hultqvist himself), and leading opinion journalists, have repeatedly used the "assertive" and "aggressive" Russia narrative as a pretext for assuring military build-ups and budget hikes, including re-militarising the formerly demilitarised Baltic island of Gotland, which was previously identified as a possible "springboard" for a Russian "invasion", as well as the establishment of new regiments. Similar narratives are prevalent among Sweden's Nordic neighbours.
Russia, for its part, has said that changes in Swedish military spending "cannot but cause concern". As suggested by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Stockholm's "trumped-up anti-Russian phobias" are largely a result of external pressure, primarily from NATO, to which Sweden is moving closer.
Russia's last war with Sweden concluded just over 212 years ago, resulting in the establishment of the Grand Duchy of Finland under the Russian crown.
French troops were last on Russian soil following the 1917 October Revolution as part of the Entente's intervention force that was driven out shortly thereafter.