Speech from Tobias Billström

Remarks by Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström at the Atlantic Council

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Remarks by Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden Tobias Billström, held at the Atlantic Council 7 December 2022.

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Thank you for inviting me to speak at the Atlantic Council. What better place to lay out Sweden’s new foreign policy than here – at an institution that truly embodies the transatlantic spirit!

This past year has brought home with new urgency how much Europe and North America still need each other. The transatlantic ties are reflected in almost every important aspect of my country’s foreign policy.

I want to start by thanking the United States, both the administration and Congress, for showing strong leadership in these difficult times. Your solidarity and bipartisanship mean a lot, for Ukraine but also to foster unity in Europe.

And I am most grateful for President Biden’s strong support for Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership and the swift ratification by the U.S. Senate of our accession protocol this summer. NATO is more important than at any other time since the Cold War.

***

For us Europeans, the 24 February 2022 is a turning point.

History has taught us that the greatest dangers to European security arise when a revisionist power is challenging the geopolitical status quo, driven by imperialist ambition. This is what Russia’s war in Ukraine is about.

By trying to conquer Ukraine, the second largest country in Europe, Russia has demonstrated its utter disregard for the European security order, the will of Ukrainian people, and the Charter of the United Nations.

Make no mistake, if Russia succeeds in swallowing Ukraine, it will not stop there.

Firm and steadfast response from us is crucial. Ukraine has made heroic advances to liberate territory in recent months, and the war seems to have reached a critical stage.

But victory is far from certain.

We do not need to doubt anymore that President Putin is prepared to go far and take huge risks.

The remorseless Russian bombing campaign of residential areas, schools, hospitals, and energy infrastructure are an attempt to demoralize the Ukrainian population through massive terror.

Our hearts and minds are with those who are suffering from these terrible crimes.

***

Mr. Putin is betting that our support for Ukraine will wane especially as winter looms and energy prices are biting.

We need to prove him wrong. We will prove him wrong.

I want to be clear: Russia most not succeed.

Messages from partners that Ukraine needs to engage in negotiations risk reinforcing Mr. Putin’s conviction that time is on his side and therefore prolong the war. Whether to negotiate with Russia or not, and if so, about what, is for Kyiv to decide.

To support Kyiv in this endeavour is not only a moral obligation. It is also a precondition for a lasting peace in Europe.

We must stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes.

My government is convinced that we must double down on our support. We recently presented a new military support package for Ukraine worth 300 million US dollars – more that all the previous packages taken together. WE are giving Ukraine the air defence that it desperately needs. Ans we are ramping up humanitarian support.

But we are painfully aware that more needs to be done, and the Europe as a whole must step up and contribute more. This will be one of our top priorities as we take over the Presidency of the European Union in less than a month’s time.

***

There are fundamental issues at stake.

Geopolitics and identity politics on a global scale are dangerous sources of confrontation, especially when the two are combined.

This is the case with Russia’s menacing nationalism.

Mr. Putin’s war is also a war on our values, our system of governance, and the norms of international cooperation.

His vision – to establish a geographical and cultural sphere under authoritarian rule and Russian hegemony – is meant also to weaken the EU, NATO, and ultimately, press the United States our of Europe.

So, the outcome of this war is to shape Europe’s future.

That is why Russia must not succeed.

***

Our common response to the Russian aggression will have consequences also far beyond Europe.

Anything less than a Russian defeat in Ukraine would embolden Moscow and other authoritarian powers. It would further complicate this era of profound geopolitical shifts.

So, Ukraine may be the first of several tests of the rules-based international order that we all depend on for our security and prosperity.

Mr. Putin has explicitly and repeatedly referred to a transformation of the global governance architecture and the world order, which is a direct challenge to the current rules-based international system.

This notion of a system organized around regional spheres of influence calls into mind the 19th Century Concert of Europe, but on a global scale.

It would be a system where might makes right. And it goes without saying that it is a fatal environment for democracies, especially for smaller ones like Sweden.

Ukraine’s president Mr. Zelensky is right when he points out that his soldiers are fighting not just for Ukraine, but also for us. The first line of defence for open society and international norms are in cities like Kharkiv and Kherson.

***

We Swedes are again asking ourselves a basic question: how to best protect our open society, and open economic system, and an international order where the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states are respected?

We believe that many of the challenges facing us now can be best dealt with in close cooperation with our friends in the European Union and NATO, and other countries around the world who share our commitment to the rules-based international order.

With a dangerous war in the middle of Europe – and growing strategic competition also in the Indo-Pacific – security is a top priority for us.

But let me be clear: we will not turn our back on the global agenda – especially not in a time of energy crisis, economic distress, food insecurity, pandemics, and a climate situation which is taking its toll on people around the world.

We strongly believe in multilateral cooperation, including through our long-standing engagement in the United Nations. We have trade relationships, and innovative and competitive business sector, that benefit from an open world economy.

Our strong relationships with countries both in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere are an asset in these turbulent times.

***

An important part of Sweden’s foreign and security policy transformation is the paradigm shift underway to meet the threats facing Sweden and Europe.

