Monday, March 12, 2018

Sweden plans to build more bunkers amid fears of Russian aggression

March 12, 2018 (NBC News) Burrowed beneath a small park in Stockholm is a forgotten relic of the past that may help in the future. The only clue to its existence is a green metal door, 8 feet high by 5 feet wide, hewn into the rock next to a busy, snow-dusted sidewalk. Heaving it open reveals an airlock that leads to a fully operational nuclear bunker. Facilities like this are a vital part of Sweden's history - and recent threats from Russia mean they could become important again in the years to come.
"They are meant to be used if the government decides to announce full alert," says Ove Brunnström, the cheerful spokesman for Sweden's Civil Contingencies Agency who recently gave NBC News a rare tour of the subterranean site. "That would be [triggered] if we are close to war or we are under attack." Few countries do bunkers like Sweden, which never joined NATO and could be considered one of the world's most peaceful nations over the past 200 years. It honeycombed itself with civil defense shelters during the Cold War and today around 65,000 remain on standby, dotted around its sparsely populated territory.

A woman walks by an emergency exit to a public bomb and fallout shelter in the Torsgatan area of central Stockholm. Foto Mikael Sjoeberg / for NBC News

In the early 2000s, Sweden slashed defense spending and halted bunker construction. Many were all but forgotten, doubling as parking lots and bicycle storage spaces during a period when global conflict seemed a distant prospect. That thinking changed in 2014 when Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea, allegedly sent troops into eastern Ukraine, and began violating airspace over the Nordic and Baltic regions.
"Ukraine was a wake-up call for the Swedes, and it really renewed the national discussion surrounding defense," says Erik Brattberg, a fellow at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank. This perceived threat has prompted Sweden to order a reboot of its once-proud policy of "total defense" — which calls on the military and civilians to act together to ward off attackers. Bunkers are an integral part of this hunker-down strategy. In December, the country's Defense Commission recommended modernizing existing shelters while planning the construction of the first new ones in more than 15 years. "It's expensive to build shelters, the Cold War was over and we had quite a calm situation in Europe," says Brunnström, explaining his country's change of heart. "But what happened in Ukraine in 2014, I think, shocked the Western world."
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