Sweden in the militarisation of

the European Union

PressInfo # 109

 December 12, 2000



By Jan Oberg, TFF director



Many changes in Sweden's identity

Interesting things are happening in Sweden. On November 28, 2000, the Swedish prime minister Goran Persson told Financial Times that Sweden is no longer a neutral country but that it remains militarily alliance-free. That was two weeks before the Swedish Parliament will focus a debate on the issue (December 13). The Social Democratic party program is under revision. Sweden shall no longer be "non-aligned in peace in order to be (able to be) neutral in war." A main argument is that with the end of the two-bloc Cold War there is nobody to stand "neutral" between and no longer any reason to stand neutral. Only, Sweden will not formally join an alliance and be obliged to come to the rescue should another alliance member be attacked - - see Romano Prodi's argument in TFF PressInfo 108.

In the full glare of publicity the Chief of Defence Johan Hederstedt was rebuked in a press release (November 22, 2000) by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anna Lindh, and Minister of Defence Bjoern von Sydow for demanding clearer directives on Sweden's military role in the EU and possible consequences of participating in future EU operations.

It is quite understandable that the Chief of Defence, an ardent advocate of the internationalisation of the Swedish military, wants clarity to emerge as to what the political criteria, the guidelines and the leadership is regarding the fundamental question: at what point does crisis-management, peace-keeping and peace-enforcement turn into warfare? After all, war is no humpty-dumpty activity.

The Swedish defence minister is on record saying that there are no defined limits as to where the EU Rapid Reaction Force can intervene. One must therefore assume that it can and might, in principle, intervene in any conflict area where the EU deems it important.


Humpty Dumptying for peace - - and backing into NATO?

The Swedish government's position is that the new machinery of the EU is to take care of the whole scale of conflict-prevention, crisis management and peace-building. Participating in the EU's military structure does not mean that Sweden gives up military alliance-freedom. In the mentioned press release the two ministers maintain that "We decide ourselves, each time, whether we want to participate and in which way. A UN mandate will be require to conduct military peace-enforcing operations. That implies, among other things, that all big powers are standing behind the operation. The EU co-operation applies to crisis-management, not mutual security guarantees and territorial defence." [My translation].

In May this year an opinion poll showed that 47 per cent of the Swedes are against Sweden seeking formal membership of NATO. Only 19 per cent were in favour. The government insists, therefore, that Sweden is not on its way to become a member of NATO and that it will remain alliance-free.

Why should Sweden seek formal NATO membership when nothing prevents it, in its role as declared alliance-free, from endorsing NATO's bombings, being a member of PfP, standing under NATO/KFOR command in Kosovo, participating in NATO and EU common military-industrial projects and exercises and now participating in EU militarisation, a cornerstone of which is EU-NATO co-ordination and inter-operability?

At some point in the future, don't be surprised if you hear the following words uttered by a Swedish politician: "Since we have done all these things and loyally helped NATO implement its policies, it is only natural that we also want to get access to the rooms where the plans are drawn up and decisions made, so we can have a say in shaping those policies. After all, we may put Swedish lives at risk." In other words, Sweden may be backing slowly but surely into NATO.

It must also strike the reader that the Swedish government emphasises the need for a UN mandate for military peace-enforcing operations. It did not make that point during NATO's bombing last year. Does it mean that Sweden may endorse other types of military actions taken around the world by the EU without UN mandate? And why is a similar provision not stated in EU treaties and documents - - some actually talk about autonomous EU operations. With the big power ambitions now pervading all of the EU, it is hardly credible that it would ask "permission" from the UN in all cases. Indeed, much of the debate about intervention argues that countries shall not be prevented from intervening because the Security Council can not agree to give the green light.

The only fundamental difference of opinion between Sweden and NATO/EU is that Sweden, admirably, remains in the forefront of the struggle to abolish nuclear weapons. For Sweden to join may be a little more difficult because it would mean endorsing NATO's nuclear doctrine and nuclear war planning.

To put it crudely, much of the official argument looks like humpty-dumpty logic. One day the words may mean something Sweden itself did not want them to mean?


Security politics is not a Swedish smorgasbord

Imagine that Sweden participates with a number of other states in a future EU military enforcement operation somewhere and the country/party against which it is directed takes up arms against it. If Swedish troops are attacked they must be able to defend themselves, of course, but would Sweden not legitimately expect that the other EU countries would come to their rescue? Would Sweden be able politically to decide to withdraw should another EU country's troops be attacked in the same operation - - a situation which means international war, whether declared or not?

Or, if Swedish soldiers are killed in an operation far away, how would the government balance between a presumably very strong home opinion against continued engagement and the solidarity with those it started out the mission with? In short, what is a country like Sweden a) able, b) prepared and c) willing to do, d) where and e) for what causes? And f) where are the limits? To say that that will be decided freely on a case-by-case base could turn out to be a recipe for unpleasant surprises and nasty dilemmas.

EU's own treaties stipulate that the organisation aims not only to conduct a common foreign and security policy but also, later on, to operate a common defence policy. Is it really a realistic assumption that single members will have the de facto freedom to pick and choose, as if it were a Swedish 'smorgasbord,' the day larger EU countries want to do peace their way and the going gets rough and EU soldiers are put in harms way?

Are we to believe that Sweden would undermine the credibility of the EU and NATO in a tense situation or in the middle of an operation and say: 'No, we do not agree with you, we stay at home. You can go!' or 'Now it's a bit too tough for us, so we withdraw now and leave it to you guys to finish the job.' Sweden may say that it does not participate in any alliance and thus does not have to observe mutually binding obligations. But there is something called political signals, credibility, non-binding duties and moral obligations.

