Sweden

Mistral and Sweden’s security

Ever since the announcement of the controversial Mistral arms deal between France and Russia on Christmas Eve 2010, the Swedish press has been publishing articles about the implications of the deal for Baltic security, and Sweden’s security in particular. On January 7 Dagens Nyheter noted that concern about the sale of the Mistral assault ships to Russia was high because these helicopter carriers can be used for landing operations – presumably in the course of a military invasion. Bo Pellnäs, a Swedish defence analyst, commented that although the carriers will be based in Murmansk, they can be moved anywhere. This, against the background of reports that Russia is to increase its military expenditure by 60 percent, and last fall held its largest military exercise in the Baltic Sea since the 1980s, is giving rise to fears in Sweden that the country’s security may  be compromised.

On January 5 a member of the Swedish parliament, Mikael Oscarsson, requested a statement from Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on what the deal means for the security of the Baltic Sea as a whole. Oscarsson also said that it was necessary to ask Russia about the purpose of the invasion capability, and that a tightening of Sweden’s defence with Poland might be needed.

Now, in an interview published in the Swedish current affairs journal Världen idag (The World Today), Oscarsson says that his concerns are heightened by the internal political situation in Russia in the aftermath of the recent unsolved murders of journalists and the sentencing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.

"We need greater cooperation between Sweden, Poland and the Baltics, but we should also invite Russia to talks. I’m not one of those who say that the Russians are coming, but we cannot assume that anyone else will defend us. Therefore, we need to respond and ensure that we have a fleet that works."

In Poland, Polskie Radio has taken up Mikael Oscarsson’s question, and there are reports that the military ties between Sweden and Poland may strengthen in response to Russia’s investment in the new warships.

he U.S. think tank and news agency Stratfor’s East Europe analyst Marko Papic says that just five days into the new year Mikael Oscarsson’s question to Carl Bildt shows that the geopolitical map may be redrawn.

"The area of Sweden, Poland and Russia will be crucial for European security and political issues in 2011," he said in a statement.

Reading matters

The interesting blog of Swedish military historian and defence analyst Lars Gyllenhaal continues to provide thought-provoking insights into aspects of Nordic and European security, past and present. with references to little-known and little-publicized historical, literary and other documentary sources. Among recent posts to the blog are:

  • a review of a book called If Germany Had Won —  53 Alternative Scenarios, with a chapter containing speculations on questions such as what might have happened if Sweden had been drawn into the Winter War of 1939-40, or had said no to Hitler in 1941.
  • a dissection and general Fisking of the 9/11 “Truth Movement”, with some unexpected words from Noam Chomsky.
  • an examination of Russia’s new defence policy in the light of a recent BBC report, and a look at one puzzling recent development.

Lukyanov in Stockholm

Tobias Ljungvall took notes during a recent speech given at a Stockholm seminar by Russian political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov. As Tobias observes, Lukyanov more or less reproduces the Kremlin’s current view of world affairs and of Russia’s role in them [my tr.]:

1. Russian foreign policy under President Medvedev has not undergone any fundamental change compared to the foreign policy that prevailed under Putin. The differences in nuance can be partly explained by the fact that Medvedev is a different sort of person.

2. Russia is not like the Soviet Union, partly because it lacks an ideology.The loss of empire in1991 was worse than other countries’ similar experiences (e.g, Britain’s loss of its colonies) as the lost areas were extensions of the country and some were a part of the national identity. The building of the Russian state began many centuries ago in Kiev, and therefore Russia finds hard to accept that Ukraine should join NATO.

3. A key concept is the so-called multi-polar world. The United States’ attempt at hegemony has failed but has made the world more unstable because it cannot rely on international law any more. Relations between emerging new poles will shape the present century.

4. While in the West the Kosovo war of 1999 was perceived positively as proof that it was possible to defend human rights by force, Russia’s interpretation of the Kosovo events was that national sovereignty no longer applies in the world. Russian public opinion turned its back on integration with the West and Western ideas of morality.

5. Instead, Russia was forced to strengthen its own capability. The only real guarantee of sovereignty for Russia is its nuclear weapons. In the absence of the former capabilities of the Soviet Union, Russia has also politicized gas and oil, in a way that Lukyanov thinks ultimately does most harm to Gazprom itself. The Soviet Union never mixed business and politics in the way that is now happening.

6. So now Russia is trying to avoid new gas conflicts with Ukraine. Today it is only Ukraine’s President Yushchenko who tries to provoke them. But hopefully after the elections which are due to take place in two months’ time Yushchenko will go into political retirement. 

There is more.

Second thoughts

The board of directors of Norges teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet (NTNU) in Trondheim have unanimously decided to reject the proposal for an academic boycott of Israel, Haaretz reports:

The vote resulted in total victory,” said Professor Bjorn Alsberg, a member of the board of the Trondheim-based Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Alsberg, a chemistry professor, led a campaign at the Norwegian city against the boycott.
He said that the vote to boycott Israel – which drew condemnations from Jewish organizations in Israel and elsewhere – was rejected after none of the 11 board members objected when NTNU Dean Torbjorn Digernes suggested scrapping the motion from the board meeting’s agenda.

Meanwhile the Jerusalem Post writes that Swedish journalist Donald Boström has “reevaluated his position” on the matter of claims that the IDF harvested organs from dead Palestinians:

According to the report, Bostrom recently canceled his participation in a Beirut conference, the goal of which was to slander Israel.
Sources close to the journalist related that Bostrom’s recent visit to Israel and the fair dialogue he held at a Dimona conference caused him to think twice about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Fighting back

On November 12 the board of directors of Norges teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet (NTNU) in Trondheim will vote on whether or not to declare an academic boycott against Israel. The chairwoman of the board says that while she opposes the move, she will not move to cancel the vote.

The university’s rector, Torbjørn Digernes, has already drawn strong criticism for his decision to hold a series of seminars at which only one viewpoint – hostile to Israel – will be heard. Comments on this, and on the boycott project, can be read on the rector’s webpage, where he calls the seminar series “a praiseworthy enterprise”.

Professor Yossi Ben-Artzii of the University of Haifa has written to Rector Digernes protesting the boycott, Ynet reports, and

stressed that Israel is an enlightened state, and that any attempt to impose an academic boycott on it can only stem from lack of knowledge or a wrong perception of the Jewish State. An academic boycott will only hurt academic freedom, while curbing intellectual progress and undermining universal values.

Meanwhile, YNet also reports that the Swedish journalist responsible for the Aftonbladet article

accusing the Israel Defense Forces of stealing and trafficking in Palestinians’ organs, was received Monday with boos and shouts during a panel he took part in at a media conference held in Dimona.

The Swedish reporter said that he understands the anger and explained that his infamous article only claimed that the Palestinian families’ allegations need to be investigated. He also said that there was much misunderstanding surrounding the article. “The fact is that the families said what they said. That’s a normal article,” he said.