David H. Hackworth
May 14, 1996


STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - I've spent a lot of time with the Coastal Rangers, the top fighting unit in the Swedish armed forces. They're Marines, and like our leathernecks, a class act. They fight on land and sea and zip about in patrol boats, prepared to chop up invaders with rockets, sea mines and ambushes, and all training is executed with keen professionalism.

Their commanding officer let me drive one of their million-dollar boats, which zoomed across the water with incredible speed, turned on a dime and was remarkably easy to control. I told him I'd like to have one as a present and promised to fly Swedish colors while I patrolled Montana's Whitefish Lake. With a big smile he said, "We can possibly do that. But, of course, I'll have to run your request up the flagpole." Not only are these guys magnificent warriors, but clever diplomats as well.

Sweden, a country of less than 9 million people, maintains a lean standing force of 49,000, backed up by 300,000 reservists and a 100,000-person Home Guard. Its air force, navy and army are equipped with modern gear, which is mainly made in Sweden, looks damn effective and is maintained with Volvo loving care.

In Sweden, every wannabe lieutenant or ensign has to spend 15 months as a grunt before attending officer school. I like this approach. It produces up-from-the-ranks officers who have more respect for their warriors.

On the downside, the Swedish military doesn't have a permanent corps of sergeants. A few years ago, politically correct politicians zeroed out the noncommissioned officer corps in an attempt to produce a more egalitarian military. So young lieutenants end up doing noncom stuff for which few are qualified.

Senior officers know - as has been proven since time immemorial- that an NCO corps is the absolute steel backbone of any army. They also know that come a serious shooting match, Sweden will pay an initial hard price for not having these pros, and then the politicians will deep-six this stupid social experiment. Just as we will eventually dump the equally dumb decision by Bill Clinton and his huggy-feely crew to put women in combat positions. Truth seems to come only with the body bags.

The Swedes spend 2.3 percent of their national budget on defense, less than half the percentage we allocate. They squeeze every nickel to get the biggest bang possible for the defense buck. They aren't into trying to save the world, just protecting their national security. So their defense contractors, unlike ours, are not on the fast-buck burner.

The Swedish government refuses to join NATO or any other defense pact. Swedes are about looking after their own.

Right now, America is pledged by treaty to rush to the defense of 42 other nations. And these formal agreements don't include Kuwait, where we dispatched almost 600,000 troops to deal with Saddam Hussein. Nor Somalia, where 44 Americans died in vain. Nor Bosnia, where 18,000 Americans are bored in the mud. Nor the Taiwan Gulf, where Clinton just sent two U.S. naval battle groups to sit off the coast of a menaced ally.

The dollar cost for just these recent world supercop activities would be enough dough to raze most of our major city ghettos and rebuild utopian paradises that would defuse the bombs ticking away in most of America's inner cities. And just think of all the jobs such a countrywide development project would create.

Now that would really be defending America!

Ironically, since the end of the Cold War, Swedish defense costs have gone down while ours have increased, even though our forces have been cut by more than 88 percent. Clinton is rightly trying to hold the overly generous 1997 military budget at $254 billion, but the wild-eyed Republican hawks under Bob Dole plan to add $13 billion more without an enemy in sight. They just don't get it that the good old spend-up-big days of the Cold War are over.

Dole and his 93-year-old defense gizzard-wizard, Sen. Strom Thurmond, need to take time out to visit Sweden and find out how to defend America in the 21st century without breaking our bank.