Peter Lidén på väg upp för en trappa på Försvarshöhskolan.

Photo: Anders G Warne.

"It is urgent to strengthen Sweden's defence capability"

Peter Lidén, who teaches military science at the Swedish Defence University, has frequently shared his knowledge in the media since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

– I see it as urgent to strengthen Swedish defence capabilities, and I believe that I can contribute to this at the Swedish Defence University, especially by training future leaders in the Swedish Armed Forces.

For many, Russia's large-scale invasion of Ukraine less than a year ago came as a surprise, but for Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lidén, the war in Ukraine started already with the annexation of Crimea in 2014. When he was appointed defence attaché to Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, and moved down to Kiev with his family in spring 2015, it was very clear that this was a country at war.

– This was evident in several ways in everyday life, with, for example, both Russian and Ukrainian schoolmates, and in my professional life, in terms of access to information and Ukrainian representatives and how Ukraine focused on building up its defence during the ongoing war in these years. Sweden and the Swedish Armed Forces also began their educational support of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the autumn of the same year.

A defence attaché functions as the Swedish Armed Forces' link to the country in question. He or she is tasked with monitoring the country's military conditions, reporting back to the military intelligence and security service, Must, and coordinating and participating in various collaborations and projects between the two countries.

– Swedish defence attaché is not subordinate to his or her Ministry of Defence or Ministry of Foreign Affairs, although he or she is normally hired at the embassy. Instead, they work for the Swedish Armed Forces and thus also act as a contact person for the military in the country they are working in. I had more to do with the host country and other foreign representatives than with the Swedish embassies in "my three countries".

Military teacher in operational planning

During his years in Ukraine, Peter Lidén received many visits, including from the Swedish Defence University, and thus became aware of the university as a place to work.

– When we moved back home in the autumn of 2019, I was offered a position as a military teacher, mainly in operational planning and operations evaluation for students at the Higher Officer Programme.

He has also continuously lectured in military and civilian contexts about the war in Ukraine, even before the escalation last year, and participated in many study visits from the Defence College to Ukraine. Lately, he has devoted even more time to Ukraine due to personal interest as well as its professional relevance. Real-life examples are in demand in teaching contexts, and give clearer relevance to what might otherwise seem abstract or dated, he says.

– I think I see a different level of concern among students now. They no longer see theories alone as sufficient, and can become impatient even with fictional scenarios, even though these can sometimes be essential parts of the teaching process.

Peter Lidén, militär lärare och överstelöjtnant.

Lieutenant Colonel and military teacher at the Swedish Defence University. Photo: Anders G Warne.

Reality is essential in operational planning

In basic operational planning there may be so much detail, or so many hard-to-find facts, that it can detract from the learning experience.

– But we can often still refer to reality and learn from it. Then, of course, it is always a challenge to find an optimal level between unnecessarily high levels of detail and too shallow examples within the tight timeframes of lessons and seminars.

Concrete examples from current events are also useful in explaining, for example, organisational culture.

– At the operational level in the West, we often develop a number of courses of action to choose from, where even rejected options serve to provide a better understanding of what the commander wants. In the East, on the other hand, the commander instead decides what to do in a more direct manner; thus, there is no point in spending time working out options. Although this approach is quicker, it does not always work out well, and it may serve to curb participation, insight and trust between staff and commander.

Commenting on the war in Ukraine

Being an expert commentator in the media is a task that, in addition to working as a teacher, has taken a lot of his time in the past year. But when the requests from journalists started pouring in, he was initially reluctant to contribute. Not just because of a lack of time, but for moral reasons.

– The family and I have many friends and acquaintances in Ukraine, and at first it felt like reporting and reviewing an ongoing assault of a friend. But on the other hand, and as my Ukrainian friends pointed out at the time, I can at least supplement and nuance the reporting to some extent, so perhaps it can be useful. Especially in a situation where the media otherwise tends to resort to information and analysis from the US and UK, where sources are not infrequently biased and do not always have even indirect experience of the region.

The West has had a naive attitude towards Russia

He sees a change in Swedish public opinion on the war and Russia since 24 February last year, even though Sweden in particular was clearly pro-Ukraine even before that.

– The West, but also Sweden itself, has long had a naive attitude towards Russia; it has shaped its view of reality according to how it dared to act. Our "freedom" as a militarily non-allied country was so clearly falsified by the fact that we actually did not dare to live up to our alleged wholehearted support for Ukraine. In addition to struggling for survival, Ukraine has, at great cost, also bought us time to, among other things, drastically reassess our security policy since 2014, dramatically increase our defence capabilities, and at least enter into a debate on NATO membership. For the longest time, we chose to not do so.

He says it was clear that the war was not really taken seriously in the West until the escalation last year.

