Swedish Defense Chief Visits VMI
LEXINGTON, Va. Jan. 29, 2024 — Swedish Armed Forces Chief of Defense Staff, Lt. Gen. Michael Claesson, along with several of his staff members, visited Virginia Military Institute recently, during his brief visit to the United States.
The purpose of his stop to VMI was threefold: to speak to the Corps of Cadets about the security situation in Europe, and Sweden becoming a member of NATO; to research new and creative ways to recruit and commission more officers for Sweden’s expanding military; and to visit the Institute about which he has heard good things from American officers he has interacted with throughout his career. “I always thought if I got the chance, I want to visit VMI,” said Claesson.
While on post, Claesson visited with Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, in his office; shared lunch with members of the faculty and staff, and a select group of cadets majoring in international studies (IS); then addressed a large group in a full Gillis Theater.
Claesson opened his speech in Gillis by stating that Sweden and the United States share a unique familial relationship. “Let me apologize for all the Johanssons, the Andersons, and the Karlssons in this country,” he teased. Explaining the levity he added, “During a period of 50 to 60 years in the nineteenth century, approximately one-quarter of the Swedish population immigrated to the United States. Every family in Sweden has relatives in the United States, so obviously this ties us together.” He further noted that commercial trade and working together militarily in bilateral activities are other ways the two countries are interlinked.
Displaying a world map, he indicated the many shipping routes passing by Sweden, the other Nordic countries, Europe, through the Baltic Sea, and across the Atlantic Ocean, highlighting the importance of Sweden’s location both commercially and militarily. He also pointed on the map the close proximity of Russia. “Russia is to us today, a very clear and present danger. The war with Ukraine has reached a systemic level, which means that it's long term. The Russians are not only technically, tactically, and physically involved with war in Ukraine, they are at war with thought. Thought is exactly what you and I stand for in the free, democratic world. The Russians can't stand that. That's why when that idea got a hold on large parts of the Ukrainian population, it was too much for the Russians, and they had to act. They have no physical need of the territory, but they are at war with thought, and they are at war with the collective West in that regard. It might sound harsh, but I stand by every word,” he stated solemnly.
Claesson pointed out that Russia is a nuclear power, second only to the United States. Indicating the map he stated, “On top of the Scandinavian Peninsula, you will find the Kola Peninsula and there you will find the base system for the Russian second-strike capability, so they're clinging to that place. That is of course, important to Sweden for obvious reasons. It is also important to the United States, in terms of security challenges that need to be handled, managed, and dealt with in some way or another.”
He discussed the technology development of modern warfare, hypersonic system development, pre-strike warnings, and their importance for security of the world. He added that Russia, China, and Iran are involved in illegal intelligence activities in Sweden, and warned that the free world should not just focus on Russia, but also on China. “From my perspective it’s not either/or, it's both,” he said.
Claesson hopes that Sweden will gain full membership of NATO no later than July of this year. He stated that NATO membership is important not just for Sweden’s own security interests, but for their allies as well. “I want to make very clear that Sweden is not a country that comes just to ask for help. We are not the consumer, we are a contributor to your goals with our geography and with our military capabilities,” he said. Sweden submitted its application to NATO in 2022. According to Claesson, the application was triggered by a letter sent to both the governments of Sweden and Finland from Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister in December 2021. “The letter read, ‘We want you by treaty, to say no to ever joining NATO.’ They wanted to pin us down in that regard. That was the trigger for us to submit our application.”
Claesson concluded his talk by stating how impressed he was by the opportunities and training offered to cadets at VMI, and wished them well in their future military careers.
Antonio Ahanj ’24, an IS major who attended Claesson’s talk said, “With the majority of IS majors commissioning into the military or going into government service of some capacity, General Claesson's speech was of incredible relevancy, not just to our studies but also to our future careers. His unique perspective gave us the chance to learn about many of the shared challenges faced Sweden and the U.S, as well as the strategic nature of their military, national defense, their contributions to NATO, and the U.S. Especially now, the opportunity to learn from those directly involved in political and military issues across the world is something we are all grateful for, and even though the general only spoke for an hour, he imparted a great deal of knowledge onto all of us.”
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