Interview with Professor Bengt Sundelius, Strategic Adviser to the Director General of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB)

CBSS Civil Security team met with Professor Sundelius to discuss the need for international cooperation in the field of civil protection, the examples of such cooperation and the future challenges for the Baltic Sea Region.

 

Bengt Sundelius is Professor of Political Science at the Swedish Defence University, and since 2010 he holds the position of Strategic Advisor to the Director General of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB). He has been the Chief Scientist of the Swedish Emergency Management Agency, and the founding Director of Crismart – Center for Crisis Management Research and Training of the Swedish Defence University. Professor Sundelius has worked as the Director of Research for Strategy and Security Policy at the Swedish National Defence Research Establishment. Additionally, Professor Sundelius has written many books and scientific articles on societal security issues, such as “The Nordic Countries and the European Security and Defence Policy” (2006, co-edit with Bailes and Herlof) and “The Politics of Crisis Management: Public Leadership Under Pressure” (2005 & 2016, with Boin, Hart and Stern). Professor Sundelius has contributed to various government commissions in the areas of civil protection and security policy.

 


Why do we need to cooperate?

Professor Sundelius has extensive experience cooperating internationally in the field of civil protection in the Baltic Sea Region. According to him, protection from various risks and threats needs to be a joint effort between various actors in several countries.  Professor formulates the following rationale behind the increased need for collaboration: ”Protection from various harms cannot be accomplished in effective ways in national isolation, as threats and risks know few boundaries.”

Not only is cooperation beneficial, it is necessary for preparedness. “Failures of coordination, across many boundaries, will reduce effectiveness and cause loss of lives and costly damages,” Professor Sundelius says.

Protection from various harms cannot be accomplished in effective ways in national isolation, as threats and risks know few boundaries

Civil security is the basis for societal stability, it is connected to other important values and institutions: “A secure society, and safety for the inhabitants are pillars of economic growth and wellbeing, that in turn underpin democracy, market economies and the rule of law.”

The cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region sets an inspiring example for other macro-regions in the European Union; a reminder of what can be accomplished through joint efforts. BSR countries have been focusing their cooperation on regional risk mapping, and development of methodologies for risk and capability assessments.

“Several EU funded projects have been successes with enduring results,” Professor Sundelius says, and adds that these projects have significantly improved the national methodologies for risk and capability analyses.

A shift in the landscape of international cooperation

The landscape for international cooperation in Northern Europe, and in the Baltic Sea Region, has changed over time. The Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) was founded in 1992.

 “The CBSS was a new and vital institution founded to foster collaboration in a new regional domain with a high potential for security and prosperity,” Professor Sundelius remembers.

Back in the beginning of the 90’s the CBSS was a unique player in the region, however, today various other organizations have come into play aiming at increased cooperation in the region. A shift has taken place, previously the coordination work happened mainly between the member states. Today the need for coordination is broader with the additional dimension: “Coordination is needed among many multilateral institutions.”

High-level meetings in civil protection – concrete results

Once a year, the Director Generals for Civil Protection in the Baltic Sea Region meet to discuss current issues. The meetings take place in the scope of the Civil Protection Network, with all the CBSS’ eleven member-states participating.

“These meetings are attended by professionals, who search for better solutions for issues of safety and security,” Professor Sundelius says and points out that the meetings are practical, rather than political.

“The meetings generate initiatives for closer collaboration that may strengthen the common capacities to prepare for, and survive from, emergencies,” Professor Sundelius adds and gives an example of a concrete outcome from the meetings – the initiation of the Baltic Leadership Programme for future leaders.

The meetings generate initiatives for closer collaboration that may strengthen  the common capacities to prepare for, and survive from, emergencies

Baltic Leadership Programme – a successful initiative

The Baltic Leadership Programme in Civil Protection is a joint venture by the Swedish Institute, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), and the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS). Two programmes have previously been launched: Tallinn 2014, and Warsaw 2015. This year, during the Swedish Presidency in the CBSS, and the Swedish Chairmanship in the Civil Protection Network, the programme will take place in Sigtuna, Sweden, on 27-30 November. The theme for this year’s programme is ‘Building leadership for implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction’, and the participants are national experts holding key leadership positions for the implementation.

“These professionals need to develop skills, knowledge, and networks across their fields of operations,” Professor Sundelius comments on the Programme, and describes the contribution of the programme as “Capacity development among those individuals that shall carry the burdens of the leadership in the near future.”

Capacity development among those individuals that shall carry the burdens of leadership in the near future

Important to connect research with practitioners

Whether the results from research and technology development will be used depends on the connection between the research and the practitioners.

“Governments invest fair amounts in research and technology developments in the emergency management field in the hope that the results will reach the right people,” Professor Sundelius says.  He adds that “platforms bringing the academia and research results together with the practitioners have to be established.”

Platforms bringing the academia and research results together with the practitioners have to be established

The European Commission’s science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre has started to work to the benefit of disaster management, a good example of such a platform, according to Professor Sundelius.

“More work needs to be done in the social and behavioural sciences, where answers to the research questions are often ambiguous and difficult to transform into practical recommendations,” Professor Sundelius highlights as one of the challenges in the field.

A common security culture in the Baltic Sea Region

One aspect of the collaboration between civil protection stakeholders in the Baltic Sea Region is to create a basis for a ‘common security culture’.

“The purpose would not be to build any common culture, but one wishes for a common culture of high reliability practices where safety and security are placed in high regard,” Professor Sundelius explains, and adds that the airline industry is a good example where a practice putting safety issues first has been highly prioritised and that a relevant question to ask is how other sectors could learn from that practice.

Can the political leaders afford not to set high standards for shared security across our interconnected Baltic Sea Region?

Professor Sundelius gives other good examples of sectors where security is the main priority, such as the maritime sector that has improved considerably since the 90’s; the nuclear industry, which prioritises security since the Chernobyl accident in 1986, and passenger car industry that puts more emphasis on security issues than the trucking industry. Professor Sundelius finishes his reasoning about the ‘common security culture’ with an important question:

“Can the political leaders afford not to set high standards for shared security across our interconnected Baltic Sea Region?