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Issues in Swedish Foreign Policy

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IN order to understand Sweden's foreign policy and, generally speaking, its attitude towards the world at large, one must bear in mind two facts--its long period of peace and neutrality, and its exceptionally calm internal political development. Since 1814 Sweden has not participated in any war, nor has it entered into any alliance.

It is true that on a few occasions Sweden has either been threatened by war or has manifested a marked inclination to take part in one. This was the case during the Crimean War, when many leading Swedes were disposed to join forces with England and France for the purpose of regaining Finland from Russia; however, the war ended before these plans matured. When Prussia and Austria invaded Denmark in 1864, a pan-Scandinavian movement urged that Sweden come to the aid of that country; but due to the strength of the attacking powers and the rapid course of the war this "activist" movement never became important. In 1905, when Norway dissolved the union with Sweden, certain circles recommended war as a means of reëstablishing it; but the government and the political leadership worked for a peaceful solution and an agreement was reached which in time became the foundation for good relations between the two nations. During World War I, another "activist" movement urged that Sweden join Germany to liberate Finland; but public opinion overwhelmingly supported peace and neutrality. After the war, when the population of the Aland Islands, situated between Sweden and Finland, demanded annexation to Sweden, some politicians and newspapers made vehement statements; but the question was referred to the League of Nations and its 1921 judgment in favor of Finland did not strongly disturb Swedish public opinion. World War II from time to time brought danger of war to Sweden; the government was pressed to make certain dubious concessions which were strongly criticized (particularly the transfer of a German division from Norway to Finland through Sweden during the summer of 1941). In this period Swedish defenses were reorganized and the nation was prepared for armed resistance to more extensive German demands. Sympathy for the Allies was dominant, and particularly for the occupied neighbors, Norway and Denmark, but this did not lead to the formulation of serious plans for military intervention.

The reasons for this long period of peace are no doubt to be found in the geographical position of the country, in special circumstances such as the dependence of certain belligerents on Swedish iron ore (though in some situations that also constituted a temptation for aggression), and in pure luck. Occasionally one hears talk in Sweden, and perhaps even more abroad, about some particularly strong Swedish love of peace which is supposed to be responsible for the country's long avoidance of war. There seems to be no reason to credit this view. Obviously the Swedish government and people, like most governments and peoples, have desired peace, but the essential truth is that geographic position, national homogeneity and the absence of irredenta--for it would be an exaggeration to use this word to describe the Swedish-language minority in Finland--have reduced the danger of war and made nationalist aspirations seem absurd. Sometimes Swedes brag about maintaining peace during the conflicts with Norway in 1905 and with Finland about 1920, but thinking people realize that military action in either of those cases would have been most unwise, indeed criminal. Under such circumstances the maintenance of peace can hardly be cited to prove exceptional wisdom or exceptional morality.

The fact remains that the lengthy period of peace and neutrality has naturally affected Swedish public opinion and thereby helped determine the Swedish position. People believe in the possibility of continuing what has come to appear as a national tradition. Swedish opinion has also developed a kind of smugness similar to that of Americans in certain periods of their history. The idea that one's own nation is peaceful, well disposed and basically cosmopolitan while others are egotistical and stubborn is common among all peoples, at any rate in Europe. And naturally this view has manifested itself strongly in Sweden where there are so many apparent proofs of political virtue.

Sweden's domestic policy has been characterized by very much the same quiet and continuity as its foreign policy. On the basis of the constitution of 1809 the country has step by step achieved political freedom, universal suffrage and a parliamentary system wherein the government exercises the rights nominally pertaining to the monarch. Racial, ethnic or religious differences have hardly existed and have at any rate lacked importance; the economic crises of the last four decades have affected Sweden, but their consequences have been less severe than in most other countries; urbanization and industrialization, which came relatively late, have never opened up such a gulf between the classes and produced such fierce class strife as in most other Western democracies, and such dangers as threatened were limited relatively quickly by social reforms and social equalization. Since about 1920, which marked the definite advent of parliamentary democracy, the conflicts between the parties have gradually weakened. For the overwhelming majority of Swedes national unity, strong defense, complete democracy and social reforms have become fixed values. The Conservatives have given up their resistance to democracy and the Social Democrats have abandoned more extensive nationalization projects and written off Marxism.

