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SWEDEN - FOREIGN AND SECURITY POLICIES

Since the mid-1980s Sweden has undergone fundamental changes in its foreign and security policies, yet has managed - to a large extent - to preserve what is beyond a doubt an outdated image of itself abroad.

This outdated image is that of a country that is "socialist", non-aligned, neutral; gives priority to the UN, international law, nuclear and conventional disarmament; ranks high as a donor of development aid and is open to receiving people in need from all over the world.



The Swedish Royal Guard walking home at sunset


Other features of this now outdated image include that of a land that shows strong solidarity with small countries that are harassed by bigger states, and - domestically - is socially innovative, "progressive" - even futuristic, as well as being a champion of equality to the point of bordering on classlessness.



Sweden used to be a country with quite an innovative foreign policy based on independent analyses resulting from commissioned research. It stood up against abuses of power and breaches of international law, even when this meant paying a political price, as was the case vis à vis the US during the Vietnam War.

Due to the changes that have occurred over more than two decades now, Sweden could more aptly be labelled as de-facto NATO-allied; according to many experts so closely so that it will, sooner rather than later, be more logical to be "married" than continue to be just "engaged." Having said that, even during the formal neutrality era, there was never any doubt that Sweden belonged in the Western camp, so to speak, and not among the Warsaw Pact nations.


Bull missile...


Sweden officially abandoned its neutrality stance almost ten years ago. While it does not ignore the UN or international law, it gave its political support to the US/NATO interventions in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and participated militarily (albeit not in a bombing role) in the war on Libya. And it gave full support to the US "war on terror". Strikingly, while it has been or is involved in places such as Kosovo and Afghanistan under US/NATO command, it no longer has a single soldier wearing the UN Blue Helmet.


The important UN goal of general and complete nuclear disarmament is no longer a high-profile issue for Sweden. In contrast to earlier times, Sweden has no disarmament ambassador. On the one hand, the Swedish government is active in making proposals in the nuclear arena; for example, it took a leading role in the New Agenda Coalition efforts vis à vis the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Foreign minister Carl Bildt signed the Global Zero's demands to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. Likewise, the Swedish government stood behind the Hans Blix-led Commission on Weapons of Terror.

On the other hand, when it comes to consistently actualizing and pushing its proposals to concrete implementation, it is obvious that the Swedish Foreign Ministry submits to the pro-nuclear policies of France and Great Britain.

Former Prime Minister, Olof Palme, in his international Commission back in the mid-1980s, coined the term 'common security', which served as a fundamentally important wedge in the old East-West European Cold War structure. With its systematic, incremental integration into NATO and EU structures, Sweden has abandoned that type of thinking; it would be hard to find any Swedish politician who could make pioneering initiatives of similar importance today.

One feature has not changed, however. Sweden remains one of the largest arms exporters in the world - measured per capita. There are probably no important violent conflicts in the world to which Swedish weapons and ammunition do not find their way. This is all the stranger given that Sweden has a law prohibiting weapons and ammunition exports to countries that are, or look likely to become, involved in armed conflict. To circumvent this legislation, all exports are by licenses granted as exceptions by a government board. Immediately after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, parliament decided to continue the military co-operation and exports to the US. 


These changes over the years have been spearheaded by the social democrats and are in contravention of the Swedish political credo of the past, namely that the security and foreign policies of the country should be firmly anchored in public debate and understanding.
 With considerable skill, politicians have avoided a serious political debate about these developments. It is reasonable to talk about a furtive integration into US/NATO structures and policies (see the link in your right-hand column).

In conclusion, a small world actor for peace and justice has abandoned its role and principles. It has sought integration into larger structures and has left its creative, quite unique, role to history's archives.


Once a pride of Sweden



Based in Sweden, it is only natural for TFF to be engaged in these issues as it has since its inception in 1986.

You will not find a section about Sweden only. Please use the search engine on the right-hand side. Everything written about Sweden's policies after 2012 can be found on the TFF Associates & Themes Blog (menu above).