The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Archive for October, 2011

We are all Cybermen now

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

For Brits of a certain age, our first contact with Cyber was probably watching (scared or smiling, depending on how credulous you were) Doctor Who.

Well, to adapt the celebrated Le Monde headline about the Paris riots of 1968, we are all Cybermen now.

The development of cyberspace is revolutionising our lives. It brings huge opportunities, but also unknown risks. The latter may amount to a global (for once the adjective would be justified) challenge and require a co-ordinated international response. However, until now, the debate around what form this response should take has lacked focus.

That is why the British government is bringing together representatives from many governments (including Carl Bildt from Sweden as a keynote speaker), with civil society and business at a Conference on Cyberspace on 1-2 November.  The aim to begin to address how we can enjoy together the economic and social benefits of the Internet while guarding against the criminal and security threats and without suffocating future innovation.

The expansion of our networked world is in all our interests: for every 10% increase in broadband access, it is estimated that global GDP will rise by an average of 1.3%.

Globally, e-commerce is US $8 trillion each year. In an increasing number of countries, not least Sweden, we rely on the Internet for almost everything we do.

Our reliance on cyber blurs geographical boundaries, breaks down traditional cultural and religious divides, brings families and friends closer together and enables contact between those who share common interests or concerns.

The Arab Spring has shown how the ability to share ideas has brought previously unimagined changes and helped ordinary citizens to stand up against oppressive regimes.

But the rise of the networked world has also produced challenges. The digital divide remains: 95% of Icelanders have Internet access, but only 0.1% of Liberians. Two thirds of the world’s population is still unable to log on.

Cyber also provides opportunities for criminals, who use it to steal identities and ideas, defraud governments and businesses, as well as exploit the most vulnerable in our societies. The financial cost of cybercrime is as much as $1trillion per year. The human cost is even greater.  Terrorists use the Internet to plan murderous attacks and flood chat rooms with their poisonous ideology to recruit the next generation.  Repressive governments use advances in technology to violate their citizens’ rights.

We should not underestimate the difficulties ahead.

Some countries do not share the UK and Sweden’s view of the positive impact of the Internet.

Nobody controls the Internet. That’s one of its strengths. But we can’t leave its future to chance or to criminals.

We must start to act now if we are to protect and preserve the tremendous opportunities that the development of cyberspace offers us all.

In London, we hope to set an agenda that will allow the world to enjoy the full benefits of a safe and secure cyberspace for generations to come.

You have an opportunity to take part in the conference, putting questions to the conference participants, via Twitter or Facebook.

For more information on the Conference and its five themes visit

Via Twitter:
Tweet your questions in English in advance of the conference, or while it is taking place. Include the hashtag  #LondonCyber for general questions and add one of the following hashtags, corresponding with the relevant theme, so that we can match your question to the right session: #social, #economic, #crime, #access, #security

Follow @LondonCyber for updates on the conference and the online debate.

Via Facebook:
You can go to the Foreign Secretary’s page on Facebook and ask a question in English there.

If you see a question that has already been asked, you can like it, to help us see what the most popular questions are.

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I have seen the future

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Two events in my diary this week have focussed me on The Future.

First, I visited Ericsson yesterday. Ericsson employs over 4,000 people in the UK. It’s present in almost as many countries as the UN has members. Even more remarkable was that it was doing business in India and China over a hundred years ago  – rather ahead of the curve in  spotting what today we call emerging markets!

Among the many fascinating things I saw was a project called the “Social Web of Things”, a sort of Facebook for your household goods, car, etc. We saw an amazing illustration in which you could use your smart phone to check with a computer in your car when it needed servicing. The car would tell you that and then fix an appointment direct with the garage having cross-coordinated with your diary. Similarly you could check with your bedroom lights whether you’d switched them off, even as you sat on a bus half an hour later.

The nearest I get to that sort of interaction is ringing my blackberry to discover where in the house I’ve left it, so I felt as a medieval monk would do confronted with the first printing press!

