• Sweden edition
 
Opinion
'Swedes prioritize welfare and jobs above security'
The Swedish king decorates a war veteran at a ceremony last year. File: Jimmy Croona/CombatCamera

'Swedes prioritize welfare and jobs above security'

Published: 14 May 2014 16:56 GMT+02:00

In the wake of Russian annexation of Crimea, the Swedish defense debate has intensified over the nature of its security structures and partnerships. The Swedish solidarity declaration of 2009 is frequently criticized for being unresourced and therefore weak:
 
“Sweden will not remain passive if another EU Member State or Nordic country suffers a disaster or an attack. We expect these countries to act in the same way if Sweden is similarly affected. We must be able to both give and receive support, civilian as well as military.”
 
As I have argued before, it is normal for a policy declaration to precede resourcing, and in fact such a policy declaration is the foundation for justifying resourcing decisions.  There is then naturally a time gap from intent to full capability, with analysis of world events setting the urgency.
 
But the weakness of Sweden’s solidarity declaration is not embodied only in inadequate resources, not even primarily.  Many of Nato’s member states have tangibly inadequate resources to defend themselves or contribute a decisive force to the collective.  What makes Sweden’s solidarity declaration unconvincing is current and historic lack of political will to live up to this formulation.
 
Neutrality has long been absent from formal Swedish policy, and yet it is still commonly referenced in general public discourse and even appears in political discourse.  It is a well-documented contention that even under a declared policy of neutrality, the government of Sweden maintained a hidden agreement with Nato.  
 
That such a disconnect would exist between what a democratic nation tells its electorate, and what it says to prospective security partners is hardly confidence building.  Security partners would accede to such agreements only in cases that are unequivocally in their own self-interest, as was the case in the Cold War.
 
It is not common for Nations to explicitly express their lack of confidence in a potential security partner’s commitment. The language of diplomacy has no suitable vocabulary for expressing to a friend that they are not deemed a reliable security partner.
 
This perhaps explains why the Nato Secretary General and the American Ambassador merely indicated that a unilateral solidarity declaration from Sweden does not change the applicability of Nato Article 5 to non-member states.  Materiel capacity and operational skill are easily measured and graded.  NATO does such assessments and Sweden always fares well.  
 
Based on Swedish Armed Forces performance in Afghanistan, Libya, and the Balkans Nato commanders harbour little doubt that when so ordered Swedish Forces can and will deliver as well or better than many member nations.  No such objective measure is made and published of a nations will. 
 
But they observe.  And what they see is a divided electorate with many that still believe in outdated warfighting concepts, cling to a concept of self-defense rather than collective defense, and see jobs, welfare and economy has much higher priority issues than security. A government that for the time being supports a collective approach to security on a narrow majority can readily be replaced or inhibited from acting by a strong opposition that favors isolation or neutrality.
 
Sweden’s internal political opposition’s instinct to oppose appears much stronger than its instinct to support policies required to defend the nation.  Opposition politicians and commentators happily point out materiel and personnel shortcomings in current defense policies, though outsiders can see quite clearly that the opposition rarely, if ever, offers funded alternatives that would improve these things.  On the contrary, the Swedish “shadow budget” traditions show clearly that had the opposition chosen, the available resources would have been considerably less.  
 
In emphasizing the narrow majority that implemented the current defense reforms, the opposition emphasizes to the outside world how fragile the agreement to work in cooperation with others actually is.  True, the solidarity declaration rhetoric had broad support, but the rhetoric did not cost anything.  The opposition’s views of how best to handle national problems, both internal and external, are legitimate choices and have significant public support.  In short, Sweden is a healthy democracy.  But as with all choices, there are consequences.   
 
In this case, the consequence is rather weak faith from outsiders that Sweden would carry through on their commitment to help others in the event of existential threats, regardless of the resources available.
 
The current government recognizes this, and their leading party has commendably taken the stance that despite a long-time policy favoring Nato membership, pursuing Nato membership with such a weak majority and the likely resulting vacillation is irresponsible for a nation like Sweden who prides itself on being first in class when committing to a task.  Ironically, the opposition criticizes them for that too.
 
The credibility gap extends beyond just the solidarity declaration.  Sweden is an arms exporter emphasizing quality, sustainable, and economical solutions.  With noteworthy voter sentiments of neutrality and rejection of military solutions to disputes, it does not stretch the imagination that Sweden would choose to, or be easily intimidated into betraying customers using Swedish manufactured materiel in an armed conflict in the vicinity in order to avoid becoming more deeply involved, as happened to the United States prior to World War II.  
 
The opponents to Swedish Nato membership seem to grasp their own inability to stand firm.  One of the more passionate arguments presented in Sweden against Nato membership involves the loss of national independence to the Nato decision process.  A nation that doubts that it can find the mettle to resist 28 friendly democratic Nations in an organization built on consensus can hardly be expected to stand firm against a tyrant, fearing loss of sovereignty to Brussels more than Moscow. 
 
Furthermore, there is equally strong political sentiment in the current opposition that any Swedish military action outside its borders be conducted only under a United Nations mandate, and preferably under United Nations leadership.  There is no other conceivable military threat in the immediate vicinity than Russia, and it is similarly inconceivable that a UN mandate will ever empower a coalition to react to Russian intimidation.
 
There remains a relatively strong sentiment in Sweden that neutrality has served her well.  If the effect that is measured is avoidance of war, the argument is strong.  If, however, one considers unhindered German troop transport en route to neighbour Norway, inaction over Russian incursion in Finland, return of refugees to Soviet-occupied Baltic states, hidden alliances, continued mythology of equal culpability in east-west relations, and avoidance of a Nato debate for fear of provocation of Russia, a clear and lasting casualty of neutrality policy is credibility.  
 