Since World War I the Social Democrats have consistently been the largest party, with recently about 45 percent of the votes. They have been dominant in the government since 1932, during World War II in coalition with the other democratic parties and from 1951 to 1957 in coalition with the Agrarian or Center Party. The three non-socialist parties, the Conservatives, the Center Party and the Liberals (the People's Party), have commanded about half or close to half the votes, in about equal shares. The Communists, with 6 to 7 percent of the votes, have as a rule supported the Social Democrats, but it should be strongly emphasized that the latter have, with a very few exceptions, clearly renounced Communism and rejected the Communist demand for a people's front. At present the lower chamber of the Riksdag is composed of 45 Conservatives, 32 members of the Center Party, 38 Liberals, 111 Social Democrats and 5 Communists.

In Sweden the democratic parties concentrate their interest to an unusually high degree on domestic policy: details of monetary and commercial policy, the fight against inflation, the maintenance of full employment, support for the farmers (about 20 percent of the population), the shaping of social welfare policies. In these quiet surroundings foreign policy questions are apt to appear dangerous and disconcerting. As the parties are shaped by domestic issues, all try to maintain unity in foreign policy in order to avoid schisms within the parties and uncertainty among the voters. This explains why to a large degree the debate over foreign policy has taken place not in the Riksdag but in those newspapers which are more or less independent of the parties.

II

Sweden's entry into the League of Nations in 1920 was accomplished in the face of strong differences of opinion. No such differences appeared when we joined the United Nations in 1946. Nevertheless, there was only limited faith in the new organization, and, during the debate which preceded the decision to join, the statement was often made that the success of the venture would depend on unity among the large powers and that nothing in the Charter would have much value if this unity was disturbed. In general this attitude toward the United Nations has persisted. Nobody recommends leaving it, all admit its value, but most also emphasize its limitations. Among the political parties it is impossible to find drastically different evaluations of the United Nations, even though there often have been differences of opinion regarding decisions that the organization has made or failed to make. In general, the Swedish attitude to the United Nations is probably much the same as that of other democratic European nations, even though the election of a Swede, Dag Hammarskjold, to the post of Secretary General has somewhat increased interest in the organization and the tendency to praise its work.

When the planning of a Western defense alliance began in the spring of 1948, a lively debate commenced in Sweden, as in Norway and Denmark. From the beginning the Swedish government was against entering what later was to become NATO, while individual politicians and some large newspapers, particularly the largest of them all, the Liberal Dagens Nyheter, insisted that Sweden should participate. When the government in the spring of 1948 invited Denmark and Norway to negotiate a Scandinavian defense alliance, this was generally regarded as an attempt to counter the propaganda for NATO in the three countries. The negotiations did not achieve their goal, however, since Norway and Denmark insisted on some form of affiliation with the proposed Western alliance, and this Sweden refused. The consequence was that Denmark and Norway entered NATO in the spring of 1949, while Sweden remained outside.

The decision of the Swedish government was accepted by all the political parties even though a number of individual Riksdag members and some newspapers dissented. One factor in determining the attitude of the parties was no doubt a reluctance to cause disunity on a central question of foreign policy. Public opinion polls revealed highly divergent views. According to one such poll in the spring of 1949 almost every second Swede holding an opinion on this question (the Communists not included) favored joining NATO. As late as 1952 a similar investigation indicated that approximately one out of three democratic Swedes who had formed an opinion held the same view. During subsequent years, however, the question of entering NATO has become somewhat dated, even though the debate continues; and at present the probability is that the large majority--without much knowledge of or interest in the question--shares the view of the government and the political parties.

Those who defend Sweden's policy of neutrality--or, as it is officially called, the alliance-free policy--claim, quite simply, that to join NATO would increase the risk of war. Foreign Minister Östen Undén argues that, in the event of thermonuclear war, Sweden could neither affect the outcome nor be adequately protected by the alliance, while a conventional war would be very much like World War II and all the old arguments for Swedish neutrality would apply. His opponents declare that his reasoning presupposes that Sweden would run little risk of war as long as it does not join the Western defense alliance. Actually, this presupposition is completely untenable. For one thing it is possible that Russia might make an isolated attack on Sweden or make demands on Sweden that cannot be accepted without surrender. Or Sweden may become involved in a world war, particularly if Swedish territory becomes of importance in mounting attacks on Norway and Denmark or in defending them. In this view, the only way to limit this risk of war so far as possible is to join NATO, for then Sweden in time of peace could make effective defense preparations in collaboration with the other NATO countries, and in case of attack would be assured of assistance. As long as Sweden remains outside the alliance it is possible that the country could be attacked and occupied from the East without getting any help from the West; for the possibility of getting such help is greatly diminished unless it has been prepared in advance and can be given rapidly in accordance with prearranged plans. The critics of the policy of neutrality hold that Sweden therefore has just as strong reasons for joining NATO as did Norway and Denmark. They point in particular to the risk of Russia demanding parts of northern Sweden to make possible a rapid attack on Norway or, in the event of a large-scale war, demanding the right to pass Soviet Units through Sweden, just as the Germans demanded (and were granted) similar rights in 1941.

