Swedish democracy under threat on several fronts


Security-threatening activities carried out by foreign powers are more wide-ranging than before. Attacks have intensified as globalisation and digitalisation have made society more vulnerable. Along with this, violent right-wing extremism is gaining ground. This is described in the Swedish Security Service Yearbook 2019.

Activities and attacks by foreign powers to weaken Sweden are always ongoing. Attacks now also target a wider spectrum, ranging from fundamental rights and freedoms, economic prosperity and political independence to territorial sovereignty.

"In recent years, foreign powers have not only increased their intent to influence Sweden and Swedish interests, but also their capability to do so, while globalisation and digitalisation have made us more vulnerable. As developments in protective security have not kept pace with this, there is now a gap between threats and protection, and this will have consequences for Sweden's security", says Klas Friberg, Head of the Swedish Security Service.

Some 15 states have intelligence officers stationed in Sweden. The main threat is posed by Russia and China.

Russia’s intelligence activities targeting Sweden involve espionage against national security-sensitive sectors, and also the use of influence operations and economic pressure, as well as attempts to increase polarisation in society in general.

China is engaging in advanced cyber espionage to promote its economic development and increase its military capacity. This takes place through extensive intelligence collection and theft of technology, research and development.

There are also examples of how Russia and China attack individuals in Sweden and undermine fundamental democratic rights and freedoms.

"Attacks by foreign powers serve to systematically weaken Sweden, and lead, for instance, to economic losses. The Swedish Security Service estimates that the unlawfully gathered information and know-how is worth billions of SEK annually. Attacks could also make people afraid to use their fundamental rights and freedoms, and threaten Sweden’s political independence. Yesterday’s threat is now a reality, and countering the wider-ranging threats to Sweden’s security requires a joint effort by all sectors of society", Klas Friberg says.

The Swedish Security Service is tasked with protecting Sweden and our democracy. In 2019, the Security Service also noted a development in the violent right-wing extremist scene that could increase the risk of certain individuals being inspired to carry out attacks or violent crime. Violent right-wing extremist ideology is becoming more widespread and attracting more people.

Radicalisation often takes place online, where new ideologies are created, based on for instance racism and xenophobia, anti-feminism and conspiracy theories. This development is supported by foreign powers who stand to gain from increased polarisation in Sweden.

The challenge for the Swedish Security Service is in detecting and assessing individuals who could pose a threat.

"The Service sees a risk of attacks and serious violent crime inspired by right-wing extremism, while the threat from violent Islamism remains", Klas Friberg says.

That said, the threat to democracy consists of more than terrorist attacks and serious violent crime. Our democratic system faces a long-term threat from all three extremist scenes, involving the use of systematic violence, threats and harassment with a view to overturning the existing social order.

"Swedish democracy is under threat on several fronts and this means that we must all start thinking more about security, regardless of whether this concerns protecting Sweden's secrets or preventing the threat from violent extremism. This applies also during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Service has noted that violent extremist groups as well as foreign powers are now engaging in activities linked to the pandemic", says Klas Friberg, Head of the Swedish Security Service.

An English translation of the 2019 Yearbook will be published later this spring.