If war comes? Stock up on tortillas and wet wipes, Sweden suggests

If Crisis or War Comes, a newly revised emergency handbook from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency.
If Crisis or War Comes, a newly revised emergency handbook from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency.PHOTO: AFP

STOCKHOLM (NYTIMES) - It's not that Sweden's government is nervous. Officials just want the 4.8 million Swedish households to be prepared for rising sea levels, cyber sabotage, fake news, terrorist attacks, food shortages or even war with a certain big neighbour to the east.

"What would you do if your everyday life was turned upside down?" reads the introduction to a newly revised emergency handbook from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency titled "If Crisis or War Comes".

The handbook, in Swedish and English, was posted on the agency's website on Monday (May 21). It is the first significant revision of the handbook since the depths of the Cold War a half-century ago, and reflects an evolving diversity of threats that include flooding from climate change and the vulnerabilities of the internet and social media to hackers and malcontents.

"Although Sweden is safer than many other countries, there are still threats to our security and independence," the handbook asserts, without identifying precisely which other countries or groups harbour hostile intentions.

But Sweden and other Scandinavian countries have expressed increased concern about what they view as provocative actions by Russia, particularly since the Russians annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine four years ago.

The Swedes and their Scandinavian neighbours have frequently complained about territorial infringements by Russian warplanes and submarines, grievances that Russia has dismissed as Western propaganda.

Reversing a trend, the Swedish government began spending more on its military in 2016, and last year decided to restore conscription after a seven-year break. While not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sweden closely coordinates its defences with the alliance.

The last time Swedes received this kind of practical advice from their government on how to cope if war comes was in 1961, when emergency officials distributed a handbook titled "In Case of War". Back then the focus was on how to react if Sweden were invaded, said Christina Andersson, the Swedish Civil Contingency Agency official who produced the revised handbook.

Andersson said in a telephone interview that the handbook emphasised protection from peace-time disasters like those linked to climate change and failures in information technology.

"It is much more likely that we have a storm, or flooding, or an IT attack, than that we have a military attack," Andersson said. For anyone who "really wants Sweden to come to a standstill", she said, information technology is a vulnerable area.

"We are extremely dependent on IT systems and the electrical grid," she said. "If something happens to these systems we will have problems." The handbook offers lists of emergency prerequisites. On food, for example, it recommends stocking up on tortillas, spreadable cheese, instant mashed potatoes, pre-cooked lentils, tins of Bolognese sauce and fruit purée, among other things.

Other necessities include buckets with lids, a car radio, wet wipes and a list of important phone numbers on paper.

The handbook also includes a special section on how to detect "false information", a reference to propaganda or what has also become known as fake news.

"States and organisations are already using misleading information in order to try and influence our values and how we act," the handbook states. "The aim may be to reduce our resilience and willingness to defend ourselves."

Among the questions to guard against false information, the handbook states, are: "What is the aim of this information? Who has put this out? Is the source trustworthy?"