The advocates of NATO membership also point out that Sweden never can become neutral in the sense that it would react against demands or violations of neutrality with equal force regardless of whether they came from the East or from the West. Sweden's democratic and humanitarian character ties it unalterably to the West, and no conditions can be imagined which would lead Sweden in case of war to become an ally of the dictatorships of the East. This is just as well known in Russia as in the United States and England. Therefore, when the government talks about absolute Swedish neutrality this is a bluff which fools neither side in the cold war. In several debates cabinet members have been asked whether they consider it conceivable that Sweden would in any situation become an ally of Russia; it is characteristic that none has dared answer yes.

Such are the main arguments in the debate. However, I want to emphasize that a powerful reason for neutrality has been a fear that Russia might occupy Finland or stiffen its policy towards that country if Sweden were to enter NATO. This reason is rarely mentioned in the debate since it is supposed to irritate Russia; but it has certainly been of essential importance in shaping opinion in leading Swedish circles--probably more important than the arguments of Mr. Undén and others.

III

During the last few years the foreign policy debate, particularly as it concerns defense, has concentrated on obtaining nuclear weapons for Sweden. Swedish military men were long inclined to underestimate the importance of modern weapons; by tradition, conventional weapons were considered sufficient even though since World War II the defense organization has been modernized by the purchase of new aircraft and tanks. However, some newspapers, particularly Dagens Nyheter, have demanded for years that Sweden should have access to atomic weapons. Recently the same demand has also come from the military and has thereby become a main point in the debate.

Two reports by the Commander-in-Chief, dated the fall of 1954 and the fall of 1957, form the foundation for the debate. In the second of these he writes: "Obtaining atomic weapons [i.e. tactical atomic weapons] is the most important action to be taken to counterbalance too large a diminution of the effect of our defense in relation to that of an aggressor." The main reason is self-evident: we must if possible have weapons as efficient as those of an enemy, particularly since we must be assumed to be inferior to him in other respects. The Commander-in-Chief emphasizes that even if we have atomic weapons our goal can only be to have "our armed forces stop an attack for a sufficiently long time for us to get support from abroad before large parts of the country have been occupied or resistance has had to cease." Our defense can prevent the occupation of Sweden only for a limited time; therefore, under any conditions, help from abroad is necessary. Commenting on the 1957 report, Dagens Nyheter wrote that Sweden was spending 2,700 million kronor a year (more than 500 million dollars) for practically useless defense. "Continue to say, if you wish, that we should have no atomic weapons! But if you do, give as your reason that the Russian régime can be good also for the Swedish people, that we should surrender rather than fight--in order to become, after the surrender, the tools of the tyranny to which we have capitulated. Do not give as your reason that we could offer strong resistance without atomic weapons--it cannot be done."

The opponents of Swedish nuclear weapons have not offered a very consistent or complete set of arguments. It has been said that even if Sweden obtains tactical atomic weapons the country can nevertheless be subjugated by still stronger nuclear weapons; such reasoning suggests that we should have no defense at all since our defense never can be as strong as a Russian offense. It has also been said that the acquisition of atomic weapons could be construed as an unfriendly act and thus increase the danger of attack--to which the answer is that no matter what the Swedish defense looks like, no nation can begin war against us in the honest belief that we are preparing an attack. Probably more important than these arguments is the horror propaganda, which rejects nuclear weapons simply because of their dreadful effects. During the debate, too, a pacifist movement has appeared, which not only condemns nuclear weapons but condemns every kind of defense as meaningless or immoral; though not widely supported, this movement has probably influenced public opinion to a certain extent.

