by Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Director General, Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB)
Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, now in its second year, has had devastating effects on the Ukrainian people, with serious spillover effects both in Europe and globally. In laying bare some of Europe’s strategic vulnerabilities, the war reinforces our collective need to build up truly resilient societies, both at the level of the individual and systemically, capable of withstanding all manner of inevitable shocks.
This war in Europe is a stark reminder that the current risk landscape is truly multifaceted, increasingly complex and constantly shifting. Indeed, in the last year alone, Europe has witnessed severe physical and cyber-enabled attacks on critical infrastructure and services, on- and offline disinformation campaigns, terrorist attacks, continued large-scale migration, and strained global supply chains. All the while, the continent was confronted with different natural disaster risks, including earthquakes, floods, and wildfires (their effects exacerbated in one way or another by climate change, urbanisation and other megatrends), but also different “normal” accidents and “run-of-the-mill” emergencies, which, while hugely disruptive to people, rarely make the headlines. Given the challenges societies face today, an inclusive and nimble approach accounting for all manner of risks, from the mundane to the extraordinary, including war, is essential.
Sweden’s dual approach
Sweden’s approach in confronting these challenges is centred on a whole-of-society “total defence” concept consisting of two parts. Firstly, the military component, which involves not least the Swedish Armed Forces and Home Guard, is responsible for defending Sweden’s territorial borders. Secondly, the civil defence component is intended to guarantee that there is a strong and resilient civilian society capable of enabling the military defence to function for an extended period, but also
to ensure that vital societal functions (eg healthcare, child
and elderly care, emergency services, food and water supply,
heating, financial services, transportation, telecommunications, etc) are up and running at all times, even during times of war.
A wide range of actors in society, including central government authorities, municipalities, regions, companies, voluntary organisations, religious groups, and individual citizens, are integral parts of Swedish civil defence, which, while ultimately focused on preparing Sweden for a worst-case scenario, war, seeks to strengthen the country’s collective ability to manage other peace-time challenges as well. The logic here is simple – in preparing for the worst, Sweden should be ready to deal with the rest.
The need to reinforce citizen-level preparedness as part of whole-of-society resilience is also one of the priorities of the Swedish EU Presidency, which reflects current EU civil protection policy embodied by the European Commission’s recently published Disaster Resilience Goals that emphasise the need for greater public risk awareness. Under the leadership of the Swedish Presidency, a new EU-wide concept, “preparEU”, was developed, to take forward Union work in this important area.
The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency
Strengthening the population’s resilience
The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) plays a leading role in Sweden’s civil defence in strengthening the population’s overall resilience and willingness to support the nation’s total defence objectives. Inherent in this work is the need to show the citizens that they are both key players in but also core beneficiaries of a total defence. To this end, MSB is working through different on- and offline campaigns targeting different segments of society, including young children and teenagers, to explain what this new system of total defence is and what obligations citizens have in it.
Crucially, these public information campaigns are also intended to highlight all the “little things” that individuals can do in their daily lives to enhance their preparedness and make themselves less vulnerable, for instance by getting to know their neighbours better, joining a volunteer organisation, being more cyber-aware, being more informed media consumers in an era marked by widespread disinformation, and always keeping a seven-day supply of essential supplies at home. The better prepared and informed members of the public are, the more likely they face crises.
Securing supply chains
Besides involving the public, a robust civil defence relies on deep engagement with but also buy-in from the private sector, which provides essential services to both government authorities and individuals alike. To this end, the MSB plays an integral role in the newly established national public-private council on crisis preparedness and total defence, chaired by the Swedish minister for civil defence. This council provides an opportunity to discuss issues related to supply chain security. In addition, the MSB is working with a wide range of public and private actors to make sure that the country’s public shelters are fit-for-purpose, easy to locate and accessible.
The MSB, together with other key government authorities, is working to further build out the country’s cyberdefences, and, in parallel, to implement key cybersecurity legislation to strengthen the resilience of Sweden’s physical infrastructure. This is in close cooperation with a wide range of actors both in Europe and around the world on the basis of the EU Directive on Network and Information Security (NIS2) and the EU’s new Critical Entities Resilience (CER) Directive.
Investing in partnerships
Sweden will continue to invest in relations with our Nordic and Baltic partners, as well as with the EU, including through the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) and NATO as well as various UN agencies, NGOs, the US, other third countries and the private sector, with pragmatism and determination, building stronger bridges between communities. In this regard, the MSB strongly supports the development of rescEU under the UCPM, including EU-financed shelter capacities hosted by Sweden, which have been deployed to support different operations with a clear humanitarian component, first in Ukraine and most recently in Türkiye. Sweden has also long been an active partner of NATO and looks forward to joining the alliance, contributing even more as a fully-fledged member.
The way ahead
Sweden is working hard at home and together with partners in Europe and around the world to strengthen our collective ability to respond to and quickly recover from the many risks and threats that our societies face today. As the geopolitical landscape shifts, so too must shift our approach. For Sweden it is the return to total defence thinking, of which whole-of-
society resilience is a foundational element. Our challenge is to effectively make best use of existing domestic and international arrangements to ensure that Swedish total defence capacities provide added value to partners as well.
 As of 1 October 2022, the Swedish civil defence system is centred on a new structure organised both in sectors (ten sectors identified) and geographically (six regional areas with specific civil defence responsibilities).
 The European Commission’s Disaster Resilience Goals: https://bit.ly/3If4JtC
 Sweden’s “total defence duty” entails that anyone between the ages of 16 and 70 living in Sweden (including non-citizens) can be called up to support different total defence-related activities.