Sweden wants to up defense budget due to regional tensions

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s left-leaning government on Thursday proposed a 40% increase for its defense budget from 2021-2025 with the defense minister saying the move came because the region’s security policy situation “has deteriorated over time” as “a consequence of Russia’s actions.”

“It is the largest increase in defense capability in 70 years,” Defense Minister Peter Hulqvist told a news conference. “An armed attack on Sweden can’t be ruled out.”

The government’s proposal said that if an attack happens, it can start with assaults on important civilian and military targets, sabotage and “liquidation of key people.” The whole territory “will be affected by intensive combat activities with major consequences locally and regionally,” it said.

Sweden’s Social Democrat-Green Party minority government said it has the backing of the two smaller opposition groups — the Center Party and the Liberals. The defense bill included increased expenditures of 27 billion kronor ($3.1 billion), or up to 40% compared to the previous deal.

The defense expenditures of Sweden, which isn’t a NATO member, is currently 1.1 % of gross domestic product.

It wasn’t clear when a vote on the plan could be held in the Swedish parliament.

Hultquist said that if approved, Sweden will have a third army brigade, equipped with artillery and several local defense battalions. In addition, the number of conscripts will increase.

In December 2017, Sweden decided to establish the nation’s first new military regiment since World War II — a unit of 350 soldiers based on the strategically important Baltic Sea island of Gotland. The permanent unit was deployed during 2018 to the island’s main town, Visby.

The infantry regiment there was dismantled in 2005. Earlier that year, Sweden introduced a military draft for both men and women. The Scandinavian country abolished compulsory military service for men in 2010, because there were enough volunteers to meet its military needs. It has never had a military draft for women.

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