The Politics of Global War: The Swedish Gambit


Negotiations in Brussels resumed on the afternoon of 18 July, 1987. The morning sessions had brought about an unofficial proposal of advantage. Sweden would not be granted immediate full member status in NATO but an association of sorts. The Swedish military would work together with NATO forces in the defense of Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea region. It went without saying that this included defending the national borders of Sweden. As for membership, that was a political matter to be resolved at some point in the near future.  In the meantime, NATO and Swedish forces would operate as if Sweden was an active member of the alliance. The political leaders of the United States, Great Britain, France, and West Germany fully supported the proposal. No mention was made to the leaders of other member-states and would not be until a final decision was reached in Stockholm.

When the Swedish delegation returned to NATO headquarters it was with news the alliance had been hoping for. Sweden’s government had agreed to the terms of the proposal. Prime Minister Carlsson would announce the news to his country once the major details of the agreement were ironed out and Sweden’s military was on maximum alert. A speech was being written, and preparations were underway to address the nation before midnight. Shortly afterward, the diplomats returned to the embassy, leaving behind the military liaison officers to begin integrating Swedish forces, and war aims with NATO’s own.

NATO was also making overtures to Finland and a general understanding had been reached on the matter with Stockholm. Sweden’s intention was to start openly assisting the Finns militarily as soon as it shed its neutrality. The alliance would quietly approach Helsinki about a similar arrangement once this occurred. With luck, all of Scandinavia would be aligned against the Soviet Union within the next twenty-four to thirty-six hours.

The Kremlin monitored events closely. The afternoon went on with reports from the KGB, military, and foreign ministry arriving at regular intervals. It became more probable that Sweden was preparing to enter the war at some point soon. Requests by the Soviet ambassador in Stockholm for an immediate audience with the prime minister were stonewalled. The staff at the Swedish embassy in Moscow, already down to a skeleton-crew level, was making preparations to depart the Soviet Union early in the evening. It appeared that every effort to keep Sweden out of the conflict had failed.

General Secretary Romanov reluctantly saw the writing on the wall. If Sweden came in, it would severely affect Soviet operations underway in the Baltic and Scandinavia. He realized that things were already not going according to plan in these areas, despite the reports crossing his desk which claimed otherwise. The matter at hand was rapidly becoming how to react. Options were discussed, and debated as the afternoon went on. Some members of the Politburo argued for pre-emptive military action against the Swedes. Predictably, the foreign minister was against this suggestion since it gave Sweden, and by extension NATO, a justification for expanded hostilities, possibly against the Soviet homeland. Measures needed to be taken, however. After another hour or so of debate, Romanov brought the matter to a close and announced his decision. Shortly thereafter, orders were written up and transmitted. The most significant being a direction to the commander of the Red Banner Northern Fleet to sortie the ballistic missile submarines under his care promptly at midnight. Other, more subtle preparations were also set in motion by the military, and KGB.

At 8 PM it was announced on Swedish television, and radio that Prime Minister Carlsson would address the nation, and the Riksdag from Parliament House in two hours. Within thirty minutes, Sweden’s seven military areas went to maximum alert. Over the course of the next seventy minutes, heavy fighter patrols were launched from airbases in the north, and east. Fighters were also dispersed to road bases. Surface ships, and submarines slipped their moorings and departed from Karlskrona, Gothenburg, and Musko. In the major cities a large presence of troops materialized almost instantly. Streets were patrolled by military police, and reservists in armored vehicles.

Promptly at 10 PM, Carlsson walked to the podium and began his address. He wasted little time informing his fellow countrymen that Sweden was shedding its cherished neutrality and entering the war now raging across Europe in order to prevent the Soviet Union from recklessly endangering the sovereignty of Sweden, and its Scandinavian neighbors.

Less than thirty seconds after Carlsson spoke these fateful words, radar operators across the land detected large numbers of unidentified aircraft inbound from the north, and southeast.

Sweden was now at war.

5 Replies to “The Politics of Global War: The Swedish Gambit”

  1. Very fascinating story. Ingvar Carlsson (he’s still alive) going gung-ho against the Russkies is not the typical picture given by the (perhaps slightly biased) conservative writers in late 1980’s, including in Sweden’s seminal technothriller, the Operation Garbo trilogy.

    (A minor point: There were six military areas in the 1980’’s. Gotland was included the Eastern military area about 20 years earlier.)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. A pleasure to assist in your impressive work. I am by no means a professional, but I’d be happy to provide what I have gathered about the Swedish Cold War military setup.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Have to say, don’t really agree with how Sweden was handled here, a more realistic outcome would have been Sweden continued the clandestine support of finland and then have the Russians over react and attack Sweden.

            As is, Sweden was never going to stand down to Moscow, but it also isn’t going to voluntary leave neutrality, and will only join nato when russia attacks.


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