Dear President Barack Obama,
Despite being your “second choice,” Swedish policy-makers are thrilled that you blew off Russia to schedule America’s very first truly bilateral meeting with Sweden. Now, do not feel unduly pressured by the Swedish minister’s excitement. Your trip to Sweden will be like a pleasant breeze before you head to the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg.
To help you prepare Mr President, there are five things you will need to know about Sweden:
1. You will be united in mutual annoyance over Russia’s behaviour. As you express your irritation with Snowden’s recent visa-approval in Russia, Swedish policy-makers will express their indignation over Russia’s unannounced bombing exercise over Sweden this past Easter.
2. Prepare for plenty of fika in between meetings. Swedes consume more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world. However, despite their perceived environmentally-friendly posture, it is worth knowing that only a very few trendy hipsters in the neighbourhood of SoFo actually care if the coffee is fair trade.
If you do get to glimpse of some fair-trade-coffee-drinking-second-hand-shopping environmentalists, do not be baffled when you see them all wearing Converse sneakers. This is normal. Swedes are obsessed with American chucks. Obsessed even though they run at an average price of $120 (compared to $25 in your home state.) There is a trade issue (read: opportunity) for you to discuss.
3. Swedes love to jympa, i.e. exercise. After some small talk about the Swedish weather (Swedes’ favourite subject to discuss), someone will likely ask about your or Michelle’s workout routine (Swedes second favourite subject). After comparing your split times in the 10K, the subject of obesity and diabetes will likely be addressed. Since obesity and diabetes is the biggest national security threat to American citizens, take the opportunity to learn what Swedish policy-makers have done to tackle obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in Sweden. And don’t smoke while doing so.
4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is God. (He plays soccer.)
5. During the fika breaks, ask about traditions during Swedish crayfish parties. Most representatives from the Swedish delegation will likely share how they celebrated one of their favourite holidays. Also, feel free to ask why Sweden has become the largest consumer of the cheaper, frozen, environmentally unsound Chinese crayfish rather than organically grown Louisiana Crayfish. (Read: another opportunity.)
Trivialities aside, there are also three foreign policy issues that you and your staff will not need to prepare for:
1. Do not worry about defending your drone policy, targeted killings or even the so-called signature strikes. Swedes have not taken a clear stand on this issue. Even though Sweden is a strong supporter of international law, Sweden is a lagom “neutral” country that tends to get uncomfortable during discussions like the War on Terror.
2. Guantanamo will be a non-topic. While Swedes dislike Guantanamo as much as Swedes dislike a neighbour who doesn’t recycle, this is a topic that will not be brought to the Ikea-table. If it is, just ask if Sweden could accept a handful of the prisoners. Such a counter-question will likely lead to another fika-break, because
taking a stance on such a question would be political suicide for any Swedish politician.
3. Military cooperation is a special interest. Since the Swedish Armed Forces have been labelled as a “special interest”, you will not likely get to chat about opportunities for co-operation between our armed forces in peacekeeping missions. Even though the Swedish Armed Forces have one of the best reputations in the world, the Swedish delegation will steer you away from this “special interest topic” to discuss matters of trade instead.
As Jan Joel Andersson, a researcher at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, has argued, under the Obama administration and Sweden’s current center-right government, U.S.-Swedish relations have reached an all-time high, with common views on “free trade, openness and quest for democracy in the world.”
And while Sweden punches above its weight in the foreign policy arena, you, Mr. President, will very likely be met with lightweight topics during your talks.
Annelie Gregor is a political science Ph.D. candidate at the City University of New York. Her thesis looks at EU and US perspectives on “Limited Warfare within Coercive Diplomacy”.