Trigger-Happy, Autonomous, and Disobedient: Nordbat 2 and Mission Command in Bosnia


PREMO Member
The culture of mission command in Sweden dates back to 1943, when senior Swedish army officers were taking note of the tactical superiority of German troops fighting Soviets on the Eastern Front. Sweden, being a small nation with several large and frequently hostile neighbors, had to prepare to fight an enemy which possessed overwhelming numerical superiority. Thus, in order to even out the odds, maximizing tactical efficiency was an absolute necessity. Later, during the Cold War, Swedish policy makers found themselves situated in a geopolitically sensitive location. Soviet strike aircraft headed for Norway or the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) gap needed to pass directly over Swedish airspace to reach their targets. Additionally, in the event of a conflict, the Soviets feared that NATO would use Swedish air bases to launch attacks against the Soviet mainland. Consequently, neutralizing Sweden's military capacity and securing at least parts of its territory was an obvious strategic objective for the Soviet Union in the event of a large-scale conflict with NATO.

The Swedish Armed Forces were consequently trained to respond to a massive Soviet invasion force, which was expected to attack over land (via Finland), across the Baltic sea, and by deploying airborne units. The Swedish Army estimated that a breakdown of command and control was a likely scenario as the Soviets would inevitably disrupt communications, destroy command centers, and seize territory, thereby isolating segments of the Swedish Army. In order to cope with this contingency, all units were trained to engage in what was known as "the free war," (i.e. autonomous operations against local targets, without centralized command). The free war was intended as a last resort, which would only end when the invader had finally retreated. The official doctrine stated that all Swedish citizens were to, without exception, consider any order to surrender to be false, regardless of its origin. This was even printed in all phone books, which also contained instructions for the civilian population in case of war.

Considering that all Swedish Army units were expected to be able to operate autonomously, the culture of mission command completely permeated the entire organization. The officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs), all the way down to the lowest-ranking enlisted men, were taught that the only truly mortal sin was to hesitate. To seize the initiative and act was the primary imperative. There was no priority higher than that of achieving the mission objectives at hand. Orders could be disobeyed, rules could be broken—as long as the mission was successful.

Trigger-Happy, Autonomous, and Disobedient: Nordbat 2 and Mission Command in Bosnia