• 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
Updated: 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
Royal News
Swedish royal couple set wedding date
The couple pictured in the summer. Photo: TT

Swedish royal couple set wedding date

UPDATED: Sweden's Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist, who got engaged earlier this year, have announced they will marry next June. READ  

Analysis
Sweden Democrat threats 'just a show'
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: TT

Sweden Democrat threats 'just a show'

There is talk that the nationalist Sweden Democrats could trigger a fresh election, by rejecting the new coalition's budget. But leading Political Scientist Li Bennich Björkman tells The Local that the party is just game-playing and should be focusing on getting its fatigued leader back. READ  

Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Chocolate and liquorice are on the menu in Gothenburg this weekend. Photo: Shutterstock

What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st

A secret gig in Stockholm, a short film festival in Uppsala and a gastronomy event in Gothenburg have caught our eye this week. READ  

Science
Astronaut helps launch first student satellite
Christer Fuglesang on a previous space mission. Photo: TT

Astronaut helps launch first student satellite

Sweden's debut astronaut Christer Fuglesang is helping students at KTH Royal Institute of Technology to become the first in the country to make their own satellite and send it into space. READ  

New coalition
New coalition reveals 'compromise' budget
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Green Party leader Åsa Romson. Photo: TT

New coalition reveals 'compromise' budget

UPDATED: Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's Social Democrat-led coalition has revealed its first budget proposal, listing plans to spend more than 20 billion kronor. READ  

Weather
Sweden braces for ten centimetres of snow
Kiruna, in far northern Sweden, has already been hit by snow this season. Photo: TT

Sweden braces for ten centimetres of snow

Sweden's weather agency has warned that up to ten centimetres of snow are on the way for Sweden. READ  

Business and Money
Global profit boost for Handelsbanken
Handelsbanken is Sweden's second largest bank. Photo: Bertil Eriksson/TT

Global profit boost for Handelsbanken

Sweden's second-largest bank, Handelsbanken, has reported a rise in third-quarter profits, boosted by higher income from its loan book as it continues its expansion overseas. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sweden pulls back 'submarine' search
Navy vessels remain in the archipelago. Photo: Lars Pehrson/TT

Sweden pulls back 'submarine' search

Sweden is pulling back part of the naval operation which has been searching for a suspected Russian submarine off the coast of Stockholm for nearly a week. READ  

Julian Assange
Assange prepares for court ruling in Sweden
Julian Assange at Ecuador's embassy in the UK. Photo: Anthony Devlin

Assange prepares for court ruling in Sweden

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he is "confident" his asylum status will be resolved, as he awaits an imminent ruling on his case by a Swedish court. READ  

Opinion
'Why were we kept in the dark for years?'
The submarine hunt is now in it's sixth day. Photo: TT

'Why were we kept in the dark for years?'

Military expert Johanne Hildebrandt tells The Local that the biggest question in the Stockholm submarine hunt hasn't been answered yet - why don't we know more about the "other operations" from the last few years? READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Blog updates

21 October

Denna & den här (The Swedish Teacher) »

"?Denna? or ?den hr?? Swedish language students often ask question about different pronouns. One pronoun that especially..." READ »

 

19 October

Getting it (Blogweiser) »

"Follow Joel Sherwood on FB Few watch baseball in Sweden. This is excellent when your team loses..." READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Get 20% off unique Swedish homeware
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Politics
Ten new minister faces you should know
Tech
First womb transplant baby in world born in Sweden
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
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

978
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:
www.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:
http://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