Sweden and September 11

PressInfo # 134

 October 9, 2001



By Jan Oberg, TFF director



(This text was finalised before the bombing of Afghanistan began)

This PressInfo offers concrete examples of how the Swedish government chooses to acquiesce in the policies of the U.S. and the European Union (EU) rather than defending the interests of small states and the UN norm of peace by peaceful means.

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson sent a letter of condolences immediately after the September 11 terror attack and Sweden participated in the EU statement . However, it was not until September 24 that the Prime Minister stated the following (excerpts):

"The terrorist attack on the United States was a crime against international peace and security. The Member States of the European Union stand united in their recognition of the right of the US to defend itself. The EU has also declared its intention to cooperate with

the US in the fight against terrorism," said the Prime Minister Goran Persson in a statement following an extraordinary informal meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Friday.

"The right of the US to defend itself, by military means if necessary, is upheld in the UN Charter. That right has also been confirmed in a resolution adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council."

"I assume that those in charge of any forthcoming operations will observe the principles of international law and ensure that all actions undertaken are defensible. Any response must be carefully weighed and all necessary precautions must be taken to avoid harming civilians," the Prime Minister continued.

It is true that the UN Security Council was "recognising the inherent right of individual and self-defence in accordance with the Charter" in Resolution 1368 of September 12. It also regarded the terror acts as a threat to international peace and security. Furthermore, the resolution stresses that those responsible for aiding, supporting or harbouring the perpetrators, organisers and sponsors of these acts will be held accountable. Toward the end it expresses that it - - the Council - - is ready "to take all necessary steps to respond to the terrorist attacks..."

Thus, not with one word does it give the United States a right to respond by mounting a "war against terror" or declare war on or conduct bombings of other UN members as a kind of retaliation.

Sometimes political documents are most interesting for what they do not say. The Security Council Resolution does not refer explicitly to Article 51 (Chapter VII) which states that nothing shall impair the right to self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the UN until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.

It is not self-evident that what happened in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania can be categorised as an armed attack even if knives and box cutters were used. No military personnel or weapons were employed. Three weeks after the terrorist attack, it is still not clear whether any government was involved and no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Thus, it should be discussed whether this can be defined as war and, if so, what that would mean for the definition of terrorism and the UN legitimacy of different elements of "necessary steps to respond to the terrorist attacks."

The right to self-defence is not tantamount to a right to bomb or militarily attack Members of the UN anywhere in the world. The attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon was not mounted from abroad by another state, its point of departure was a civilian airport in the United States, neither was it done by long-range missiles passing and no violation of an international border took place.



Neither the Security Council nor the Swedish prime minister deemed it necessary to refer to the fundamental norms of the Charter: the provision about seeking, first, peace by peaceful means. They are stated in the Preamble, in Article 1and in Articles 33 through 38 (Chapter 6) while Articles 39 through 42 stipulate how military action can be organised "should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proven to be inadequate (Article 42)." Article 41 lists a series of non-military actions such as sanctions and severance of diplomatic relations to put pressure on the aggressor.

It should be crystal clear, therefore, that the UN Charter does not endorse military action before other means have been proven inadequate. It also does not equate self-defence with counterattacks and, even less, counterattacks against unknown enemies. That was what the leadership of the U.S. at the time already talked about.

The last paragraph of the Prime Minister's statement above is a way of expressing concerns about the character of a military response operation by the U.S. They should be "within the framework of international law," "defensible and "all necessary precautions must be taken to avoid harming civilians." This is valid advice in light of U.S. warfare and bombing methods, its sanctions policies over the last few decades and given the emotional agitation in the U.S. - - not to mention the kind of rhetoric of President Bush has adhered to.

But the singular focus of the statement is on military action, as if that would be the only way to deal with the terrorist attacks. Such an approach it totally out of touch with a long and unbroken tradition in Swedish foreign policy as well as the basic norm of the United Nations Charter: to seek peace by peaceful means in the event of a threat to international security.



