World News

If War Comes? Stock Up on Tortillas and Wet Wipes, Sweden Suggests

Posted May 21, 2018 9:36 p.m. EDT
Updated May 21, 2018 9:43 p.m. EDT

STOCKHOLM — It’s not that Sweden’s government is nervous. Officials just want the 4.8 million Swedish households to be prepared for rising seas, cyber sabotage, fake news, terrorist attacks, food shortages or even war with a certain big neighbor to the east.

“What would you do if your everyday life was turned upside down?” reads the introduction to a newly revised emergency handbook from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency titled “If Crisis or War Comes.”

The revised handbook, in Swedish and English, was posted on the agency’s website Monday. It is the first significant revision of the handbook since the midst of the Cold War a half-century ago, and reflects an evolving diversity of threats that include flooding from climate change and the vulnerabilities of the internet and social media to hackers and malcontents.

“Although Sweden is safer than many other countries, there are still threats to our security and independence,” the handbook asserts, without identifying precisely which other countries or groups harbor hostile intentions.

But Sweden and other Scandinavian countries have expressed increased concern about what they view as provocative actions by Russia, particularly since the Russians annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine four years ago.

The Swedes and their Scandinavian neighbors have frequently complained about territorial infringements by Russian warplanes and submarines, grievances that Russia has dismissed as Western propaganda.

Reversing a trend, the Swedish government began spending more on its military in 2016, and last year decided to restore conscription after a seven-year break. While not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sweden closely coordinates its defenses with the alliance.

The last time Swedes received this kind of practical tips from their government on how to cope if war comes to their country was in 1961, when emergency officials distributed a handbook titled “In Case of War.”

Back then the focus was on how to react if Sweden were invaded, Christina Andersson, the Swedish Civil Contingency Agency official who produced the revised handbook.

Andersson said in a telephone interview that the revised handbook emphasized protection from peacetime disasters like those linked to climate change and failures in information technology.

“It is much more likely that we have a storm, or flooding, or an IT attack, than that we have a military attack,” Andersson said. For anyone who “really wants Sweden to come to a standstill,” she said, information technology is a vulnerable area.

“We are extremely dependent on IT systems and the electrical grid,” she said. “If something happens to these systems we will have problems.”

The revised handbook offers lists of emergency prerequisites. On food, for example, it recommends stocking up on tortillas, spreadable cheese, instant mashed potatoes, precooked lentils, tins of Bolognese sauce and fruit purée, among other things.

Other necessities include buckets with lids, a car radio, wet wipes and a list of important phone numbers on paper.

The revised handbook also includes a special section on how to detect “false information,” a reference to propaganda or what has also become known as fake news.

“States and organizations are already using misleading information in order to try and influence our values and how we act,” the handbook states. “The aim may be to reduce our resilience and willingness to defend ourselves.”

Among the questions to guard against false information, the handbook states, are: “What is the aim of this information? Who has put this out? Is the source trustworthy?”