– For the first eight years, the West was busy distancing itself from a war going on near the centre of Europe and between its two largest states. The big change since February is neither Russia's nor Ukraine's strategic objectives - these remain, albeit with adjustments to the timing - but how the West was forced to react, unite, and actually start taking the war seriously, thanks to Ukraine not allowing itself to be defeated militarily in a matter of days.

In a way, we are already in a state of war, even though we are not a party to an international armed conflict, he says.

– Europe's, and perhaps particularly Sweden's, security base has been under explicit and armed attack since 2014. We are subject to ultimate pressure and influence and we are supporting Ukraine militarily, now even with weapons and ammunition which are not taken from any 'surplus' but actually have consequences for our warfighting capability. This of course demonstrates that we actually and rightly see the war as ours as well. We are in a grey area and the war affects everyday life in many ways here in Sweden too.

Great need for military support to Ukraine

How do you think the war in Ukraine will develop in the future?

– Of course, nothing can be taken for granted, and Ukraine is also suffering great losses. We are speculating about when and how the war may end, but developments are dynamic and depend on how the West also acts. This is not another "crisis management" exercise, where Russia needs to "agree" to some extent to actions and outcomes, but to impose the will of another actor on Russia. Unless Ukraine wins and Russia clearly loses in Ukraine, as soon as possible, I think the world situation will be much more dangerous in the future. That is why we now need to help more, especially with weapons systems and combat vehicles. Ukraine has specified what they need, and if we help them enough, they may be able to continue the offensive and at least start liberating Crimea by the summer, as their military intelligence has said.

How do you view the nuclear threat from Russia?

– I don't think Russia will escalate with nuclear weapons. At least not as long as actual Russian territory is not at stake. Sources in the US have been clear about what it will do in that case: shoot out all Russian military in Ukraine, including Crimea, as well as the Russian Black Sea Fleet, with conventional weapons. Russia should therefore realise that it would be military suicide - and the fact that this has also gone public in the media, paradoxically, probably also gives the Kremlin an argument against the only "opposition" allowed there: that of the aggressive "hawks". In the usual Russian spirit, it is therefore going as close as it can to the border, with very deliberate terror against civilians, without formally deciding to deploy "weapons of mass destruction".

Long experience from the Armed Forces

Peter Lidén bases his teaching, but also his analyses in the media, on 35 years of experience in the Armed Forces. His interest in becoming an officer was awakened already as a teenager:

– After basic training as a sergeant in the mobile sea front artillery in southern Sweden, I applied to the Naval Officers' College in Karlskrona, but was not accepted. But a year later I got a place at KA 1, which, back then, was located in Vaxholm.

He then served at KA 1 and the Amphibious Battle School until the early 2000s, and then at the Swedish Armed Forces Headquarters, at the then Strategy Staff and Operations Staff, respectively. For a few years he also worked as a teacher at the Danish Defence College, and served during deployments to the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) in Kosovo and EU Naval Force Somalia, respectively.

It was during his years in Denmark that he first travelled to Ukraine, shortly after the Orange Revolution in 2005, and his interest in the region was piqued. A few years later, under then Commander-in-Chief Sverker Göranson, he was asked to develop the foundations of the "new defence planning" and the first operational plans within it.

– This formed the basis for what came to be known as "one-week defence" and the debate on defence as a "special interest". To then be able to return to Ukraine, to help multiply Sweden's military support there and to contribute to the development of their defence force and national guard, felt extremely important. So I have had some degree of "strategic impact" through working at the operational level on the Operations Staff, and then in Ukraine, which I did not feel I had during the years at the actual military strategic level on the then Strategy Staff.

Strengthening the Swedish defence capability

The driving force behind his work at the Swedish Defence University is to contribute to strengthening the capabilities of the Swedish Armed Forces, mainly by training officers at the Higher Officer Programme.

– There is an urgent need to strengthen Sweden's defence capability and the Armed Forces' warfare capability, and I believe I can contribute to that as a teacher - and perhaps also, by appearing in the media, to the defence capacity of the Swedish peoples. For me, the former takes priority; I will appear in the media when my duties allow it and I feel that I have something to add. Getting good middle managers into the Armed Forces quickly is now incredibly important, and I see it as my task to teach, according to ability and preconditions, parts of the practical and actual craft one needs to master as a staff officer. It is difficult to be satisfied with "good enough" in that respect.

Josefin Svensson, translated by Michaela Vance

In a nutshell

Title: Lieutenant Colonel and military teacher at the Swedish Defence University.

At the Swedish Defence University since: September 2019.

When I am free: Travel and culture, preferably with my children.

Last book read: Absolut text by Torbjörn Elensky.

Hidden talent: I like to paint, when I have time, but lately I have at least tried to substitute it with "Power Point crafting".

I like to argue: As an end in itself, sometimes. What we believe to be obvious is often not, in reality.

Professional driving force: The promotion and importance of the officer profession.

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