Submarines & PSYOPs: US Policies for a Dissident State

Led by Ola Tunander
May 2011

After World War II, a real ‘hot war’ in Western Europe became increasingly unlikely. Power struggles in democratic countries found new forms at the lower end of the conflict spectrum. In defence of the Western system, the USA started to operate submarines to simulate real enemy intrusions into the waters of allies and friends as an instrument to test their readiness and capability but also to manipulate the mindset of local military forces, governments and populations as was the case in Sweden. Archival material and interviews with retired military officers point to US and to some extent UK psychological operations (or PSYOPs). Former US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger stated on Swedish TV that US/Western submarines operated regularly and frequently in Swedish waters after Swedish-US navy-to-navy consultations. However, the Swedish government or public was never informed. They believed the submarines were from the Soviet Union. In the 1980s in Sweden, these operations made the USA able to change the mindset of the target audience in order to control a dissident state. 

In contrast to the authoritarian state, the democratic states of the West are not able to fully control the mass media to form the minds of their citizens. Instead, to create a ‘false reality’ has become a suitable alternative. Not by directly manipulating mass media, but rather by manipulating the events that will turn up in the media has political control of these countries been possible to realize. A major power will aim for creating indicators – like ‘enemy submarines’ or ‘bomb attacks’ – that will be interpreted in a false way to change the mindset of the people.


The project has used archival material as well as hundreds of interviews with military officers and civilians in order to analyze the behaviour and the national origin of observed submarines. One book was published in Swedish in 2001, and some articles have been published in scholarly or military journals both in Swedish and in English. An English book was published in 2004. The use of deception and PSYOPs may be increasingly relevant to understand today’s international politics.

image(bullet) List of public apperances



Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Tunander, Ola (2009) Det så kallade elefantmötet [The So-called Elephant Meeting], Historisk tidskrift (Journal of the Swedish Historical Society) 129(2): 251–255.


Tunander, Ola (2004) The Secret War Against Sweden: US and British Submarine Deception in the 1980s. London: Frank Cass. Naval Policy and History.

Non-refereed Journal Article

Tunander, Ola (2009) Men för Gustafsson är jag den enda trovärdiga källan, Historisk tidskrift (Journal of the Swedish Historical Society) 129(3): 540–543.
Tunander, Ola (2009) Det kalla krigets historie, vetenskap och spelet under ytan [Cold War History, Scholarship and the Game below the Surface], Forum Navale (Journal of the Swedish Society of Naval History)(65): 125–150.
Tunander, Ola (2005) Sanningen finns i detaljerna [The Truth is in the Details], Norsk Tidskrift for Sjøvesen 1(120): 16–21.
Tunander, Ola (2004) Some Remarks on the US/UK Submarine Deception in Swedish Waters in the 1980s, Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
Tunander, Ola (2002) I Sverige föredrar man att ingenting se och ingenting höra, Kungliga krigsvetenskapsakademiens handlingar och tidskrift 3: 97–106.
Tunander, Ola (2002) Chefen för operationsledningen 1982 - Part i målet, Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet 2: 137–150.
Tunander, Ola (2002) Politikkens dukketeater – Hvordan Sverige blev disciplineret på mindre end et år, Kritik (Copenhagen) 160: 15–23.
Tunander, Ola (2002) Submarine Incursions in Swedish Waters, 1980-1992: Comment on a Controvery, Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact.