IN A RECENT VISIT to Uppsala, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson delivered a lecture that offered insights into Sweden’s stance on various critical issues affecting both Europe and the global stage. His discourse spanned the implications of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Sweden’s role within the EU and the wider world, the challenges posed by international relations, and the future of Sweden’s defense and foreign policies.
Hereafter is the recording of the lecture. For the Radio UF podcast, look here.
Europe and the Transatlantic Bond
Kristersson began by highlighting the unprecedented level of cooperation within Europe and the strength of the transatlantic bond between the EU and the United States, which, according to him, exceeded expectations and took adversaries by surprise. He emphasized the critical state of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, stating, “If Ukraine does not win this war and define the terms of peace, world peace in our part of the world is threatened for a very long time”. The Prime Minister underscored Sweden’s commitment to support Ukraine with military equipment, stressing the necessity of this support.
The European Union’s Role and Challenges
The Prime Minister candidly addressed the perceived shortcomings of the EU, particularly in its crisis response. He recognized the EU’s consensus on denouncing the terrorist attacks by Hamas and affirmed support for Israel’s right to self-defense within international law. He also stressed the EU’s unanimous stance on the need for humanitarian access to reduce civilian casualties in the Middle East. The Prime Minister emphasized the agreement on temporary ceasefires to facilitate this access, the release of hostages, the provision of medical care to civilians, and support for a two-state solution. He posited that these points, especially a two-state resolution, could pave the way for a return to serious discussions about peace in the region post-conflict. Nevertheless, he emphasized the importance of fully grasping the intricacies of the Israel-Palestine conflict, recognizing its significant challenges.
Sweden’s International Relations and Defense Policies
The Prime Minister expressed the belief that arms exports have been “surrounded by substantial regulations”. Despite this, the stance maintained is that arms export is necessary. The alternative would be that someone else undertakes it, and we end up purchasing. Sweden possesses technical capabilities, especially in underwater, aerial, and radar technologies, which are highly advanced and have served the country well, he says. However, there’s a reflection on the intended use of Swedish arms. Recognizing that these weapons are ultimately designed for use in dire situations, the importance of moral considerations in choosing buyers is acknowledged, supported by stringent legislation that is effective. The Prime Minister noted a shift in perspective towards sustainability, mentioning that previously, those engaged in sustainable investments would, for various reasons, avoid buying shares in the defense industry. This view has not been heard since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, noting that the weapon industry is regarded as highly important for national security.
The China-U.S. Dynamic
The Prime Minister concluded his remarks by addressing the complex dynamics between China and the USA, drawing on personal experiences of living in China and closely following its politics for decades. Since China’s entry into the global economy in 2001, there was significant optimism about its economic and technological development, and to some extent, political progress. However, the shift in governance around 2012-2013 marked a period of perceived deterioration in various aspects, including human rights. The Prime Minister observed that the United States, for both valid and questionable reasons, has grown weary of China’s competitive stance in the global market, accusing it of systematically violating World Trade Organization rules and blurring the lines between state and corporate interests to compete with Western nations. This has led to a focused American pivot towards the Pacific region, leaving Europe to reckon with its role and the importance of understanding and engaging with Pacific affairs to maintain the transatlantic link.
Emphasizing the need for EU and US collaboration to uphold democratic values worldwide, the Prime Minister also shared a personal affection for China, praising its vibrant society, entrepreneurial spirit, and cultural richness, while distinguishing these from the actions of its government. Highlighting the rise of the Global South, led by countries like China, on the brink of becoming the world’s largest economy, and India, with its vast educational and entrepreneurial potential, the Prime Minister stressed the West’s need for respect and understanding towards these emerging powers. Despite not dominating the global stage, the Prime Minister reiterated the belief in universal values such as democracy and equality. A recent visit to the United Nations General Assembly highlighted global tensions in the current “post-American world”, underscoring the necessity for withholding democratic principles amidst evolving global dynamics.
Sweden’s Approach to EU Enlargement and Foreign Policy
The Prime Minister touched upon the current complexities of EU expansion, highlighting the intricate process of admitting new member states. Recalling a recent visit to Kyiv, Ukraine, the Prime Minister met with students at the Kyiv School of Economics, who expressed concerns over the process of Ukraine’s EU membership application. This issue is slated for discussion at the upcoming political council meeting in two weeks, he said. With 27 countries needing to reach a consensus, the process is inherently slow, and the addition of a new member, increasing the number to 28, would only extend these discussions. This is a natural aspect of consensus politics. The European Commission has put forward a clear proposal for initiating negotiations with Ukraine, a country that has long been a candidate, as well as with Moldova. The Prime Minister suggested examining a map to understand Moldova’s current situation, praising Moldovan Prime Minister Maia Sandu for her impressive stance against Russian disinformation, and noted her proposition for a somewhat postponed start to negotiations with Bosnia. Reflecting on the EU’s origins with just 6-7 countries, the challenges faced then were significant, emphasizing that expansion is always a challenge. Sweden has long advocated for an open-door policy, similar to NATO’s, where if countries meet the criteria and desire membership, they should be welcomed on a merit-based system. Thus, Sweden will stand firm in supporting Ukraine’s right to join the EU.
By: Ellen Tove
Cover: UF Uppsala