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Swedish Neutrality: Stumbling into the Unknown Past

  • Wilhelm Agrell
Chapter

Abstract

After World War II, Swedish neutrality gradually became a way of life. For Swedes in general, neutrality formed a key element of national identity. With this self-image Sweden was regarded as the small (but not unimportant) peaceful country that wisely avoided war, believed in human rights, and kept itself neutral in the divided world. Neutrality was a good thing, an elevated position in world politics. Swedes were proud of being neutral; it was nothing to be ashamed of when other based their notion of security on threats for nuclear annihilation.2 Swedish neutrality was first and foremost an emotional concept. The support of neutrality by an overwhelming majority of citizens did not owe to its international or strategic raison d’être; 3 these supporters simply felt they were neutral, that it was a good idea, and that neutrality meant trying to stay out of serious trouble and still being able to speak up.

Keywords

Security Council Security Policy Armed Conflict Hague Convention Swedish Government 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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    This paper departs from two of my books, one on secret Swedish military cooperation with Western countries during the first post-war decades (Den Stora Lögnen, Stockholm (Ordfront) 1991), the other on the security policy problems of European integration (AlliansfriTills Vidare, Stockholm (Natur & Kultur) 1994).Google Scholar
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    Attitudes of Swedish public opinion are remarkably well documented. Since the 1950s the Swedish Board for Psychological Defense regularly conducted opinion polls on attitudes to world politics, foreign powers, Swedish security policy, and Swedish defense. Support for the official security policy gradually became almost total, only around 5 percent indicated a different opinion in the 1980s. For an analysis of defense-related opinion polls, see Gertie Elsässets dissertation Försvarsvilja och Framtidstro, Lund 1987.Google Scholar
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    While a vast majority supported neutrality, only a minority thought it would provide immunity against armed aggression. The ability of Sweden to stay out of a general European war was not regarded as high and was steadily decreasing (only 19 percent believed this in 1982). Kurt Törnqvist (1985): Opinion 85, in: Styrelsen för Psykologiskt Försvar, Stockholm, p. 14.Google Scholar
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    The exception was, of course, Korea which became a serious problem for Swedish foreign policy, solved by a non-combat engagement and the conclusion that Korea was a singular occurrence in the Security Council.Google Scholar
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    It is commonly taken for granted that a country cannot change its geographical dislocation. This is true in the logical sense. However, security policy is only to some degree restricted by logic; from the mid-1960s and onwards, the Swedish government redefined the strategic position of Sweden step by step from unfavorable and exposed to reasonably secure and protected by the Baltic Sea. This redefinition was carried out, even though development of military technology worked in the other direction.Google Scholar
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    This was especially the case after the return of Olof Palme to power in October 1982 after six years of non-socialist governments.Google Scholar
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    Att möta ubåtshotet. Ubåtskrankningar ock svensk säkerhetspolitik. Betänkande av Ubåtsskyddskommissionen, in: SOU (1983:13), Stockholm (Försvarsdepartementet). Wilhelm Agrell (1986): Bakom Ubåtskrisen, Stockholm (Liber). The main evidence of midget submarines were tracks along the sea bottom leading up to what was assumed to be the”print” of a W-class submarine. However, the new commission appointed in 1994 could find no conclusive evidence of any signal intelligence data related to underwater operations.Google Scholar
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

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  • Wilhelm Agrell

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