Total Defence for the 21st Century: Civilian-Military Collaboration in Scandinavia

Research project
Active research
Project period
2022 - 2025
Project owner
School of Global Studies

Short description

The changing security situation in northern Europe has paved the way for a renewed focus on the total defence concept in countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Total defence depends on mobilising the combined resources of society to deal with crisis. In this context, it is important that we understand the ways in which cooperation, coordination and collaboration between different actors are structured and governed. The aim of this project is to contribute to our understanding of relations between public and private, as well as civilian and military actors in Scandinavian total defence organisations. We will analyse issues of governance and the nature of inter-organisational and inter-group relations from the national to the local levels across three countries, as well as issues of expert knowledge and professional identity.


The concept of total defence has recently re-emerged as a corner stone of national defence policies, planning and organisation. Sweden, Denmark and Norway in particular have launched efforts to revive their total defence concepts. During crises we see relations between state, civil society and organisations being re-negotiated. In this process, and because of changes to social, political and military sectors, countries are faced with new challenges related to the interaction and integration of total defence actors and organisations – particularly across civilian-military boundaries. Yet, our understanding of this ongoing development is limited.


The overarching aim of this project is to expand knowledge about inter-organisational and inter-group relations in Scandinavian total defence by analysing vertical and horizontal civilian-military collaboration. Our focus is on the ways in which emerging total defence arrangements create new fault lines and power relations between state and non-state actors.

Research questions

To achieve our aim, the project addresses two sets of questions that guide the research and cover empirical and conceptual contributions:

  • How have Scandinavian governments designed frameworks for civilian-military relations and inter-organisational interaction within their total defence arrangements? What governance mechanisms and frameworks are in place to ensure functional cooperation, coordination and collaboration between organisations and groups?
  • How do civilian, military and commercial total defence actors understand civilian-military relations and professional roles and responsibilities within total defence arrangements? How can different perceptions inform and challenge inter-group collaboration in practice?

The first set of questions focuses mainly on the vertical set-up of total defence frameworks, whereas the second shifts the focus to horizontal relations. Addressing these questions, the project will contribute to our understanding of the development of total defence arrangements across Norway, Sweden and Denmark, particularly in terms of formal governance structures and how inter-organisational and inter-group relations and perceptions inform civilian-military interaction.  


The project is designed as a comparative study in which we employ a mix of qualitative and interpretive research methods and techniques, relying on a combination of different sources of data. Although total defence solutions have a distinct ‘national’ focus, a comparative approach allows us to identify recurrent themes and trends across cases as well as their distinctive features. The research follows three interlinked steps.

First, we map total defence arrangements in Sweden, Norway and Denmark to identify key actors across the civilian-military spectrum, the roles they are expected to perform and the policies and regulation that govern their interaction. In this first step, we collect data through official and publicly available documents and information and a series of semi-structured interviews with centrally placed government, civil service, military and business representatives. Second, cases of inter-organisational interaction and integration are selected for further analysis. This part is an in-depth analysis of cooperation, coordination and collaboration between a) military and civilian public organisations on the national and local (municipal or regional) levels, b) civilian and business organisations on the national and local levels, and c) military and business organisations on the national and local levels. Third, key groups and organisations are selected to explore the connections between professional identities and inter-group relations. Through semi-structured interviews, we will analyse the relational aspects of professional identities across group (civilian-military) boundaries.

Knowledge contribution

This project pushes previous research and knowledge boundaries by analysing total defence arrangements on multiple levels and across three country cases. By investigating and comparing vertical and horizontal aspects of inter-organisational and inter-group relations, this project contributes important new knowledge about the prospects and challenges of total defence development. Theoretically, the project develops a framework for analysing and comparing total defence relations drawing on previous work on security networks, governance and public-private partnerships, and conceptual work on inter-organisational and inter-group relations, cooperation, coordination and collaboration. Empirically, the project will collect data on both the political levels and the levels of military and civilian (public and commercial) organisations and groups. Adopting a comparative research design, the project will break new ground by identifying key similarities and differences in Scandinavian total defence. Taken together, the project will contribute significantly to our knowledge and understanding of the nature of civilian-military relations in total defence networks, as well as the challenges to inter-organisational and inter-group interaction and integration. Such knowledge is important for research into total defence arrangements and relations, as well as for governments and organisations working to develop total defence capabilities.