The powers-that-be have not made up their minds so far regarding the Commander-in-Chief's request for nuclear weapons, but the discussion has become spirited in recent months and a decision is expected during the coming year. The Conservative Party has clearly declared itself in favor of the new weapons and its leader, Mr. Jarl Hjalmarson, has promoted this view energetically. The Agrarian or Center Party appears to take the same stand although not in so unqualified a manner. Within the Social Democratic Party there are differences of opinion. So far no cabinet member has committed himself; different views seem to be represented within the cabinet, where resistance to atomic weapons is led by the Foreign Minister, the most convinced and influential spokesman of Swedish neutralism. Among Social Democratic women there has been intense propaganda against nuclear weapons, depicting their dreadful results and exaggerating the biological risks much as has been done in West Germany. The Liberals are also divided; statements by their leader, Professor Bertil Ohlin, have come close to supporting positively the procurement of nuclear weapons, but within the so-called free church organizations which belong to the party cadres there exist other opinions and even pacifist tendencies. There is reason to believe that the reluctance of the Social Democrats and the Liberals to take a stand is due in part to tactical considerations; they fear dissension within their own parties and the Liberals also fear that the Social Democrats would exploit the nuclear weapons question in coming elections. The Communists are of course strongly against atomic weapons for Sweden while continuously praising Russia for being invincible, precisely because of its atomic and hydrogen bombs. It is difficult to gauge public opinion on this question. In the latest public opinion poll, in the summer of 1957, 40 percent stated they were in favor of nuclear weapons for Sweden and 36 percent were against, with 24 percent doubtful. If the government and Riksdag were to decide to purchase nuclear weapons there is no doubt that the large majority would accept the decision.

There is also another aspect of the debate on nuclear weapons. Swedish atomic research has progressed so far that the scientists are ready to begin studying the production of atomic bombs, but special appropriations for this purpose have not yet been granted. It is believed that within seven or eight years Sweden could produce atomic weapons. Usually the discussion has turned on the issue whether there should be such production in Sweden. But many of those who support the idea of atomic weapons for Sweden think that the first step should be to try to purchase from abroad (initially from the United States) a variety of missiles so that in case of a Russian attack we could be supplied with the actual warheads. Critics of this suggestion argue that Sweden cannot obtain these weapons from the West and that in any event such an attempt would be incompatible with Swedish neutrality. Personally I am fully in favor both of Sweden joining the Atlantic Pact and of its purchasing atomic weapons. If we cannot become a member of NATO, then atomic weapons, whether produced in Sweden or obtained from abroad, would be a substitute, albeit not a really satisfactory one, for the relative safety which we would achieve through the Atlantic Pact.

However, I want to emphasize strongly that most of those who support the alliance-free policy and/or oppose Swedish atomic weapons have formulated their opinions without any tendency towards either pacifism or defeatism. All the democratic parties have stated forcefully that Sweden is to defend itself against attacks and that it is not to accede to demands either to give up any part of its territory or give up its neutral position. This combination of willingness to defend oneself and unwillingness to assure oneself of the aid or the weapons necessary for an efficient defense may seem unreasonable--and in my view it is--but it represents a strong and honest opinion within the leading political groups.

IV

A few words might be said at this point about Sweden's relations to the other Scandinavian states and to plans for European collaboration.

When the plans for a Scandinavian defense alliance collapsed, other means were sought to maintain and strengthen Scandinavian solidarity. In this respect the formation of the Nordic Council in 1951 on the initiative of the Danish Prime Minister was most important. The Council, which met for the first time in 1953 and since then has held annual sessions of a few days each, includes representatives of the parliaments and cabinets of the member nations. It is the practice to keep questions of defense and foreign policy off the Council agenda and therefore Finland has been able to be a member since 1955. The Council has of course no authority to take decisions, but it is entitled to make recommendations and has done so on legal, cultural and socio-political questions and on some matters pertaining to customs. The Council's most remarkable contribution has been in taking the initiative toward easing inter-Scandinavian traffic, with the primary result of making the member nations a uniform passport area. On the other hand, the debate on a Scandinavian customs union has not so far yielded any important results. It should be emphasized that the creation of the Nordic Council has no particular bearing on major foreign policy issues, as is clearly shown by the fact that beyond the borders of Scandinavia the member nations are working along completely different lines; nor can the Council bring about any change in this situation.

The Swedish representatives in O.E.E.C., in close association with the British, have strongly advocated that the mutual customs reductions and increased import quotas which the European Economic Community has begun to establish this year should be expanded to Western Europe as a whole through the creation of a free-trade area. Indeed, Sweden has shown an unusual diplomatic activity on this question. The reasons are self-evident. With its large foreign trade per capita, Sweden is to a marked extent dependent on its exports to maintain and develop its standard of living. About 70 percent of these exports go to Western Europe, including 34 percent to the Common Market countries. Scrapping the Western European tariff barriers would consequently mean an important advantage for Swedish exports if Sweden joins the market area, and just as important a disadvantage if it remains outside. Discrimination on the part of the Six against imports from non-member nations is therefore a grave matter. On the other hand, the increase in competition on the home market which would result from lower tariffs would be less severe in Sweden than in most other countries, because domestic industry has gradually been weaned away from tariff protection against foreign competition. From this point of view Sweden seems unusually well prepared for a common Western European market.

