STOCKHOLM — Burrowed beneath a small park in Stockholm is a forgotten relic of the past that may help in the future.
The only clue to its existence is a green metal door, 8 feet high by 5 feet wide, hewn into the rock next to a busy, snow-dusted sidewalk.
Heaving it open reveals an airlock that leads to a fully operational nuclear bunker.
Facilities like this are a vital part of Sweden’s history — and recent threats from Russia mean they could become important again in the years to come.
“They are meant to be used if the government decides to announce full alert,” says Ove Brunnström, the cheerful spokesman for Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency who recently gave NBC News a rare tour of the subterranean site. “That would be [triggered] if we are close to war or we are under attack.”
Few countries do bunkers like Sweden, which never joined NATO and could be considered one of the world’s most peaceful nations over the past 200 years.
It honeycombed itself with civil defense shelters during the Cold War and today around 65,000 remain on standby, dotted around its sparsely populated territory.
In the early 2000s, Sweden slashed defense spending and halted bunker construction. Many were all but forgotten, doubling as parking lots and bicycle storage spaces during a period when global conflict seemed a distant prospect.
“Ukraine was a wake-up call for the Swedes, and it really renewed the national discussion surrounding defense,” says Erik Brattberg, a fellow at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank.
This perceived threat has prompted Sweden to order a reboot of its once-proud policy of “total defense” — which calls on the military and civilians to act together to ward off attackers. Bunkers are an integral part of this hunker-down strategy.
In December, the country’s Defense Commission recommended modernizing existing shelters while planning the construction of the first new ones in more than 15 years.
“It’s expensive to build shelters, the Cold War was over and we had quite a calm situation in Europe,” says Brunnström, explaining his country’s change of heart. “But what happened in Ukraine in 2014, I think, shocked the Western world.”
Simulated military strike
Today’s threat is different from the one posed by the Soviet-U.S. standoff. Hybrid warfare such as cyberattacks and propaganda now have far greater prominence.
But many Western analysts say Sweden should not be complacent about the risk of a traditional military conflict.
In April 2013, six Russian aircraft carried out a nighttime mission in which they simulated a nuclear strike on Stockholm. The next year, Sweden launched a large search operation for what was believed to be a Russian submarine that had infiltrated waters near the capital.
Last week, Putin boasted that Russia has a new array of nuclear-capable weapons including an intercontinental ballistic missile that renders defense systems “useless.” He said that Russia had “no plans to be an aggressor but also accused the West of “ignoring us,” adding: “Listen to us now.”
And even a minor incident could have serious consequences for the delicate geopolitical balance between Russia and the U.S.
One nightmare scenario for the West involves Russia invading the Swedish island of Gotland, blocking off NATO supply routes to its vulnerable Baltic allies. Last year, Sweden re-militarized the island but experts say the force is too small to provide any real resistance.
“No one thought four years ago that Russia would annex Crimea and invade eastern Ukraine,” said Heather A. Conley, a former State Department official under President George W. Bush who is now director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “This means we have to imagine what we would have previously considered unimaginable.”
Sweden has developed close ties with NATO in recent years. Its military personnel have served and died during U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo. And several polls last year showed that for the first time more Swedes supported joining the alliance than opposed it.
But full NATO membership still seems a long way off. Before any referendum is held, there would need to be cross-party consensus, and the move is still opposed by the ruling Social Democratic-Green coalition.
Swedes are also highly suspicious of President Donald Trump, with just 10 percent saying they had confidence in him to do the right thing on global affairs, according to a study by the Pew Research Center last June. Of the countries surveyed, only Mexico, Jordan and Spain had a lower opinion of the president.
Because Sweden is a non-NATO member, the U.S. and the rest of alliance would not be obliged to come to its defense if it were attacked.
As Fredrik Wesslau, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, put it: “It is a classic case of speaking loudly and wielding a small stick.”
Back in the bunker, Brunnström says scary-sounding news stories have a tangible effect.
