Total Defense

The world has cheered Ukraine’s determined resistance to Russian aggression, and even liberals have no problem with Ukraine’s government passing out automatic rifles to citizens. But some argue that Ukraine hasn’t gone far enough, that its government should not have waited for an invasion to arm its populace and encourage resistance to an invader. The example of the Finns’ armed and effective defense against Russia’s 1939 invasion has been cited in this regard.

And, in fact, some European countries have institutionalized the idea of a guerrilla citizenry. Take Sweden, for example. Americans tend to think of Swedes as rather wimpy and perhaps pacifistic. But, while the glory days of Gustavus Adolphus have receded into the dim past, Swedes are more patriotic than you might assume:

Sweden, like Ukraine, Switzerland, and several other countries, has a ‘total defence’ strategy. This means that it is not only members of the Swedish Armed Forces who are responsible for defending the country in the event of an invasion, but every individual adult and every institution in society.
All government agencies, municipalities, voluntary organisations, regional councils, businesses, unions, trade bodies, and religious organisations are required to prepare for and, in the event of an invasion, take part in Sweden’s defence.

The idea is that a strong pre-prepared resistance movement will act as a deterrent. An invader might be able to conquer large parts of the country, but maintaining an occupation will be difficult and costly.

I think that is what we are seeing in Ukraine. Russia presumably can win the war eventually, but it has little chance of pacifying the population or benefiting from its purported victory.

Sweden decided to begin rebuilding its system of Total Defence in 2015, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Since then, every public authority once again became responsible for taking part in defence and preparing and planning for a possible attack. Sweden reintroduced military conscription in January 2018.

Interesting that Sweden has a draft, while we don’t.

Who has a duty to defend Sweden in the event of an attack?


According to If Crisis or War Comes, a brochure sent to 4,8m households in Sweden by the Civil Contingencies Agency in 2018, “Everyone is obliged to contribute and everyone is needed.”

Under Sweden’s 1994 law on Total Defence, “every Swedish citizen has a duty to take part in total defence from the start of the calendar year in which he or she turns 16 until the end of the calendar year where they turn 70”.
Even if you have had no formal training and have not volunteered to be part of the Home Guard or Hemvärnet, you might still be conscripted to fight in the event of an attack.

You might also be conscripted into other government organisations, or posted by the Swedish Public Employment Service to do any job at all, from digging defensive trenches, to working as a driver, cook, or cleaner.
Even if you are not called up, it is still your duty to resist the invader in any way that you can.

“If Sweden is attacked, resistance is required,” the brochure states and this continues to be the case even if all state agencies are overrun and Sweden’s leaders announce a surrender.

How effectively would Swedes be able to resist? Gun ownership is surprisingly common, at 23 firearms per 100 residents.

I especially like this part:

“If Sweden is attacked by another country, we will never give up,” the brochure asserts. “All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false.”

The Swedish government also encourages citizens to stock up on food and water as further preparation for a possible invasion.

If invaded by Russia, would Swedes really carry on the fight with rifles and kitchen knives so as to make their country ungovernable? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t bet against it. Meanwhile, even Germany, the sleeping giant of Europe in military terms since World War II, is awakening to the need for self-defense. It seems that the Europeans have taken to heart President Trump’s urging to take more responsibility for their own defense. Whatever the cause, it is all to the good.

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