Incrementalism is an important concept here. What in the EU starts out as a small military force and as interim committees one day become a bigger force and permanent bodies. An intervention for perceived humanitarian or peace-keeping may develop into a peace-enforcing mission and then into full-scale war. These processes have an "Eigendynamik" for which reason irreversibility is another important concept in everything related to the EU: once you are there, don't think of leaving or playing your own tune!

Incrementalism and irreversibility are also built into military operations. What started out as a few days bombing enterprise last year became a 78 days campaign threatening to end up in a ground war involving hundreds of thousands of troops for months. Tony Blair who advocated ground invasion said it very clearly afterwards on BBC that "the bottom line was that we could not loose, we could not loose." Just imagine the risk to the alliance's credibility, even its existence, had one of the countries in the bombing coalition dropped out. The same psychology will apply the day the EU intervenes as the EU. And the EU is not 'only' a military alliance, it is the basic structure of all of Europe covering ever greater segments of our lives here. So even more will be at stake in a way.


Could neutrality be re-defined and not abolished?

The - - not very intellectual - - explanation for dropping neutrality is that there are no two blocs to be neutral between. It does not seem important to the defence intellectuals and the decision-makers to explore whether there could be new and different ways to be neutral and whether you can be neutral not between two but among many.

Neutrality has become a bad word, even when it means staying out of war. Instead, side-taking, bravery, moral commitment, conflict-management and humanitarian intervention are the words of the day - - all increasingly legitimating military means in violation even of international law, if necessary, and of the norms of the UN Charter.

For sheer heuristic purposes, let's try this re-definition of neutrality - - knowing well that this amounts to swearing in the church:

"A post-Cold war neutral country conducts a policy and is perceived by others as an actor committed to global, or otherwise higher, norms and values such as the UN norm of "peace by peaceful means" and has taken preparatory steps to implement that policy when conflicts or other security challenges emerge.

The neutral position implies a principled, active preparation in peace-time to refrain from violent activity in somebody else's conflict, violence, war or intervention and permits the neutral actor to offer its services to conflicting parties in a norm-based, impartial and problem-solving manner at the earliest possible stage of the conflict.

Thus, neutrality furthers violence-prevention and -reduction and promotes the keeping and (re)building of peace, security and stability, both at home and abroad.

The neutral actor, however, is never neutral vis-a-vis violence but uses its influence to identify other means to approach a solution to conflict and persuade others to use them."

In short, neutrality could be redefined and related to the increasing need for early diagnosis, violence-preventive diplomacy and impartial mediation in conflicts. Countries and people in conflict may turn to neutrals because they know they have no other motives but to help mitigate and solve the issue with as little violence as possible, i.e. at an early stage and in fair co-operation with all sides. Whether or not we call them neutral, countries and other actors with a philosophy like this are dearly needed in the present and future world system.


The changing role of the Nordic countries

Much of this is fully compatible with what defines the Nordic countries historically and the post-1945 image of them abroad, not the least in the Global South. That's what also made them ideal for UN missions. However, over the last decade or so, Nordic governments have chosen - - without consulting their citizens - - to substitute these classical dimensions of their policies and Nordic co-ordination with an almost blind "internationalisation," EU-isation and Americanisation of their defence and security policies. Denmark last year carried it as far as actually bombing over Yugoslavia (and its defence minister, Hans Haekkerup, has just been rewarded through his appointment as new Head of the UN mission in Kosovo, UNMIK).

The image of the Nordic countries would have made them ideal as civilian mediators and negotiation facilitators all through the 1990s in, say, various parts of former Yugoslavia, Kosovo in particular. None of them took an independent mediation initiative, they co-ordinated instead with the big ones in the EU (common policy) and with the U.S. and NATO and are now peace-keepers in areas where there is no peace and where there would hardly have been wars had the international community taken wiser steps earlier to prevent violence and address issues of substance.

In short, the EU profile is about one voice, one policy and one shared responsibility behind the policies of the stronger few. When it really doesn't work out well - - as it didn't in ex-Yugoslavia - - the members are also together in one Single Mistake. That prevents democratic debate and open self-criticism. Why does it seem so difficult to so many to imagine a new Europe that would promote unity in diversity rather than unity in uniformity? Peace generally comes closer to the former than to the latter. (More about that in the forthcoming PressInfo 110).


The Sweden that acquiesce

During the last 10-15 years Sweden has been less and less willing to promote its own analyses and views and has, incrementally, adapted to EU and NATO policies in numerous fields. Independent views which are different from those of the EU and NATO are just a nuisance since these organisations do not allow themselves the luxury of more than one common policy which happens to be compatible or identical with under the stronger player(s). Thus, for instance, Sweden could not muster a single critical remark about NATO's operation over Yugoslavia last year.

Over the last four years, the Swedish government - - probably as the only one in the world - - has produced three comprehensive and excellent analyses on conflict prevention, preventive diplomacy and non-military conflict-management, including also a long series of measures that must be given priority and implemented sooner rather than later in these fields. The most recent is dated October 19 and entitled "To prevent armed conflict."

Perhaps it is history's irony that Sweden will chair the EU from January 1, 2001 and by coincidence lead the EU into militarisation and - - willingly or not - - integrate it more closely with NATO and the U.S. And although it has been the driving force in establishing the civilian crisis management unit in the EU, that is clearly a stepchild in the structure, as we have shown in PressInfo 108.

The public debate in Sweden about such fundamentals is scant and it is no wonder that the world around has not grasped the extent to which Sweden has changed since, say, the days of Olof Palme. Now, in contrast, Sweden has lost its creative grasp on global concerns and its solidarity with the disadvantaged and finds security in following the herd.


 © TFF 2000



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