V

On the whole, the Swedish conception of foreign policy, of the leading powers and their relations to each other, shows many of the same variations and nuances as are seen in other West European countries. The Swedes have reacted strongly against Soviet aggression and threats, especially at the time of the establishment of dictatorship in Czechoslovakia, the Berlin Blockade, the Korean War and the Russian action against Hungary in 1956. In certain periods, such as during the Geneva Conference in 1955, there were illusions, as in other countries, about the possibility of a reconciliation between the parties of the cold war. Generally speaking, these illusions have abated as most people have come to realize that the Communist dictatorships hold to their purpose of continued expansion and are not inclined to make real concessions on any point.

Certain events and conditions peculiar to Sweden have served to increase the fear of Russia and the animosity to the Soviet régime. Several spy cases involving the Soviet Embassy in Stockholm have been exposed and Russian diplomats have been requested to leave. A matter of great importance in forming Swedish opinion was the Wallenberg case. A young Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, credited with having saved thousands of Jewish lives, was captured by the Russians when they took Budapest in 1945. The Russians long denied that Wallenberg had been kept prisoner, but in 1957 they admitted it, blaming the previous false denials on the late Minister of Security, Abakumov. At the same time they claimed that Wallenberg had died in 1947 in a Russian prison. The Russian lies and other circumstances make many people believe that Wallenberg is still alive as a prisoner in Russia. Again, the Swedes reacted strongly when the Russians shot down two Swedish aircraft in 1952 over international waters; the Russians denied the incident and refused the Swedish government's claim for damages. The so-called Peace Conferences which have been arranged in Stockholm by the Communists and their fellow travellers have served primarily to increase Swedish criticism of the dictatorships of the East; before the latest of these conferences in July 1958 the Swedish Federation of Labor, which includes practically all Swedish workers, declared that the conference was intended as a platform for the foreign policy and Party purposes of Communism and that there was no reason for the trade unions to give the conference "economic or moral support."

Naturally the United States and its policy have been much more discussed in Sweden since World War II than ever before. Opinion has been characterized by the same ambivalence as in other democratic states in Western Europe. The more conservative vacillate between the old prejudice against America as a culturally primitive country and strong appreciation of America as the fortress of economic liberalism and the most powerful defender of Western freedom. More radical opinion also fluctuates; sometimes America is seen as an example of democracy and social equality, sometimes as the last rampart of unchecked capitalism. However, it is obvious to most Swedes that without the protection of the United States the democracies of Western Europe would fall prey to Communist tyranny. Naturally, criticism of the United States has centered on such things as McCarthyism and discrimination against Negroes in the South; however, the decisions of the Supreme Court regarding desegregation have been of great importance in forming Swedish ideas of American society. There is a third point of view which tends to be ideologically neutral, putting the United States and Russia on an equal footing. It has adherents in certain intellectual non-Communist groups, but particularly since the events in Hungary in 1956 it can hardly be said to have had any influence.

Discussions of foreign policy on specific issues, especially Sweden's activity in the United Nations, have to a large extent been in terms of attacks on, or defense of, the Foreign Minister. Through his strong position within the Social Democratic Party, Mr. Undén is considered the indisputable leader of Swedish foreign policy. He has been criticized for exaggerated neutralism even by those who in principle advocate an alliance-free policy. This has happened on a number of occasions in response to positions taken by Sweden in the United Nations--for instance in July 1958, when the Swedish delegate opposed the United States and the Western nations on the Lebanon question. Certain statements by Mr. Undén have come in for violent criticism, such as his insinuation on one occasion that the United States was as foreign to Sweden as Russia, and his reference another time to "the so-called free world." Those actions and statements have been explained by the fact that through his socialist convictions he is truly neutral in the sense that he feels no strong affinity for the democracies; but more probably they result from Mr. Undén's conviction that the alliance-free policy precludes taking positions or stating views which in any way involve the cold war. Critics feel that as a result the Foreign Minister has presented Swedish opinion in a false light to the rest of the world; he has not emphasized sufficiently the indisputable fact of our solidarity with other democracies. But within his own party the tendency is to interpret his actions and his cautious and frequently dry statements as expressions of realism and statesmanship.

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