Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde at the 2022 Folk och Försvar (Society and Defence) Annual National Conference
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Ladies and gentlemen,
I have been to Ukraine many times. The last three times I have visited different areas along the ‘line of contact’, the border between government-controlled area and non-government-controlled areas. There, you experience up close how the conflict impacts people’s daily lives. Children have learnt that when they play outside they have to watch out for Russian mines, missiles and hand grenades. Very young children, who have yet to learn to tell the difference between a toy and a mine, can lose their lives or sustain life-changing injuries when a mine explodes in their hands. Every building calls to mind the thousands of shots that have been fired. The hospital I visited was falling apart. Schools were bombed to pieces. Roughly two million Ukrainians have fled the region, but not everyone has been able to. I met a family that has seen its entire village and family torn apart. It’s easy for us to forget that this conflict has already claimed almost 14 000 lives since 2014. That this is happening in a neighbouring country, just a three-hour flight from Sweden, is hard to comprehend.
I have condemned, in numerous contexts, Russia’s continuing military build-up along its border with Ukraine. Let me be crystal clear: the Swedish Government does not consider that Russia – or any other country – has the right to impede another State’s sovereign right to make its own security and foreign policy choices. The rules-based world order, underpinned by international law and multilateralism, is something we must protect and must not take for granted.
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We have just concluded a successful year as Chair of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
From time to time, the question arises as to what Sweden’s term as OSCE Chair has really meant for Sweden’s and Europe’s security. I can say that it has meant a great deal. Let me give you some concrete examples.
- The European security order and the concept of comprehensive security need to be protected. This is especially clear in light of the past month’s open questioning of this.
- The need for a platform for dialogue based on our common commitments is greater today than at any time since the end of the Cold War. The OSCE’s relevance as a forum for such dialogue was evident at the Ministerial Council in Stockholm in December. Around 50 foreign ministers were there and engaged in open and important discussions. In addition to the plenary sessions, roughly 200 bilateral meetings were held. We also adopted a decision that links the climate threat and conflicts. This decision means that the OSCE has a mandate to work on climate change and security, and identify where climate change can lead to conflicts.
- The OSCE’s role as a platform for conflict resolution has been extremely important, particularly for our efforts in relation to the conflicts in Ukraine, Transnistria and the South Caucasus, just as it was when hostilities broke out on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, although this received less attention. When the hostilities escalated, I initiated talks with the foreign ministers of the two countries concerned – before both Russia and Turkey did – to call for de-escalation and a diplomatic solution.
- As Chairperson-in-Office, it was important for me to visit all the field missions and meet with civil society organisations on every visit. I always highlighted their important perspectives. This has helped us shine a light on the OSCE’s high added value through its presence on the ground.
- As Chair, Sweden has worked to ensure that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea have remained high on the OSCE agenda. Nearly eight years have passed since Russia illegally annexed the Crimean peninsula. But the passing of time does not make this violation of international law any more acceptable. We have emphasised the importance of the OSCE being able to operate in accordance with its mandate throughout Ukraine. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine sees the challenges associated with this every day. For example, Russia has both disrupted the OSCE’s surveillance drones and sent interference signals to maritime traffic in the Port of Mariupol. All of this is of course unacceptable.
Sweden’s term as Chair has definitely made an impact that will endure.
Let me now look ahead and highlight some of our foreign and security policy priorities for the year ahead.
The link between climate change and security has become clearer and more tangible. The climate threat is also a serious security issue and will be one of my main focus areas. Climate security is about issues such as water scarcity that leads to conflicts over resources, about places on earth where people are not able to live, forcing them to flee. It is about extreme weather conditions that contribute to increased risks in society. In the Arctic, the ice is melting faster and faster. Interest in natural resources and new trade routes in the Arctic is growing at the same time as more and more military capabilities are being established. Foreign and security policy must take climate-related security threats extremely seriously. Those who turn a blind eye to this are making a huge mistake.
The European security order must continue to be protected. Russia’s express desire to deny other countries the indisputable right to make their own security policy choices and its attempts to recreate spheres of interest are unacceptable. There is complete agreement on this in the EU. And as far as Sweden is concerned, we are very clear: talks on the European security order affect our security and should therefore also include us. This is a standpoint that Sweden and Finland share.
Globally, Sweden stands up for human rights and civil society. Sweden has consistently draw attention to the increasingly serious situation for Russian civil society and stood up for human rights. Our two-track policy – which combines our principled approach to upholding international law and the European security order with our pursuit of cooperation in areas where we have an interest, and support to Russian civil society – is of great importance.
