April 16, 2022:
Taiwan recently sent a 28-page booklet to all households on how to behave if China attacks. The advice was similar to pamphlets in Sweden, Finland and the Baltic States that were distributed before the invasion of Ukraine. The Taiwanese now plan to resist, even if some or all of Taiwan Island is occupied and need the cooperation of the civilian population to do that.
The booklet for all households is but the latest effort to defeat a Chinese attack. Taiwan has been rearming for over a decade and even managed to secretly procure all the components it needed to build its own submarines, something the Chinese were shocked to discover. Now Taiwan has distributed the pamphlet on how to keep fighting if the Chinese get ashore.
China was surprised at the failure of Russian forces to quickly conquer Ukraine and the fierce resistance that tore apart the invasion force. The Taiwanese have been particularly encouraged by the success of the Ukrainians in developing a defense that worked against a delusional and overconfident invader. Not quite Finland in 1940 but close and Ukraine is an updated version of the 1940 example. Taiwan wants to be the East Asian model for derailing invasions by larger neighbors.
Taiwan has good trading and diplomatic relations with many of the smaller nations near Russia that pioneered the concept of preparing for the worst and winning, not just surviving. This has become a common and successful strategy among small European states. Small East Asian nations like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea have the same problem and are all studying the Ukrainian war intently for lessons they can use.
Sweden is one of the more successful practitioners of well-prepared neutrality. Throughout the Cold War (1948-91) Sweden actively prepared for the possibility of an attack by Russia. That ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the threat returned in 2008 and has grown since then. All of this contributed to a fundamental shift in Swedish defense attitudes. After 2014, with Russia declaring the West a dangerous foe of Russia and seizing two portions of Ukraine, most Swedes favored joining NATO. Even without NATO membership Sweden has entered into a growing number of military agreements with NATO members.
There were some other reactions that were, literally, closer to home. In 2018 Sweden did something it had not done since 1961, it put together a brochure on dealing with national emergencies, especially a Russian attack. The pamphlet was distributed to all 4.7 million households. The brochure contained advice on what to do in the event of war, as in a Russian invasion. At the time there were some sharp political differences on the possibility of war, so the brochure also covered similar actions Swedes should take if the catastrophe was some aspect of the “Climate Change” threat or a massive hacker or terror attack.
Since 2018 the Russia threat has pushed aside all other potential catastrophes and focused Sweden’s attention on how to prepare for an old, before the Cold War ended in 1991, threat. That explains and justifies the sharp increase in defense spending and the return of conscription.
Neighbors of Sweden reacted in a similar fashion and concentrated on the Russian threat. The Baltic States have plenty of experience with being invaded and occupied by Russia and remind its citizens that the mutual defense treaty with the United States and all other NATO members will not keep the Russians out. NATO membership does not guarantee reinforcements quickly enough to keep the Russians from overrunning their countries. The Baltic States organized their forces to delay the Russian advance and actively fight Russian troops for however long the occupation lasted.
Denmark has always had a much smaller military (and population and GDP) than Sweden but even with NATO membership has been seeking ways to increase its security in the face of growing Russian aggression. Other Nordic nations (Finland and Norway) are also rearming and seeking allies to deal with the Russian threats. NATO is willing to do something it never did during the Cold War, welcome Finland and Sweden as members either officially or unofficially. After the 2022 invasion Sweden and Finland decided to act on the NATO invitation.
Sweden is aware of all these threats the Baltic States publications discuss, but for Sweden this has always been theoretical. Sweden has never been invaded and has not been involved in any wars since 1814. All of their neighbors have been invaded or dragged into a war. For NATO members and nations that regained their independence when the Soviet Union dissolved, the threat of invasion and occupation is a recent experience.
Combined, all three Baltic States have barely two-thirds the population of Sweden and less than half the GDP per capita as well. Despite this the Baltic States have been energetically expanding their military capabilities, something the Swedes used to be a world leader at. Now Sweden is returning to its traditional doctrine of well-armed neutrality, but with less emphasis on neutrality.
No one expected this after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. That marked the end of the Cold War, followed by the Soviet era armed forces shrinking to 20 percent of its 1991 size during the 1990s. Massive cuts to Swedish defense were based on a belief that the post-Soviet and democratic Russia would not return to its threatening ways employed during 70 years of communist and centuries of tsarist rule. To the dismay of many, including a lot of Russians, the Russian leadership did revert and are now threatening their neighbors. All this while current Russian forces are still a fifth the size of the 1991 forces. Russia is seeking to modernize what they have and are acting like Russia is still a superpower. In that respect, the bad old days are back and the neighbors have to be prepared.
The same situation exists in East Asia where China finally underwent the industrial revolution starting in the 1980s and is now the second largest economy in the world. As Napoleon put it two centuries earlier; China is a sleeping dragon, when it wakes the world will tremble. For China’s neighbors, especially ones that China now claims are part of China, trembling is not an effective defense policy. Now Ukraine has again demonstrated that bigger isn’t invincible.