One does not usually think of Sweden as a warmongering nation. Indeed, as a nation with a somewhat tenuous claim as the country that has not been at war for the longest, one might wonder how much the Swedish people and its government prioritise military expenditure. Military spending has been falling over the past ten years and in 2012 it was an ostensibly insignificant 1.2 percent of its GDP, however this is (depressingly) under half of the world’s average, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

That, however, looks set to change as various defence projects have had expansions or have been initiated. Last month saw a proposal to expand an order for next-generation submarines from two to five at an additional cost of $1.6 billion. The air force, too, is seeing newer weapons in its arsenal and an order for 60 SAAB fighter jets has been increased to 70. Most recently (and perhaps most controversially), the government announced a proposal to strengthen the air force by having fighter jets armed with long-range cruise missiles. However, just last year, the Foreign Minister Carl Bildt claimed that cruise missiles could “never be relevant for Sweden. Our defence is a defence.” What, then, could be causing this turn around in established thought in Sweden on its defence policy?

One cause is more long-term. Over the past year the governing Alliance coalition has been criticised by the military establishment over the long-term decline in military spending and the publication of a report saying that if it were to stay so low, future military spending projects would be untenable and some units would have to be disbanded and plans scrapped. This saw the first serious proposals for an increased military budget. With an election around the corner and the coalition parties trailing in the polls, this is the kind of policy to quieten those dissenting voices and to send a message to the public.

This message is strengthened by the more short-term and obvious reason, namely the Ukraine crisis. The flexing of Russia’s muscles (to put it lightly) in Eastern Europe has perhaps raised some alarm amongst Swedish politicians, with only the Baltic Sea to separate the two countries. This is most evident from Prime Minister Reinfeldt’s address to the Riksdag in early March saying, “We have a powerful and unpredictable neighbour which is not behaving according to international structures developed after the Cold War. This unpredictability creates uncertainty in our neighbourhood, and this must be a starting point for revising defence spending needs.” However, the Alliance coalition has gone on record to say that they have been aware of an increasing threat from Russia since 2009. This shows the significance of the Ukraine crisis in spurring the Swedish government into action over its decreasing military spending as only now are they willing to halt its decline.

Aside from Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea and its threatening behaviour on Ukraine’s border, Sweden has reason enough to be wary of Russia’s foreign policy. Just last year, two Russian bombers and four fighter jets took part in a night time simulated attack on the eastern Swedish island of Gotland but Sweden was unable to send planes to respond, instead having to rely on NATO jets from Lithuania to escort the Russian planes out of Swedish airspace. The island is strategically vital, with oil pipelines heading to mainland Europe passing close by. This helps explain why in early March, Sweden sent a squadron of fighter planes to Gotland as Russia gained its foothold in Ukraine.

Not only is the rise in military spending and the various weapons projects indicative of Sweden’s anxiety over Russia’s foreign policy, but also of some of the more fundamental foreign policy suggestions made by those in the Alliance coalition, including joining NATO. It seems that Sweden, famous for its neutrality in East-West relations by not joining NATO, is perhaps beginning to consider that in the twenty-first century, everyone has to pick a side.

I do not wish to claim that Sweden is seeking to enlarge its international presence and armed forces on the global stage so it can stand with the same stature as Israel or USA. Indeed, some of these projects, such as the cruise missiles, are in line with the military projects of other Nordic and Baltic countries. I am merely lamenting that the heightening of tensions to Cold-War-era levels does not motivate countries to seek a middle ground, but rather it scares them into military enlargement and treating Russia with hostility, which can only worsen the situation.

Even though a direct war is unlikely, it seems that reason might already be a casualty.