Sweden will always stand up for civil society. As everyone has seen, the situation in Kazakhstan is now deteriorating rapidly. The deadly and violent response to the demonstrations is cause for great concern. The underlying cause of the protests is genuine popular anger over deep-rooted corruption and the State’s inability to improve the life of its citizens.
Organised crime poses a growing threat to our societies. The underlying criminal structures are almost always transnational. The digital transformation of our societies brings an increase in cyber crime. That’s why, eighteen months ago, I appointed a special envoy on organised crime. A number of ambassadors are specifically tasked with working actively to combat organised crime. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is thus an active participant in the fight against organised crime.
International terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation are other areas requiring close international cooperation. Hybrid threats are occurring here and now. The list is long and includes cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns, investments in strategic infrastructure and attempts to instrumentalise migrants for political purposes.
China’s growing ambitions are among the greatest global challenges since the fall of the Berlin Wall. China’s rise presents Sweden and the EU with both challenges and opportunities. The Government’s approach to China is a holistic one – based on the Government Communication entitled ‘Sweden’s approach to matters relating to China’, unanimously adopted by the Riksdag – where the benefit to Sweden’s security must be the focal point and the benefit to Swedish society must be safeguarded.
The pandemic has also taught us many painful lessons: the importance of a better global health system, where access to vaccines unfortunately became a foreign policy instrument. Rich countries initially ordered more vaccines than they needed, which had a negative impact on global supply.
But the pandemic is also an ‘infodemic’, with disinformation being spread daily. Different regions of the world have been challenged by a whole gamut of false information. Over a six-month period in 2020, a UN study identified more than 250,000 messages with disinformation narratives related to COVID-19 in Ukrainian media and social networks. The ‘infodemic’ has directly affected the ability of Ukraine, and many other nations, to effectively protect human life and health.
The good news is that we have several tools we can use to manage the security challenges we face.
For Sweden, an EU that acts resolutely, stands together and acts on the basis of our shared values is indispensable. The EU is our most important foreign and security policy platform. The EU’s measures against Lukashenko’s instrumentalisation of migrants for political purposes are an example of such concerted action, in close cooperation with our partners. In twelve months’ time, Sweden’s will take over the Presidency of the EU, and we will be well prepared.
A strong transatlantic link is, and will remain, vital to European security. Sweden welcomes that steps are being taken to further strengthen cooperation between the EU and NATO. In October last year, the Government was able to welcome NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the North Atlantic Council to Sweden. The visit testified to our close partnership and further deepened our security dialogue.
The UN will also remain a cornerstone of Sweden’s foreign and security policy. The United States’ renewed commitment to the multilateral system significantly improves conditions. Participating in the military operations in Mali under the leadership of the UN and France is also a way of contributing to our security in Europe.
Sweden’s feminist foreign policy has gained considerable traction internationally. I am proud of that, not least because the women, peace and security agenda is important. It should go without saying that women must be included in all parts of a conflict cycle. But, unfortunately, there is still a huge need to affirm women’s and girls’ rights to security and to live free from violence, both in conflicts and in general.
In the current security situation, initiatives that lead to speculation about division and a changed security policy are not in Sweden’s interest. Let me be as clear about Sweden’s security policy as I was earlier: our security policy remains firmly in place. Sweden is not a member of any military alliance. An armed attack against Sweden cannot be ruled out. Sweden builds security together with others, while reinforcing our total defence. The Government’s deepened defence cooperation is an important part of this. Our close contacts with the US administration also reaffirm the value of a continued strong transatlantic link.
I visited Washington last week and met with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. She is now leading the US delegation at the talks with Russia, both bilaterally and with NATO. We spoke about this week’s meetings and I was clear about Sweden’s red lines when it comes to Russia’s proposals. In other words, Sweden’s security policy is decided by Sweden. This means, for example, that whether we choose to be militarily non-aligned or not is always our decision and not Russia’s. Furthermore, all proposals that entail restrictions on, for example, exercise activities – in terms of where, how and with whom we carry them out – are unacceptable. Sherman confirmed that the European security order is not negotiable and she emphasised the importance of the good and close cooperation between Sweden and the United States. She also thanked me for Sweden’s clarity regarding its priorities and for our work during our term as OSCE Chair. I also had talks with White House Deputy National Security Adviser Jonathan Finer on the same subject, and we discussed various scenarios that may become relevant.
Every nation must be able to make its security and foreign policy choices without outside pressure. Sovereignty is a cornerstone of a rules-based world order, and the Swedish Government will continue to protect it – both in our neighbourhood and globally.