Then last night I hosted an event to mark the Economist’s Conference in Stockholm for Future Cities. More than half of the world now lives in cities, with 5 million on new urban dwellers every month. I’ve been lucky enough to live in some great cities –Glasgow, London, New York and Paris. I have to stay that Stockholm is my favourite, but then, as all my Swedish friends and colleagues tell me, I haven’t been through a Swedish winter yet. The future awaits!

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Of sport and sacrifice

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

My main topic today is Afghanistan. But I can’t begin a blog this week without congratulating Sweden on a fantastic victory over the Netherlands and on securing qualification for Euro2012. Sadly Scotland could not emulate Sweden by beating Spain to get into the play-offs.

Now to the serious stuff…

I’ve dealt with Afghanistan several times in the ten years since the start of the internationally backed intervention in Afghanistan.  In 2004 I was involved in initial discussions about NATO, including the UK forces, taking over from the US-led coalition in the South of the country. Afghanistan feature on the Security Council agenda in New York throughout my three years there. And in my last job in London, with overall policy responsibility for NATO, its operation there was seen, rightly as crucial to the Alliance’s future.

This week in Copenhagen senior diplomats from the UK and the Nordic Baltic Region, including my Swedish friend and colleague Niclas Trouvé, are getting together to look at where we go next.

In the media and among the public, considering the human and financial costs of intervention, people ask has it been worth it?

11 September showed both the threat from terrorism and also its indiscriminate nature. The core aim in intervening in Afghanistan was to deny Al-Qaeda a base from which to launch more attacks.

This has been achieved.  Al-Qaeda has been significantly weakened and Osama Bin Laden’s death in May was a further blow.

We need to ensure that when the last of our combat troops withdraw in 2014, this is not reversed.  For this, Afghanistan needs a capable, sustainable and affordable security force (as well as many other things).

Responsibility for security is being handed over to the Afghan national police and army.  The first stage of this is going well.  In Helmand, Afghan security forces are already completing their own successful operations, with growing strength and capability.

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) total 305,000 and are expected to reach 352,000 in October 2012.  The cost of the ANSF in 2011 is almost SEK82 billion, 90% of which is funded by the USA.

The NATO summit in Chicago in May will aim to reach an agreement on where future funding will come from. Budgets are under strain across Europe, but if we don’t all make the investment, we risk the achievements made to date.

Afghans, perhaps understandably, worry that international attention will wane, so we need to focus on long term involvement, as the UK and Sweden are already doing.
There have been some significant achievements so far.  For example in Helmand there has been a 76% increase in pupils attending school since 2007.

Afghanistan’s neighbours in the region will also need to play their part in creating stability.  The international conference in Istanbul on 2 November should be a positive step in co-ordinating regional co-operation.

Then the Bonn conference on 5 December will be an opportunity for the international community and the Afghan government to address together the issue of balancing the country’s finances in a sustainable way, whilst also providing effective services. Bonn will also be important for agreeing long-term international development assistance in support of the commitments made by the Afghan government.

A stable Afghanistan means a safer Europe. We all have a stake in its future.

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Etymological adventures – or the Queen and I

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

As a great Swedish poet receives literature’s highest accolade, your humble correspondent continues his journey in the foothills of the Swedish language.

One of the things that I was asked most in preparing for this job, including by our Queen, was why I was learning Swedish, when Swedes spoke such good English.

My answer, including to Her Majesty, was that it was a courtesy to the country that I was going to.  Also unless I could read the newspapers and understand the broadcast media I would not be able to do my job.

Both have proved to be true. I do most of my business in English. And I would not dare to try blogging in Swedish, although I read Carl Bildt’s blog every morning.

But I do enjoy trying to speak Swedish and even though my “dåliga svenska” is far from good, it seems to go down well when I inject a few words into my conversation and/or speeches.