If something happens in the news, in North Korea or somewhere else, “we notice there is a lot more telephone calls coming in about shelters,” Brunnström says. “People asking about shelters, ‘Where to find my shelter?’ And questions like that.”
Someone else who sees this phenomenon is Tord Strømdal, 42, an administrator for Sweden’s largest Facebook group for doomsday preppers.
Strømdal says his online survivalist community of 25,000 members ranges from doctors and teachers to police officers and soldiers.
But Strømdal, a 6-foot-4 Viking of a man with a plaited beard, doesn’t think Putin will invade Sweden. He believes his country is far more vulnerable to subtler things such as cyberattacks aimed at disabling utilities and other important infrastructure.
To him, being a prepper is just part of the self-reliance that appears culturally hardwired into many Swedes.
“It’s very common to make that kind of assumption that I’m some kind of crazy tinfoil-hat lunatic, and those certainly do exist within the prepper community,” he says. “But most people in our group, they’re just normal, ordinary people who come to the conclusion that they need to have a certain level of preparation.”
But the event that saw the biggest boost in the group’s membership wasn’t related to Russia or North Korea.
“There was a huge bump after Trump got elected,” he says. “I don’t think that most Swedes see him as a stable world leader. I think most Swedes see Trump as a someone who is decreasing global security.”
‘Unacceptable costs on any invader’
The origins of Sweden’s bunkers can be traced back two centuries.
In 1814, it became the first country to declare neutrality in all global conflicts. Until recently that was also the last time it officially fought in a war, meaning it enjoyed almost 200 years of uninterrupted peace.
This did not mean giving up its arms, however.
Finding itself between the nuclear-armed U.S. and the Soviet Union, Sweden amassed one of the Cold War’s most powerful coastal defenses and a formidable, high-tech military featuring some 1,000 aircraft.
The “total defense” policy also included hundreds of thousands of reservists and civilian home guard personnel — not to mention its extensive network of bunkers where the rest of the population could weather any attack.
Civilian self-reliance became baked into the Swedish psyche.
This was crucial to Swedes’ feeling safe. Although its military was strong, in the face of a global superpower it “could not realistically defeat a determined invasion by directly facing the adversary at the borders,” says Dylan Lee Lehrke, a senior military analyst at IHS Markit, a data analysis firm in London.
“In order to achieve this deterrence,” he says, the military and civilian force “needs to be able to impose unacceptable costs on any invader.”
The bunker NBC News visited in Stockholm is far more striking than most of Sweden’s shelters, which are mostly mundane basements below houses and apartment blocks.
Some 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, the half-cylindrical hideout was built in the 1940s and has remained largely untouched since it was renovated in the 1970s.
It could easily double as a walk-in museum or even the secret lair of a James Bond villain. Painted in patriotic Swedish blue and yellow, it is festooned with large ventilation pipes that can keep out gamma radiation and other potential hazards.
The space seems cavernous, but it would be teeming if crammed to capacity with 180 bodies for the maximum recommended time of three days.
Each person would have an allocated space of 2.5 square feet — just blankets on the floor, no room for beds. The bathroom facilities are a bucket behind a thin wooden door.
“As in all places where you put lots of people together in a small space, there will probably be some kind of problems in here,” Brunnström says. “But I think it has very much to do with what’s happening on the outside. I think if there’s an air raid going on, for example, they would be very happy to stay in here.”
In September, the Civil Contingencies Agency concluded there was room in its shelters to protect 7 million people — in a country of 10 million.
Unlike Switzerland — perhaps the only nation with a more extensive network — Sweden has never tried to accommodate all of its population in shelters. Still, news of the shortfall was dramatic.
The agency pressed the need to investigate potential sites for new bunkers.
In December, the Defense Commission also recommended modernizing existing shelters while building enough new ones to accommodate an extra 2,500 people every year.
