Where is Your Shelter?
It was in Reykjavik in 1987, during the final phase of the Cold War, where Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev abolished the entire category of mid-range nuclear weapons. In the late 1970s, the Politburo made a huge mistake by giving the green light to the establishment of SS-20 missiles into Eastern Europe. The aging leaders miscalculated NATO’s reaction. Despite big protests by the peace movement, Western leaders closed ranks and decided to deploy US Pershing missiles in response to the Soviet action.
Instead of having to use their huge conventional armies of the Warsaw Pact, the Kremlin had manoeuvered itself into a situation where the American medium-range missiles had a faster reaction time on the potential battlefield than strategic bombers in the United States or submarines at sea. Additionally, there was, before the deployment of the SS-20 missiles, a difficult decision to make in the West.
Would one fire strategic nuclear weapons with enormous destructive power in response to an attack from the east? Was it necessary, and it was proportional, were two of the sub-questions in such an unpleasant scenario. With the Pershing missiles, it was easier to say yes to the latter question. No large missiles against the large Soviet cities, but a relatively precise answer on the battlefield was more defensible than the first option and the option to not do anything at all – thereby probably losing Western Europe.
The agreement in Reykjavik and the scrapping of medium-range missiles not only averted a military threat, it was the beginning of the end of the Cold War itself. But now we seem to be back in the bad old days. Russia has chosen its path away from Europe and is challenging the status quo with its war of aggression in Ukraine. For what we are seeing now is the reaction to the misery of the Russian armed forces in the 1990s. It was then that warships rusted away due to lack of maintenance. Then, army officers lived as refugees in their own country and had long periods where they were not paid. And then, the United States, in a coalition, waged World War III without nuclear weapons, in Iraq in 1991. One of the best-equipped and trained armed forces had made short work of Saddam’s Soviet-designed counterpart.
In Moscow, good advice was expensive. A new doctrine was pushed forward a short time after the Kosovo war. One of the main drivers was the secretary of the National Security Council, a certain Vladimir Putin. He managed the feat of gaining acceptance for the doctrine and could then, in the new year, sign it as the new president in spring 2000.
Tactical nuclear weapons played a major role, as Moscow’s conventional armed forces were in decline. The idea was that, at ”critical situations for national security” they would be deployable so as to cool a crisis.
Above all, it was cruise missiles from aircraft that were the foundation of this concept.
Aircraft as carriers of nuclear weapons offer great flexibility, they can go up and be called back. They can operate over large distances, just what a weak Russia needed. They also contributed to a security policy with a certain unpredictability – something that Moscow liked.
Years passed without anyone other than the most inveterate experts taking notice. Not even the war in Georgia in 2008 saw a major reassessment of Russia’s ambitions. But they then practised not only an invasion of the Baltic States, but also a simulated nuclear attack on Warsaw.
It sent a small shock wave through NATO, but it soon transformed into a certain annoyance of loud Balts and Poles. No one was allowed to disturb the relaunch of relations between the US and Russia that the new US administration had initiated.
In line with the renewed Russian confidence, and some refurbishments, the Kremlin could turn the screw a bit on the doctrine during 2010. Now it was when ”the very existence of the state is threatened” as it was up to date with the use of nuclear weapons.
Now, there is growing evidence that the Russian leadership is eating into the forbidden reaches of 500-5500 km zone that the presidents’ INF agreement (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) stipulated in 1987. Secondly, there are reports that Russia has developed a cruise missile to ground missile system – Iskander – with a longer range than 500 kilometres. Partly an intercontinental missile, RS-26 Rubezh is fired from as close as 2 000 km. The Iskander system can fire missiles with either conventional or nuclear warheads.
Nuclear weapon experts argue among themselves about whether these data constitute a breach of contract and, if so, how serious it is for the future. It is clear that the Iskander system is causing the biggest challenge, especially since there are indications that the range could be as large as 700 km. In theory, this means that the Russian Luga ground missile brigade could reach Stockholm.
With this system, the Kremlin faces its opponents in Washington with two difficult circumstances: one is that it is much more difficult to detect a relatively small system with high mobility than the fixed installations in silos that make up the strategic, ground-based weapons. But worse is that expanding the reach eventually gives middle-distance-like effects. This means that, as the weapons development goes on, more and more European territory is covered without posing a threat to the United States.
Along with the intelligence and information warfare that Russia has demonstrated in Ukraine, Moscow is trying, with the development of tactical nuclear weapons, to figuratively encircle NATO’s conventional superiority. Should a crisis escalate into a regular conflict, the idea is that, with limited nuclear attacks against defined military targets, it should be possible to get the opponent to back down and freeze the situation for negotiations.
Första skottet gick in i pannan, det andra i käken. Hon slapp höra hur fadern upprepade ordet ”hora” när han sköt. Obduktionen visade att den första kulan avslutade Fadime Sahindals 26-åriga liv.
One such typically defined military objective is FRA on Lovön, against which Russia, according to SvenskaDagbladet, practised an attack one Easter night last year. The security police has spoken of ”simulated air attacks against Sweden”. Now, it is not certain that this was precisely a nuclear attack, but three unpleasant observations can be made.
The first has nothing to do with nuclear weapons per se, but the fact that Russia did not practise against anyone else that night. This suggests that the scenario was an isolated attack without warning and probably as an introduction to a major event. Keeping a continuous high alert against such a threat is impossible, at least with current defence capability.
The second observation is about the nuclear umbrella that Sweden grimly, but calculatedly, stood under during the Cold War. When NATO/US reduced the diameter of its new umbrella and we politely declined the same for us, it will be hard to explain how we are going to keep reasonably dry if it starts raining again. How to protect a state against the nuclear threat without having its own or that of others to rely on? It could possibly work, but it requires either a very strongly protective or a very passive, not to say submissive, foreign policy.
The third observation is that Sweden phased out its fantastically well-developed civil defence, and parts of its emergency preparedness bureaucracy shun the thought of its return. From then, when the shelters were famous and the civil defence force practised, there remains almost nothing. The armed forces, for their part, practised regularly in the 1950s and 60s for scenarios involving nuclear attack.
The key here is a fortified capability that maintains the will to defend the country. Today, things look different with our defence capability. Hand on heart: where is your nearest municipal shelter?