Sweden goes on the defense to protect its valued neutrality
Swedish neutrality has lately taken on a distinctly more aggressive appearance. Defense Minister Eric Kronmark warned in a distinctly hawkish speech recently that cruise missiles violating Swedish airspace would be shot down.
Mr. Kronmark said that the Swedish Air Force and air defense network now had the capability to detect and destroy cruise missiles. Even if several of the missiles enter Swedish territory simultaneously, Sweden would have high hopes of knocking them out, the defense minister said.
He also said cruise missiles aimed at targets in the western part of the Soviet Union would be liable to pass over Sweden and that "any such missiles violating our territory will be dealt with immediately and effectively."
Asked the obvious question, a spokesman at the Defense Ministry said it was quite possible to shoot down cruise missiles without necessarily causing nuclear explosions.
There was, he admitted, a certain danger of radiation leakage and for this reason it was hoped that missiles could be dealt with over sparsely populated areas of the country.
Swedish worries about cruise missiles were heightened by an article by Russian commentator Ilja Baranikas of the semiofficial news agency APN in which he warned that the Soviet Union might have to shoot down the missiles over Scandinavia.
Baranikas said because of this danger Sweden should strongly protest against both the placing of cruise missiles in Europe and the storing of US military supplies in Norway.
The article, reprinted in the Stockholm daily Dagens Nyheter, was denounced as "muddled and inaccurate" by the Swedish Defense Ministry.
The Soviet article was generally seen in Swedish diplomatic circles as a crude bid by the Soviets to frighten Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries into renewed protests against the deployment of the cruise missiles.
But it obviously made an impression.
Kronmark's latest speech is as much a "hands off -- we can look after ourselves" warning to the Soviets as a reaction to the Reagan administration's hard line on the need to modernize NATO's nuclear arsenal.
Another current problem for Kronmark and Swedish neutrality in general is the possibility of Warsaw Pact intervention in Poland.
Sweden's armed forces remain on alert as a result of the situation in Poland. A major feature of this alert consists of preparedness to pick up refugees fleeing across the Baltic to Sweden.
All Poland's land borders are in Warsaw Pact countries. Its coastline, however, faces Sweden. There is a visa-free agreement between Poland and Sweden and already some 13,000 Polish immigrants in Sweden. A "Baltic boat people" exodus is seen as a very real possibility here.
Under the alert, which is of the highest priority of any military alert since World War II, some 300 Swedish marines can be called up at short notice to man vessels whose main task would be to guarantee the safety of refugees once they reach Swedish territorial waters.
A Defense Ministry spokesman declined speculation as to what might happen in the event of Soviet pursuit of refugees.
"Firm action would obviously be necessary," he said. "What makes the Polish situation unique from our point of view is that we have what could be a major international crisis right on our own doorstep for once."