The future of Sweden’s security policy – speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström at the Folk och Försvar Annual National Conference
Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström at the Folk och Försvar (Society and Defence) Annual National Conference in Sälen, Sunday 7 January.
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Your Royal Highnesses,
Soldiers and seamen,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour to speak here at the Folk och Försvar Annual National Conference. And it feels particularly fitting to speak about the future of Sweden’s security policy as we so clearly find ourselves in a time of historic upheaval.
Everyone in this room is aware of the major geopolitical challenges we are facing: Russia’s illegal attack on Ukraine and on Europe’s security. The war between Israel and Hamas. Tensions in East Asia. The use of economies and technologies as weapons.
Today, I would like to speak about how Sweden is navigating in these times of upheaval. Because in this formative stage, Sweden must be actively involved in shaping the future security of our neighbourhood and of Europe.
The most important expression of us taking on this responsibility is Sweden’s forthcoming membership of NATO. Membership of NATO will entail the biggest change in Swedish security policy in more than 200 years. And it will fundamentally redraw the security policy map in our part of Europe.
It will imply both great responsibilities and new opportunities to strengthen our freedom and security – not least for Swedish diplomacy.
Allow me to highlight a few aspects of this work.
Firstly: Our central starting point is that Russia will constitute a serious threat to the security of Sweden and Europe for the foreseeable future.
We must be realistic and assume – and be prepared for – a drawn-out confrontation that will continue for as long as Russia flagrantly breaches the UN Charter and the European security order.
International law is a cornerstone of Swedish and transatlantic security.
Our opportunities to influence domestic developments in Russia are very limited, but change may come quickly and without warning.
It is in Sweden’s interests to limit Russia’s strategic scope for action – militarily, economically and politically. And to invest in our own strength and cohesion. These are the guiding lights in Sweden’s policy within the EU and NATO.
Secondly: Our military, political and economic support to Ukraine will – as the Prime Minister said in the Statement of Government Policy – be the main task of foreign policy in the years ahead. Ukraine’s soldiers are also fighting for our security and our values.
Strong, predictable and sustained support to Ukraine is also our primary opportunity to restrict Russia’s scope for action. Sweden is a driving force within the EU for harsher sanctions and for limiting Russia’s possibilities to fund its war of aggression.
We warmly welcome the EU’s decision to open accession negotiations with Ukraine. This is a historic decision, and one that we worked hard to pave the way for, not least during our Presidency of the Council. EU enlargement is a geostrategic investment in peace, security, stability and prosperity.
Thirdly: Our guiding principle will be a solidarity-based alliance policy, aiming to enhance security and stability in our neighbourhood and the Euro-Atlantic area as a whole.
The cohesion and credibility in Article 5 are the foundation of NATO – politically as well as militarily. Safeguarding this cohesion means safeguarding the Alliance’s strength.
This is a core Swedish interest. Sweden will be a reliable, loyal and engaged NATO member. We support NATO’s 360-degree approach.
Fourthly: We will fully harness the opportunities associated with Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO accession in terms of strengthening security and stability in Northern Europe.
The key contribution that Sweden can make to defence in our part of Europe will be of fundamental benefit to the Alliance as a whole. Our geographical location and our military resources give us unique opportunities to contribute in a way that raises the threshold and enhances stability.
It is a matter of facilitating joint defence planning and NATO’s possibilities to act collectively in Northern Europe. This too is an integral part of a policy that aims to limit Russia’s possibilities to cause harm.
Fifthly: We will use Sweden’s seat and voice in NATO to increase our influence on a range of security policy issues.
One of my first decisions as Minister for Foreign Affairs was a reorganisation of the Ministry, one aim of which was to increase coordination on security policy issues. This is necessary in order to meet the demands now placed on us.
NATO enjoys political and military integration of unique depth. To have an impact, we must seamlessly combine political and military aspects in a range of areas into a coherent policy.
This is particularly relevant for NATO’s three core tasks: deterrence and defence, crisis prevention and management, and cooperative security.
It includes challenges related to regions such as the Indo-Pacific region, the southern neighbourhood and the Arctic.
It includes issues such as terrorism, disinformation and protection of critical infrastructure.
And it includes action on new and emerging threats, with an emphasis on technology and telecommunications, innovation and space issues and the ever-closer links between economies and security.
At the same time, we must continue to strengthen the EU as a strategic actor. Contributing in a spirit of solidarity to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and its broad toolbox is a natural cornerstone of Sweden’s future security policy.
Europe needs a strong EU, and NATO needs a stronger European pillar.
Sixthly: US engagement is indispensable for Sweden’s and Europe’s security, and must never be taken for granted. The bilateral defence cooperation agreement is of strategic importance and is a milestone in relations between our countries.
The agreement enables us to receive rapid and early US military support if our situation should deteriorate. We have designed the agreement to strengthen security for us, for the United States and for our neighbours. It is a deterrent and stabilising agreement.
The fact that our Nordic neighbours have similar agreements is an important expression of the security and defence policy consensus in the Nordic region.
Seventhly: As the strategic landscape in Northern Europe changes, foreign and security policy cooperation in the region can develop hand in hand with the closer defence policy cooperation I just mentioned.
The need is clear in light of the deteriorating security situation. And Finland’s NATO membership and Sweden’s imminent membership offer a historic opportunity. For the first time ever, all of the democratic neighbours in our region are choosing the same security policy arrangements.
This year, Sweden is presiding over the Nordic Council of Ministers and coordinating the informal cooperation between the Nordic-Baltic countries (N5 and NB8, respectively). Deepening security policy cooperation in our neighbourhood is one of our priorities, along with continued support to Ukraine and increased pressure on Russia.
All of what I have described is interlinked – our membership of and role in the EU and NATO, the defence cooperation agreement with the United States, support to Ukraine, Russia policy, and deepened cooperation between the Nordic-Baltic countries. These building blocks of our future security policy are individually important, but together they form an even more important whole.
As I said at the beginning, the conditions of Swedish security policy have fundamentally changed. Prioritising these issues is no longer a choice: it is an absolute necessity.
In this new landscape, and with the solidarity-based alliance policy as our guiding light, we are shaping Sweden’s security policy future within the framework of our means and together with our partners. It is a future in which we are part of a strong region, firmly anchored in the EU and in NATO. This is how we make Sweden more secure.