The Swedish Prime Minister's statement should reflect that approach. It is not too late for Sweden to do so. Thus, Sweden must:

1) reaffirm the basic peace and peace-making provisions of the Charter;

2) stress that the expected US reaction must be based on a UN mandate and the matter referred to and handled by the UN Security precisely because it is defined as a threat to international peace and security;

3) appeal to self-control or a moment of reflection given the new situation the world allegedly is in;

4) distinguish between terrorism and war;

5) point out that self-defence must not be equated with retaliation or revenge;

6) point out that no country, no UN member state, ought to be bombed unless there is hard evidence that its government is complicit (and how) in the terrorist act;

7) mention that there is a need for discussing the causes of terrorism in order to take effective, long-term political action to combat it and prevent future manifestations of it;

8) emphasise the huge difference between bringing individual perpetrators to justice and conducting a major war operations against one or more countries with millions of citizens as innocent as those killed on September 11; and, finally

9) point out that we need to define terrorism as precisely as possible and distinguish it from other types of violence.

Such words of caution would have been in line with values that Sweden has traditionally stood for. No one in the world would accuse Goran Persson of supporting terrorism in case he stated one or more of these points.

By no means is Prime Minister Goran Persson alone in omitting such guidelines and in refraining from stating such words of caution. Most leaders did and still do, and so did the EU. This general lack of critical assessment of the new situation has made it much easier for the Security Council to adopt Resolution 1373 that looks exclusively US-inspired.

Of utmost concern should be that this Resolution goes very far in forcing member states to fight something called terrorism without even a hint of a definition. The single focus of that Resolution is non-state groups while it does not say a word about state terrorism. In a Middle East perspective, it would mean that acts by the Palestinians to promote the liberation of their territory would be acts of terrorism, while Israeli attacks would not.



In a later televised discussion among Swedish party leaders, the Prime Minister explicitly and forcefully de-coupled the phenomenon of terrorism from issues such as global problems, underdevelopment, poverty, despair and hatred. Such a de-coupling is not helpful for the urgent international co-operation on prevention of terrorism but does, admittedly, make warfare against terrorists look more legitimate.

Foreign minister Anna Lindh went even further in and an ill-considered statement made to please the United States. Like in most civilised countries, Swedish law prohibits extradition to a country that adheres to the death penalty. But that situation may change should the United Nations demand extradition, she stated on September 30 when commenting on Security Council Resolution 1373 that calls for wide-ranging anti-terrorism co-operation. "If so, I believe we must change the Swedish law and always follow the UN," she said according to Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå (TT), the national news bureau in Stockholm. So, laws adopted by the Swedish Parliament should thus be overruled by decisions of the U.N. Security Council! Which other governments would accept that, the U.S. itself?

As mentioned in PressInfo 133, leading Social Democratic party members including former ministers and high-level security advisers to the government have begun to ask what is going on in general and, in particular, around the issue of terrorism.

Thus, former Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson and former minister of education, Carl Tham, vigorously argue in the Swedish Daily "Dagens Nyheter" of September 22 that the attack on the U.S. should be seen as a result caused by the extremely unequal relations of power in today's world.

They discuss issues such as economic misery, class divisions, the evil legacy of colonialism, and the fact that the U.S. supported authoritarian regimes during the Cold War era. They mention the conflict in the Middle East, and the neglect of the genocide in Rwanda (for three months more people were killed per day than was the case in the U.S.) They forcefully maintain that we ought to have learnt that poverty and widening income gaps can result in unpredictable violence and wars.

And they argue that, while the United States asks the world to help it now, it is only natural that others make demands on the U.S.: "The Bush administration has clearly outlined a unilateral American power politics in which the U.S. works together with others when it suits its interests and otherwise goes its own way. Such a policy in incompatible with a broad co-operation against terrorism. A successful alliance requires setting a new course," say Carlsson and Tham.