Its bunker plan would not start until 2021 and would cost $40 million per year. Separately, the Civil Contingencies said 500 new bunkers housing 50,000 people would cost up to 2 billion Swedish kronor, around $125 million, and take 10 years to complete.
After its post-Cold War timeout, total defense is once again the official policy of Sweden. As well as refocusing on bunkers, this liberal, progressive nation has also reintroduced a partial military draft.
“When the Cold War ended, Sweden no longer perceived an imminent threat to the homeland,” says Stephen J. Flanagan, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, a think tank headquartered in Santa Monica, California.
“With the re-emergence of a threat from the East,” he said, “Sweden is in the process of restoring capabilities for defense of the homeland.”
Prince Harry and Meghan meet top UN official amid world leaders’ gathering in New York | World News
Prince Harry and Meghan have met with a top UN official during the world body’s biggest annual gathering.
Ms Mohammed said they discussed “how to engage on issues we care about deeply”, such as vaccine equity, climate action, the economic empowerment of women, youth engagement and mental wellbeing.
“It was a lovely meeting,” Meghan said afterwards.
The UN said Ms Mohammed welcomed the couple’s work to address the organisation’s 17 sustainable development goals, which were created in 2015 and include objectives like ending hunger and poverty, achieving gender equality and combating climate change.
The trio met ahead of their scheduled appearances at the Global Citizen concert in Central Park later on Saturday.
The star-studded, 24-hour event aims to encourage climate action and urge wealthier countries to share one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines with other nations.
Billie Eilish and Ed Sheeran are among the musicians expected to headline the festival, which features performances in cities including New York, London and Sydney.
Tens of thousands of people are set to attend, with millions likely to tune in to the broadcast.
Prince Harry and Meghan are due to speak at the event in New York as part of their first major public trip since quitting as senior royals.
Earlier this week they visited the city’s memorial for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and the state’s governor, Kathy Hochul, joining them.
The UN is currently hosting the annual general assembly of world leaders, who have been discussing efforts to fight climate change and COVID-19.
Meghan has been involved with the UN women’s agency for several years, acting as “advocate for political participation and leadership”.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were among those chosen as Time magazine’s 100 most influential people last week.
Last year, the couple stepped down from royal duties, moving to California and launching their Archewell Foundation.
They have previously supported other Global Citizen initiatives, acting as campaign chairs for a Vax Live event in May which encouraged donations to Covax, an initiative working to provide vaccines for low and middle-income countries.
In a speech he made on stage, Prince Harry called for coronavirus jabs to be “distributed to everyone everywhere”.
German election: Voters want fresh leadership even if many seem unconvinced by the options | Politics News
They’re already putting Angela Merkel out to pasture at the Tussauds waxworks in Berlin, decking her out in clothes to go hiking, which the chancellor says she wants to do more of when she’s retired.
Madam Tussaud’s studio assistant Karen Fries says it will be strange when she is gone.
“It’s going to be weird, yes, because it’s now 16 years and we are not used to getting along without her, but we’ll see.”
The same sentiments are around the corner at the Brandenburg Gate.
Another race was under way ahead of the election: rollerbladers gathering to speed around the route of the marathon that is run this weekend.
“Both of us, we are 23,” two young bladers told us. “We just know Angela Merkel. So I think an era comes to an end.”
Another man told us none of the candidates can replace her: “No, they are too weak.”
Is this just another country’s election or one we should all be interested in?
Angela Merkel was called the leader of the free world, a moniker she herself thought was absurd. But it gives a sense of the void she may leave in these uncertain times.
Mrs Merkel has been credited with steering Germany through numerous crises but critics say she did not do enough to see them coming or warn Germans about others on their way.
Matthew Karnitschnig, Politico’s chief Europe correspondent, says: “The problem is that Merkel has shielded the population for a very long time from the realities of what’s going on in the world.”
Mrs Merkel was more of an administrator than a leader, he says, and has left one key question unanswered for her successors to address.
The way they do could have ramifications far beyond Germany.
“What’s at stake, really, is what role Germany is going to play in the world,” he says.