The solidarity declaration formulation is not the problem, but rather the political sentiment backing it up.  The solution lies in a sustained change in behaviour that rebuilds that credibility.
 

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Business
Phone 'contracts' cut by Sweden's Tele2
Photo: TT

Phone 'contracts' cut by Sweden's Tele2

One of Sweden's biggest mobile companies is scrapping long term call and data contracts for customers as part of what it says is the biggest change in the Swedish telecoms industry for 20 years. READ  

Sport
1.6 million Swedes are reeled in by fishing
Photo: Lief R Jansson/TT

1.6 million Swedes are reeled in by fishing

Fishing is one of Sweden's most popular hobbies in 2014, according to 'surprise' new figures released by Statistics Sweden. READ  

Julian Assange
Court rejects Assange arrest warrant appeal
Julian Assange. Photo: TT

Court rejects Assange arrest warrant appeal

A Stockholm court has upheld an arrest order for Julian Assange who is wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes in Sweden. His lawyer has told The Local that he now plans to take the case to Sweden's Supreme Court. READ  

Julian Assange
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Julian Assange following a court hearing in 2010. Photo: TT

Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is fighting extradition to Sweden where he is facing sex assault allegations. The Local looks at the key points in his case so far. READ  

Offbeat
'Wild' expats wanted for Nordic TV series
A frozen river in Sweden. Photo: Shutterstock

'Wild' expats wanted for Nordic TV series

People who have moved from the UK to remote corners of Scandinavia are set to appear in a new television series being filmed in 2015. READ  

International
Swedish PM has 'successful' Clinton talks
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, meets with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at the Clinton Foundation in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. AP Photo/Pontus Höök, Pool

Swedish PM has 'successful' Clinton talks

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven says he enjoyed a positive meeting with Hillary Clinton in New York on Wednesday, discussing topics including the Ukraine crisis and feminism, on the first day of his debut visit to the US since his election. READ  

Skåne
Large nursing shortages in southern Sweden
There are fears of staffing shortages in Skåne. File photo of a patient: Shutterstock

Large nursing shortages in southern Sweden

There are over 130 vacant nursing positions at Skåne University Hospital, leading to a shortage of beds for patients. READ  

Business
Half of young Swedes are in temporary jobs
Bar and restaurant staff often have temporary contracts. Photo: TT

Half of young Swedes are in temporary jobs

Under 25s in Sweden are increasingly being given fixed term contracts rather than permanent roles, according to new figures seen by Sweden's Trade Union Confederation, LO. READ  

What's On in Sweden
What's on in Sweden: November 20th to 27th
A Sami handler in traditional clothing. Photo: TT

What's on in Sweden: November 20th to 27th

Another weekend on the way and the temperature is fast plummeting. Here's our pick of the best things to do around Sweden as you wrap up this weekend - from the arrival of Sami winter to the largest photo fair in the Nordics. READ  

National
Man fined after filming kids in bathroom
File photo: Shutterstock

Man fined after filming kids in bathroom

A 47-year-old Swedish man who set up a camera in his own bathroom to film children using the toilet has been hit with a suspended sentence and a fine of over 20,000 kronor. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Five unique backpacker hostels in Stockholm
National
Bones show off Sweden's history
National
What new word are Swedes voting on?
National
Why African Swedes are angry about Santa's helper
Gallery
Selfies, solidarity and Hillary Clinton: Stefan Löfven on tour
Blog updates

19 November

Coffee in Stockholm (Blogweiser) »

" Stockholm is full of quaint little cafés. I go to none of these. For coffee, I..." READ »

 

14 November

Editor’s blog, November 14th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, We’ve had a hectic Friday covering the Swedish military’s announcement that there was definitely a..." READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Family life in Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching: November 19th
National
How to boost your career in Skåne, Sweden's south
National
Pine, tar, and tinder: flavours from the north
Society
Why are international professionals leaving Sweden?
Business & Money
Meet the Swedes who made suits for The Hunger Games
Technology
'I'm among the first Swedes with a microchip'
National
What is Sweden doing about bird flu?
Gallery
Property of the week: Eriksberg
National
Vecka45: Sweden's most innovative week
Gallery
In Pictures: The clubs and loves of Sweden's Sven-Göran Eriksson
Society
What's On in Sweden: November 13th to 20th
Gallery
People-watching: November 16th
National
Driving (expats) home for Christmas?
Lifestyle
Make your own Swedish pea soup
Politics
"Totally unacceptable": Defence Minister on Stockholm submarine
Society
The A-Ö guide to making life in Sweden easier
National
How a Swedish party inspired a masterpiece
National
Seen the new Ace of Base yet?
National
Meet the Irish woman thundering into Swedish rock
Gallery
In Pictures: Ace of Base through the years
Society
Ten things you should never say to a Swede
Gallery
People-watching: November 12th
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
National
Opinion: 'We have to talk about Sweden's Isis fighters'
Business & Money
Price hike for new mortgages in Sweden
National
Toy store catalogues 'too white' in Sweden
National
Pirate Bay co-founder released from prison
National
Southern Sweden had 201 days of summer
Gallery
Sweden's ten most powerful people
Gallery
Property of the week: Mariestad
National
Introducing... Healthcare in Stockholm
National
What you need to know about Stockholm hospital bug epidemic
Lifestyle
Young Serbian shouts for students in Sweden
Lifestyle
How to make your own chocolate kladdkaka
Gallery
People-watching: November 9th
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: November 7th - 14th
Society
The Local's Oliver Gee tries out Stockholm's 'therapy taxis'
National
Why is Stockholm's royal palace turning 'warm' pink?
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

822
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
aa-europe.org/sweden