They suggest that the U.S. should have paid its dues to the United Nations and stop "devaluing" and "opposing" the UN. It also ought to accept fully an International Criminal Court and it should take steps to implement "a policy for peace in the Middle East and other urgent conflict areas, for economic development and instead of armament."

So, while the Prime Minister unhesitatingly endorses a military counter-offensive by the U.S., totally ignores peaceful means and de-couples the issues of global poverty and despair from that of terrorism, the former Prime Minister and the Secretary-General of the Palme Center do exactly the opposite. The fact that they do not mention the official Swedish reaction to the September 11 events speaks diplomatically for itself.



Ambassador Sverker Astrom who has played a pivotal role in analysing international affairs and advising Swedish governments over several decades, delivers a diplomatic but devastating blow to the actual Swedish post-September 11 policy. In an article, also in Dagens Nyheter of September 28, he argues under the headline "The government is unclear" that Security Council Resolution 1368 does not give the U.S. a green light to counter-attack as it pleases.

Ambassador Astrom whom one could accuse neither of anti-American nor anti-establishment leanings in Sweden makes it abundantly clear that the matter must be referred to the Security Council. Furthermore, that the U.S. in whatever it chooses to do is subject to the provisions and norms of the UN Charter as well as international law. Thus, for instance says Astrom, the principle of proportionality with the violence used in the first place must be emphasised; and attacks must not be aimed at civilians and neither must they be excused in advance.

Astrom also stresses that the Security Council's reference to the right to self-defence can not be understood to mean that it has accepted whatever the U.S. may do in response. He adds diplomatically and with an understatement that "it would be desirable if that could be expressed more clearly in the official Swedish statements."

Ambassador Astrom highlights Sweden's traditional and consequent emphasis on a restrictive interpretation of the right to self-defence in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter.

In that light, he questions whether an attack should be invoked in other cases than those where there is an armed attack on a state by another. The right to self-defence is to be applied quickly "in order to prevent an attack, not to have the right to start a war weeks or months later."

"In summary," says Sverker Astrom, "we must seriously consider the risk that an American retaliation that is carried out without clear legitimacy in international law may create a precedent which may be used by other states than peaceful democracies in order to legitimate/justify the use of violence. If so, we will end up in a world based on the law of the jungle and in which the interests of small states are not worth a damn."



There are other voices of dissent within the party, e.g. its Women's Association and former disarmament minister and member of the European Parliament, TFF associate Maj Britt Theorin who has spoken out against removing the neutrality status and against the Sweden-promoted EU militarisation. After September 11, Theorin has argued forcefully that Sweden's role should be to export and promote peace and conflict-resolution, not violence.

The Swedish government's handling of the present terrorist crisis is, therefore, merely the last of a series of significant policy choices that would have merited debate.

A U.S.-led war against Afghanistan and possibly other countries is likely to break out any time soon. Countries such as Sweden that focus only or mainly at the military option, run a considerable risk in the near future, to take co-responsibility for counter-terrorism. And counter-terrorism is terrorism.

Some may choose to keep silent about the morally and politically complex issue of civilian options, of legality, of moderation, of causal analysis and of effective long-term preventive measures in accordance with the United Nation Charter support. But if they do, we are heading for a world based on the Law of Jungle.



This and the preceding PressInfo may have sounded nostalgic about the Sweden that was. But lo and behold! There is one sphere where Sweden has not changed: as an arms exporter.

On October 7, Dagens Nyheter announced that the Swedish US-owned Bofors Defence has got a green light from "authorities and the majority of Parliament's parties" that it may export up to 3,000 77B howitzers to the price of US$ 1,5 billion - to India. For your information, in Sweden, arms export is in principle prohibited and takes place only as exceptions. And only to countries which are not, and are not considered likely to become, engaged in war…





 © TFF 2001



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