“Does Germany want to be a real player on the world stage, or does it want to act more like a giant Switzerland in the middle of Europe, trying to be all things to all people?”
Germany after Mrs Merkel will be under pressure from America to take on Russia more and be a more useful partner within the EU.
For Europe’s largest country and richest economy, it has not punched at its weight in the minds of many in Washington and elsewhere.
Others agree that Mrs Merkel cossetted Germans and protected them from global realities too much.
Green MEP Sergei Lagodinski, who helped write his party’s foreign policy, told Sky News: “I do hope very much that after this very comfortable sleep that we had with a very comforting leader who actually drove us and directed us quite good through a couple of crises, we need now to wake up not only to survive crisis and get back to the business as usual, but try to reimagine both Germany and Europe in this new age.”
The world and Germany are very different now than 16 years ago when Merkel first came to power.
Climate change, populism and artificial intelligence are all challenges that need proactive leadership, arguably not a strength of Mrs Merkel’s.
“I think it’s tremendously important, not just for Germany but for Europe,” Mr Lagodinski says.
“We have a situation where we have a change in terms of who’s going to lead Germany but also we have a totally changed global situation.”
There is the sense of an era coming to an end on the eve of this important election.
In the dusky light of a warm September evening, the voters we spoke to seemed relaxed about the future but conflicted too.
They want change but also continuity.
There is a yearning for stability with such a familiar figure bowing out and in such unpredictable times. But 16 years is a long long time to have one leader, we have been told repeatedly.
Germany and the world have new challenges to take on and new demons to fight, and voters want fresh leadership even if many seem unconvinced by the line-up they have to choose from.
Dean Berta Vinales: Fifteen-year-old World Superbike star dies after crash during race in Spain | World News
Fifteen-year-old motorcyclist Dean Berta Vinales has died following a crash at a World Superbike Championship race in Jerez, Spain.
After 11 laps in the Supersport 300 support race, the Spanish athlete crashed at the second turn, along with three other riders.
He suffered severe head and spinal injuries and was treated by medical crews who arrived on the scene, World Superbike said.
They attended to him on the track, in an ambulance and at the circuit medical centre.
“Despite the best efforts of the circuit medical staff, the Medical Centre has announced that Berta Vinales has sadly succumbed to his injuries,” World Superbike said.
The race was red-flagged by the director and cancelled, along with the rest of Saturday’s action.
Vinales was MotoGP rider Maverick Vinales’s cousin and he rode for his uncle’s Vinales Racing Team.
In a statement on social media, Vinales Racing Team said it was “devastated”.
MotoGP said on Twitter: “We’re devastated by the tragic loss of @DeanBerta21 following a crash in #WorldSSP300 Race 1 today.
“Sending all our love and strength to Maverick Vinales and Dean’s entire family, his team and loved ones.”
Six-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez wrote: “Rest in peace Dean. All my support to family and friends.”
We’re deeply saddened to report the loss of Dean Berta Viñales.
The #WorldSBK family sends love to his family, loved ones, and his team. Your personality, enthusiasm, and commitment will be hugely missed.
The whole motorcycle racing world will miss you, Dean. Ride in Peace. pic.twitter.com/46KuUt4Vnl
— WorldSBK (@WorldSBK) September 25, 2021
World Superbike said Vinales was “enjoying a recent run of good form” in his rookie season in the FIM Supersport 300 World Championship, coming in fourth in Race 2 at the Magny-Cours circuit and sixth in Race 2 at the Barcelona-Catalunya track.
He had set the fastest lap in Race 1 and the organisation said he was “showing great potential”.
The tragedy is the latest in a series of crashes that have claimed the lives of young riders.
Fourteen-year-old Hugo Millan died after crashing at a race in Alcaniz, Spain in July, while Swiss Moto3 rider Jason Dupasquier, 19, died in May from injuries he sustained in a three-bike crash during a qualifying session at the Mugello circuit in Italy.
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