We are strengthening our resilience, including by significant investments in our own defence capabilities. Sweden is committed to reaching NATO’s goal of two percent defence spending by 2026 at the latest.

Sweden, like the rest of the West, is also rethinking what Russia’s weaponization of energy and food means to our security.

And competition with China means that trade and technology are now part of a broader strategic agenda, with wide implications also for transatlantic cooperation.

The Swedish Prime Minister, Mr. Ulf Kristersson, recently appointed, for the first time, a National Security Adviser and I setting up a National Security Council to strengthen our whole-of-government approach to security.

***

Sweden’s NATO accession is an urgent priority for my government. We have embarked upon this journey together with Finland, and we look forward to jointly becoming Allies.

We are committed to fulfilling all parts of the Trilateral Memorandum of Understanding with Türkyie, including on counterterrorism.

We strongly believe that NATO membership for Sweden and Finland will strengthen our security as well as that of the Alliance and Europe as a whole. Sweden and Finland are security providers, with sophisticated defence capabilities and industries.

With Sweden and Finland as NATO members, all the Nordic and Baltic countries will share the same security platform. NATO will then be able to take a comprehensive approach to defence planning and security in Northern Europe, a strategic space stretching from the Arctic High North to the Baltic Sea.

And it will further strengthen Nordic Cooperation, a region which is already deeply integrated and competitive. The combined GDP of the five Nordic countries makes us the tenth largest economy in the world.

You can count on us to be dependable Allies, with a commitment to the security of the entire Euro-Atlantic area.

***

The European Union is our home and our most important foreign policy vehicle.

Sweden’s basic idea about Europe is simple: it needs to be stronger. This idea will guide Sweden’s EU Presidency.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine will influence all aspects of our EU Presidency. The EU has taken giant leaps over the course of the past year.

The most wide-ranging sanctions ever adopted by the EU are in place, closely coordinated with the United States. To strengthen them further is work in progress.

The EU has delivered 3 billion US dollars’ worth of military equipment to Ukraine, and financial and humanitarian support totalling 20 billion US dollars. I would however like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the crucial part played by the U.S. We would not have been able to do this alone in the European Union.

There is work to do on several fronts.

In Europe, we need a durable framework of robust defence and credible deterrence against further aggression. Here, the war in Ukraine has brought clarity: NATO is still indispensable for our collective defence.

A strong Europe and a strong transatlantic link are mutually reinforcing. Europe needs to take on greater responsibility for both European and transatlantic security. The EU and NATO should augment – not compete – with each other.

Another task, the consolidation of democratic values. That means resilience and enlargement. By keeping the EU’s door open to Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and countries in the Western Balkans, we are set on a course to expand and consolidate this space. And a future EU with Ukraine as a member will be a different EU. Will it move EU’s point of gravity eastwards?

***

We also need to enhance our geoeconomics resilience.

That means working out supply chains for energy and other vital resources and securing access to vital technologies.

On China, our interests are best served if Europe and the United States are closely coordinated. During our EU Presidency and beyond, Sweden will work to strengthen EU unity on China, improving our preparedness for the challenges that China’s assertiveness presents us with, while also maintaining engagement in areas of global significance.

To accomplish this, we have to solidify the transatlantic dimension of the EU’s China policy.

Because we recognise that the economic and security environment in the Indo-Pacific is of key importance to Europe’s future, Sweden will also work to implement the European Union Strategy for the Indo-Pacific. We will, of course, stress the transatlantic partnership.

Although we know that China’s partnership with Russia is of long-term strategic importance for Beijing, I believe that China faces a dilemma.

To support the Putin regime means to support an international outlaw. That is problematic for any country who cares about its standing in the world.

As much as we are competitors, China and the free democracies also have a great stake in keeping a modus vivendi on the global crises that demand a global response.

The clock is ticking on the climate challenge. It cannot be addressed without cooperation between the world’s largest polluters. The EU, with its 450 million people and one of the world’s largest markets, is key to Sweden’s climate policy.

Again, Russia’s war against Ukraine is creating new dynamics, in this case by speeding up the movement away from gas, oil, and coal.

And we should not forget that the most important trade relationship in the world is that between the European Union and the United States. Together, we make up 40 percent of the world economy.

Sweden is looking forward to working with the United States to strengthen our bilateral commercial ties. We have a world-leading technology sector and a strong track record of innovation in the green transition.

Through the EU-US Trade and Technology Council we have the chance to create a common transatlantic playing field, with rules, regulations, and policies. We are only in the beginning of that process, and Sweden’s EU Presidency would like to see a strategic agenda for this new forum of cooperation.

And we should resolve our differences, including on the Inflation Reduction Act and similar arrangements. The bigger picture is too important to let trade disputes between friends hamper cooperation.

And, finally, we need new coalitions of nations – reaching beyond traditional allies to those that share an interest in the preservation of a rules-based international system. Our friends in Africa, Asia, and Latin America all have a stake in this.

***

We are only in the beginning of a very long journey. And this is a time when it is good to have close friends. The free world needs to stay united.

On the issues that really matter, Europe’s and America’s interests overlap. Our bonds are strong and enduring. We Europeans need to work closely together with you – our American friends.

Thank you very much.