I’ve enjoyed also learning a bit about the evolution of the Swedish language.  It appears that in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries Swedish as a language emerged from German, so many basic words, including those for I and you and milk and leg and winter, come from Germanic sources.

Then around the eleventh century Christianity came to Sweden and the influence of Greek and Latin words, not least those for priest, writing, library, cathedral and school, all entered the language.

In the middle ages Swedish again became influenced by the German language and trade with Germany accelerated, so words for trade, town, growth, man, woman, citizen, and parliament all come from the Germanic tongues.

In the 17th and 18th century France and its language played an increasing part,  so words for chair, balcony, office, toilet are among those which derive from French.

Where, you might think, is the influence of English in this “smorgasbord”, to use one of the few Swedish words to have made it to the English language?

Well, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the English industrial revolution and growth of Empire brought words such as job, sport, locomotive, nylon.

In today’s modern Swedish many English words are just taken straight into the language, i.e. copyright, container, designer, squash etc.

But all our languages reflect today’s globalised world, with coffee and alcohol (Arabic), chocolate (Spain), tempo (Italy) and banana (Africa) just a few examples.

For the moment, I’ll concentrate on trying to get the basic Swedish ones right!

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Speed-dating for science

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

It’s probably fair to say that there’s never been a better time in human history to grow old.

Which is just as well, given that some studies suggest that one out of two women born in countries like the UK and Sweden next year will live to be a hundred.

If they do indeed live to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the Stockholm 1912 Olympics and the centenary of London 2012 that will be due in large part to scientific and medical advances.

Last week I had the privilege to host a meeting, now in its third year, bring together leading Swedish pharmaceutical companies and research institutes, notably AstraZeneca and Karolinska, with about a dozen UK life sciences companies.

UK life sciences is a world leading high-tech industry, investing over £5 billion in R and D in the UK. 30% of all European biotech companies are based in the UK and over a third of all biopharmaceutical clinical trials take place in the UK.

The Embassy’s Trade and Investment team brought together pharmaceutical companies, academics and biotech innovators, for a networking event in the hope that they would forge partnerships, which might in years to come lead to miraculous new medicines and other treatments.

I described it, rather irreverently, as “speed dating for science”, but the scientists were kind enough to say that that’s exactly what it was.

Like real speed dating (so they tell me….) the failure rate is high.  But the successes are fantastic.

So the high risk and long lead times don’t daunt these dedicated professionals and the work they do should mean longer and happier lives for us and for future generations.

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3D Or Not 3D

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

That was the question, as I stood waving to William and Kate as they walked down the aisle in Westminster Abbey last Wednesday night.

I was able to do this from the comfort of the Residence, thanks to a wonderful canvas, which, when photographed, produces the 3D effect you see in the photo.

The canvas spent the next two days at Central Station in Stockholm, giving lots of Swedes and tourists the chance to have their photo taken (sort of…) in an iconic UK venue.

This was part of a wider effort by our colleagues at Visit Britain to promote tourism to the UK, not least with two unique events next year.

Our Queen’s 60th anniversary on the throne, which will see some wonderful pageantry and spectacle in London and celebrations around the UK.

And, of course, the little matter of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, with an estimated 4 billion people watching on TV.

Last week in New York, our Prime Minister launched the GREAT campaign, highlighting the many reasons Britain is such a great place to live, work, visit or study. This is also serious business. 30 million visitors to the UK every year inject £20 billion pounds into our economy. 750,000 Swedes alone spend almost £20 million.

There are some things money can’t buy, however.

Had I remained in my old job in London I would had a great view of the Queen’s Birthday Parade, as my room in the Foreign Office overlooked Horse Guards’ Parade.

This will also be the venue next year for the Olympic Beach Volleyball tournament, so that would have been a spectacle of a different sort.

It’s safe to say that only a job as great as being Ambassador in Stockholm could tempt me away from a front-row seat for such contrasting dramas!

In my next blog, a night of scientific speed-dating at the Residence….

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