You have heard that Sweden is hunting a ”submarine” and that it is ”presumed to be Russian”. Here is an example Financial Times of October 21 – which incidentally also announces that the Swedish Prime Minister vows to increase defence spending.
Not the slightest evidence
There are only three problems with this:
1) There is not the slightest evidence of there being anything military, neither that it is a submarine nor that, whatever the object might be, it is Russian.
2) Even with CNN, BBC and AlJazeera this is nothing but speculative low-grade yellow press journalism.
This is possible in the field of defence, security and peace because much less is required of journalists when they write about these matters than when they write about, say, domestic politics, economics, sports, books or food and wine. In these fields you are expected to have some knowledge and media consumers are able to check.
3) It serves other purposes than bringing you information: either to increase further the negative image of Russia, push Sweden into full NATO membership – see the remarkable offer by NATOs former Allied Supreme Commander, Stavridis about NATO to come and help Sweden – or to scare the Swedes into feeling that it is necessary to pay even more to the Swedish military (a mechanism also called fearology).
Virtually every aspect of the media hype is based on prejudices instead of interest-based analysis and on partial and paid expertise that follows the ‘party line’. Russia has ‘denied’ it is there; Holland has ‘dismissed’ that its submarine should be there.
With one or two exceptions, all Swedish and international media have avoided asking: Could it be something else but a sub and somebody else but the Russians – or nothing at all?
The alleged-ness of it all is good enough to pass for objective reporting in the – alleged – free media.
Swedish Defense Farce
Worse, the Swedish military has already made a fool of itself – not to be expected given the fairly large resources it has at its disposal.
It has sold off helicopters it now dearly needs.
It’s been – at least officially – relying on tips from ordinary citizens and one wonders where the intelligence (in more than one sense of that word) is.
A suspicion that a (Russian) special forces man had gone on land turned out to be an Swedish pensioner out fishing.
It has published a blurred photo of a wave-covered ‘object’ to be seen far out through some trees and indicated wrongly where that photo was taken.
One indeed wonders whether this farcical performance is made to show that it is so helpless that it must have large resources?
The more relevant consideration would be: How on earth can such amateurism be so easily accepted by the government, media and the people – and even used as an argument for what the PM has just announced?
Or to put it crudely: What do the Swedes get for their tax money?
Sweden is Not a Helpless Pawn in the Game
Sweden with a population of roughly 9 million is # 33 on the world list of military expenditures, spending US $ 6,2 billion per year. That is US $ 657 per capita, # 17 in the world.
Russia spends US$ 403 per capita and its overall military expenditures is 8% of NATO’s.
Sweden, thus, is not a helpless pawn in some game. If its military isn’t able to do better when it is really needed, some should be made responsible.
Is it Russian?
If there is something out there, is it likely to be Russian? Not very likely.
Moscow knows very well that if a Russian submarine was found and brought up to the surface, it would mean a huge boost for those in Sweden and elsewhere who would like to see Sweden as a full NATO member. That is not in Russia’s interest.
But of course, the Russians could play a high-risk game in these waters with some NATO subs, or be plain foolish. It can’t be excluded – but it isn’t very likely that the object is Russian.
If it Russian, Sweden itself may anyhow have an interest in not officially finding anything – to keep the Russians in the dark about how much it knows (how good it is at this) and whether or not there already is a NATO assistance in this case.
In both cases we are likely to never be told what it was all about.
Could it be from NATO?
Could it be from a NATO country? If so, we’ll also never know that.
The Swedish Chief of Staff has said that if something is found it would be shot at to come up to the surface. But it’s unthinkable that Sweden, if it knew an object to be from a NATO country – would a) shoot at it and b) tell the world that it knew.
After all, most violations of the Swedish air space has been known since the 1980s to be done by NATO fighters but it’s basically only when Russian fighters come near or violate that the Swedish defence establishment leaks it or the media are interested in it.
Sweden isn’t a neutral country today, if it ever were.
Could NATO have an interest in these waters? In the wake of the Ukraine crisis we are back to a kind of Cold War situation and NATO has moved its military positions forward in various ways and held a steady focus on the Baltic States.
So, yes, NATO could be in Swedish waters with or without the knowledge or consent of the Swedes; it could be roaming around to check on the Russians simply because tension has built up.
It could be placing sonars or whatever devices for future emergencies – while not wanting Sweden to know that it considers Sweden so close to NATO that it can just as well be used.
And if so, Sweden would rather not be told. Clear is that Sweden could not officially endorse a NATO submarine presence on its territory as part of Anti-Submarine Warfare or planning for future war with Russia. Both parties know that.
My concluding prediction is therefore rather simple: for the above reasons the Swedish military will soon call off the whole thing and the affair will have served its purpose – precisely by not stating what it was, who it was or why it was. Or if it was.
What the purpose of the event may be remains to be revealed at some point in the future. Or perhaps never – if the purpose was fearology for increased militarisation.
Somebody somewhere knows what’s going on. And they put citizens’ security at risk for purposes they would never tell you.
Jan Oberg is director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research.