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The Government Agencies’ Work in the Area of Psychological Defence (2017:5)

The Swedish Agency for Public Management’s commission

We were commissioned by the Government to chart government agency operations that can form part of modern psychological defence. The aim was to identify which agencies have important tasks related to such psychological defence.

Our commission has only included public activities that are not subject to secrecy or security clearance. This means that there are operations central to psychological defence that have not been included in our survey. Several agencies also refrained from participating in interviews and responding to questionnaires, stating that this is a sensitive matter.

The three parts of psychological defence

We have identified three main aspects of modern psychological defence. These aspects formed the basis of our inquiry:

  • Identify, analyse and address information activities
  • Increase the population’s spirit of resistance and willingness to put up resistance                    
  • Ensure that information and communication can be maintained even in extraordinary circumstances

Modern psychological defence also applies to peacetime conditions

When compared to earlier psychological defence, its modern counterpart does not simply involve preparing for war, but also applies to peacetime conditions. In peacetime, agencies will need to identify and address information activities, and work preventatively to strengthen the population’s spirit of resistance and willingness to put up resistance.

Many agencies contribute to psychological defence

The majority of agencies operate in a way that can contribute to a modern psychological defence. However, only one-third of our respondents actually agree that that they are part of Sweden’s psychological defence.

Great variation in the agencies’ preparedness to address information campaigns

Agencies primarily associate psychological defence with measures to identify and address information activities. In recent years the responding agencies have become more aware of disinformation threats. However, their awareness and preparedness to addressing information activities varies considerably.

Many agencies do not link confidence-building to psychological defence

Several agencies work preventatively, for example through confidence-building activities. They also work preventatively by providing information about democracy, defence and preparedness that can contribute to strengthening the population’s spirit of resistance and willingness to put up resistance. Nevertheless, a majority of these agencies do not link these activities to psychological defence.

Media preparedness is first and foremost a matter for media companies

Media preparedness is an area where government agencies play a small role. Only the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) has a clear assignment to support and collaborate with media companies and their preparedness planning.

Increased governance and coordination is requested

Our survey showed that there is a need to define “modern psychological defence”. This would simplify both agency coordination and governance regarding psychological defence.

Many agencies also request a clearer assignment from the government as regards their role in psychological defence and in relation to other agencies and actors.

Currently, there are no comprehensive collaboration structures for psychological defence; such matters are addressed in agency networks with other primary purposes.  Agency representatives believe that these networks can continue to be used to highlight matters of psychological defence, but many also argue that this work needs reinforcement.

Around ten central government agencies with different roles

The agencies we have identified as being central to psychological defence can be divided into two groups. The first group includes agencies with predominantly operative activities – i.e., the Swedish Armed Forces, MSB, the Swedish Security Service, the Swedish Institute and, indirectly, the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment. Generally, they are regarded to have the proper operating conditions for work in psychological defence. These agencies also have close contact with each other concerning matters linked to psychological defence. The other group includes agencies with important tasks to promote democracy, for example the Swedish National Agency for Education, the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society and the Swedish Media Council. These agencies do not have the same established collaborations and networks with regard to psychological defence.

As things stand at present, no government agency has the expressed responsibility for psychological defence. However, several agencies view MSB as the central civil agency in the field.