“Sweden doesnot currently see any signs that there will be a Russian military operation directed against it, but we can’t predict what will happen in the future,” Sweden’s Ambassador to Cairo Håkan Emsgård told Daily News Egypt (DNE) in an interview on Wednesday.
He added that Ukraine is not so far from Sweden geographicallyonthe map, and that Russia’s next step is unpredictable because the warring country’s current behaviour is very unpredictable.
“We don’t know what Russia might do against other neighbouring countries in the region. If something were to happen in relation to other Baltic countries, for instance. These are our immediate neighbours,”he said.
“We know in that case that the island of Gotland, which is situated just in the middle of the Baltic Sea, has a very high strategic importance. So, we have to consider that, and we have to take a decision to increase our defence capacity even before we join NATO. This will lead to 2% of our GDP being used in defence expenditures. And we will do this within the next five years, according to the plan.”
“We are taking these measures because, when it comes to defence and security policy, one has to think in the long term, even if the risk is manageable in the short term,” he concluded.
Emsgård’s remarks came in response to DNE’s questions regarding Sweden’s plan to join NATO. The interview also dealt with the most important issues and questions that the public have on the issue.
After decades of neutrality, Sweden has decided to join NATO; so, my question is why does Sweden seek to join NATO and why now?
The answer to that is very clear, this is happening due to the recent changes in the security situation in Europe.
Two things have happened from the Russian side, first of which is that they sort of demanded that other countries should take their interest into account when they choose what kind of security arrangements they should have, basically asking Russia for permission to join NATO.
Every country should be able to choose its own security arrangement or alignment, and that is a very important principle for Sweden.
The second thing that happened was, of course, the invasion of Ukraine. This invasion that is a breach of all the agreements we have regarding security in Europe.
After World War II, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was established for two reasons, the most important of which is that we do not redraw the borders of Europe via military means; we only change them through peaceful negotiations.
For instance, when Czechoslovakia split into two countries, this was done through negotiations that resulted ina peaceful agreementand separation.
The interesting thing is that when all these agreements were made in the 1970s, it was the Soviet Union at the time that demanded that allbordersmust not be changed.
There have been a lot of other diplomatic agreements that have been made after the end of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union divided between Russia and Ukraine. There were promises made from the Russian side that the territorial integrity of Ukraine would be respected.So, the current state of affairs disrupts the agreed-upon order we have in Europe.
How do you evaluate these changes in the security situation in Europe? Is Sweden re-thinking its stance on neutrality?
We have had a policy of non-alignment for a very long time. It has served us well in the sense that it kept us out of both World Wars. But now, we see that the situation has changed fundamentally in Europe, where we have one large powerful country that doesn’t respect the agreements in place.
So, the government of Sweden and the Parliament had to ask themselves what is the best way of ensuring the country’s security?Is it by carrying on in its non-aligned track? Or is it by joining hands with other countries?
Now, the broad majority in Sweden’s Parliament are with the decision of joining NATO. We have eight parties in Parliament, six of which — representing 80% of the Parliament’s seats — support joining NATO.
Those that are not in favour of joining NATO, what are their reasons? Will joining NATO make Sweden change its foreign policy?
Let me say that there are a few people actually arguing for this at the moment, saying that we should maintain our neutrality.
One of their arguments is that it gives us more leeway to act internationally, since we are an independent force in the world and can be mediators for the UN in these contexts.
I think that if you look at some other NATO member countries — for example Norway, Canada, and the Netherlands — you see that they act quite independently in many issues globally and in the UN when it comes to peacebuilding, disarmament, and engagement in Africa.
All these things are not mutually exclusive to being a member of NATO. I think it will be the same for us.
In terms of our foreign policy, this an important question; it is important to explain that just because we have joined NATO doesn’t mean that we will change the fundamental building blocks of our foreign policy or our support for the UN’s system. We will continue to be just as engaged in the Middle East and Africa as we have been before.
Our stance on the Israeli-Palestinian issue remains the same. We are one of the few European countries who have recognised Palestine as a state. Our efforts to mediate in the conflict in Yemen are still ongoing, and we are planning for a large conference with all parties involved in Stockholm in June.
