A squad from the Skaraborg Regiment patrols outside Visby’s 13th-century city wall while training on the island of Gotland, Sweden, on Sept. 14, 2016. (Soren Andersson/TT News Agency)

In a country that hasn’t been at war for more than 200 years, preparing for the worst means going back to the basics.

“Good hand hygiene is important for avoiding infection,” cautions a new leaflet that is due to be distributed to all 4.8 million Swedish households by the government in Stockholm in an effort to increase the nation’s war and crisis readiness. Next to a drawing that depicts fighter jets and tanks in the picturesque and historically peaceful Swedish landscape, the authors urge their readers to take the advice seriously.

“If Sweden is attacked by another country, we will never give up,” they assert (and don’t be fooled by any fake news reports to the contrary).

Some years ago, the campaign may have been laughed off as a taxpayer-financed 20-page guide for preppers — gun-toting, bunker-building survivalists always preparing for the end of days. These days, however, there isn’t much ridicule.


An illustration from the “If crisis or war comes” leaflet released by the Swedish government.

While experts estimate it would take a week to fully mobilize the Swedish military, other scenarios predict Russia could invade Europe within only two days.

Amid concerns over Russian military exercises, the Swedish government brought back the draft and is looking into expanding its existing network of shelters, even though it already has 65,000 such structures, which would provide space for up to two-thirds of its population of 10 million. Russia has been accused of several risky military maneuvers near or inside Swedish airspace during the past few years, raising concerns over an accidental or deliberate escalation of tensions.

Sweden has 20,000 active military members while Russia has over a million, and the Swedes would be unlikely to win any confrontation with Moscow. Stockholm also isn’t a member of NATO, the military alliance that obliges members to help defend member states in case of an attack.

Instead, Sweden is circling back to its Cold War-era strategy of total defense, which relies on all citizens resisting an invasion and refusing to cooperate with any foreign powers. To remind the Swedes of their responsibility, the Swedish government is also launching advertisements in media outlets this week, ahead of the large-scale distribution of the pamphlets starting next week. It is the first such campaign in over half a century.

During World War II, Sweden produced similar pamphlets and continued issuing updates for several more decades.

But eventually even the production of a more downsized version targeting just politicians and local authorities was stopped, as political scientists proclaimed the “end of history” and the victory of democracy in the early 1990s.

Sweden’s new combat-readiness campaign issues a strikingly frank acknowledgment that times have changed. “For many years, the preparations made in Sweden for the threat of war and war have been very limited. Instead, public authorities and municipalities have focused on building up the level of preparedness for peacetime emergencies such as flooding and IT attacks,”  the authors recall. “However, as the world around us has changed, the Government has decided to strengthen Sweden’s total defense.”


An illustration from the “If crisis or war comes” leaflet released by the Swedish government.

To prepare its citizens for this new world, the guide under the title “If crisis or war comes” was designed to be accessible to citizens and residents with varying language skills, both in Swedish and English. It comes with illustrations showing Swedes fending off foreign powers or responding to catastrophes, as well as lists of essential food or advice on how to deal with a broken toilet.

Sweden is one of the richest nations in the world, which may be why the authors go to great lengths to describe the impact of war or crisis in as much detail as possible:

“In just a short time, your everyday life can become problematic:

• The heating stops working.

• It becomes difficult to prepare and store food.

• The shops may run out of food and other goods.

• There is no water coming from the taps or the toilet.

• It is not possible to fill up your car.

• Payment cards and cash machines do not work.

• Mobile networks and the internet do not work.

• Public transport and other means of transport are at a standstill.

• It becomes difficult to obtain medicines and medical equipment.”

Even though the leaflet doesn’t mention a specific adversary, it warns that “peace, freedom and democracy are values that we must protect and reinforce on a daily basis,” which could possibly be a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule over Russia and his annexed territories. Sweden fears that Russia may seek to expand its sphere of influence further into Europe.

Besides Russia, Sweden has also been among Europe’s most outspoken critics of the Trump administration’s threats against North Korea or Iran, arguing that the White House is risking an unnecessary escalation. The country has shown a similar lack of understanding for Trump’s early reluctance to directly confront Russia over its efforts to interfere with Western elections.


An illustration from the “If crisis or war comes” leaflet released by the Swedish government.

Following U.S. election interference, Stockholm responded by launching a closer cyberwarfare cooperation with NATO member state Denmark to prevent a repeat within its own borders. “Even today, attacks are taking place against our IT systems and attempts are being made to influence us using false information,” the leaflet explains, referring to predominantly Russian disinformation campaigns ahead of this fall’s Swedish elections.

In case hackers disrupt the country’s energy network? Sweden’s war guide has you covered, too.

“Gather together in one room, hang blankets over the windows, cover the floor with rugs and build a den under a table to keep warm.”

Read more: 

Sweden has 65,000 nuclear shelters. Now, in the era of Trump, it wants more.