So, there will be no change in our foreign policy.
It is known that joining NATO requires approval from all existing members, meanwhile, Turkey is opposing Sweden’s admission and claims that the reason is that the country has supported members of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).
DNE knows that Sweden denies this, but Erdogan said that he would block Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO unless they halt what he considers their support for “terrorist” groups threatening Turkey’s national security.
Erdogan is also demanding that Sweden extradite a list of people that Turkey has charged with terrorism. Moreover, he wants Sweden and Finland to publicly disavow the PKK and its affiliates and to lift their weapons ban on Turkey.
So, how will Sweden deal with these conditions, and in your opinion, what are the real reasons behind Turkey’s opposition?
This sort of view has been discussed many times. Also, I think that when a new country joins any international organisation —be it NATO, or the EU—these kinds of discussions often happen. So, we’re not surprised.
Incidentally, the state secretaries of the Swedish prime minister and the Finnish prime minister are traveling to Ankara today to discuss these issues with the Turkish leadership.
We said we are willing to discuss and talk about any issues that the Turkish side wants to discuss. We don’t see that this would necessarily have to be a problem. But of course, we need to spend some time discussing it and see if there is something we could do to facilitate this.
Concerning Turkey’s reasons, we could speculate about them for hours. However, of course, the Turkish perspective has to do with what is happening in their neighbourhood —Syria, for instance — and we know that fighting has been going on there for a long time, and that these may be important issues for Turkey. We will see what comes of today’s discussions.
Do you expect that these discussions will end successfully soon? Or will they take a long time? Also, will Sweden seriously consider Turkey’s conditions? Could these discussions result in an outcome in which Sweden decides not to join NATO?
It’s very difficult to predict, but of course there has to be room to discuss these issues. How much time this process will take, however, I don’t know.
Concerning your last question, I don’t think so.
What does Sweden plan to do if Turkey insists on its opposition?
The Swedish government has said before that it does not think debating issues in public is effective when trying to reach a solution. We will discuss the matter with the Turkish side away from the public eye.
Sometimes in politics and diplomacy, you have to discuss things in a closed setting to reach the best solution.
These are not new issues. They are well known to both sides. So, I’m pretty confident that a solution can be found.
President Vladimir Putin has stated that Russia will tolerate Finland and Sweden joining NATO but warned that the Kremlin would respond if the alliance installed military bases or equipment in either country. What do you think of this ultimatum? Do you think that Sweden could eventually be attackedby Russia?
No, we don’t expect that there will be a military attack from Russia in the foreseeable future.
You can say that since the beginning of the conflict, there have been many statements from the Russian side, some of which have been dramatic and some that have been less so; and it’s difficult to know what actually is in the mind set of Putin and his closest collaborators.
What we have noticed is that a few days ago, after we handed in our application in Brussels, Russian comments have been relatively measured. Russia has said that this was expected and that it is not problematic for it.
However, it also said that it reserves the right take whatever measures it deems appropriate as the situation develops. We don’t really know what these measures will be. But for us, it’s very important that any country — including Sweden and Finland — can decide on their own security policy. This is the basic principle, and that is the important thing.
How will Sweden support the world by being now in NATO?
I think in terms of security, we are already closely cooperating with NATO and our Finnish neighbours. What will happen now is that we will be fully integrated into the defence planning of NATO in this part of Europe.
We will of course contribute with the capacities that we have; we have a relatively strong air force for instance. We think that this will strengthen our security and the security of the entirety of Northern Europe.
Because when Finland and Sweden join NATO, I’m pretty sure that the remaining countries around the Baltic Sea will eventually join NATO as well.
News reports claim that some youths have rejected the idea of joining and took to the streets in protests, warning that the decision to join was made hastily.
Does the majority of Sweden’s citizenry approve of this decision? Or are they concerned about the possibility of the country being attacked by Russia?
If one were to conduct an opinion poll, they would see that support for NATO has increased a lot over the last few months due to the Russian invasion. Now, the majority of the population supports joining NATO, and a relatively small minority that is opposed.
We are happy to have people demonstrate and communicate their opinions on all issues, given that we’re a free country. I think this is a natural part of the process.