First of all, a brief description about what “neutrality” means. A country that has declared itself neutral means that it will not initiate or participate in any act of war. What it does not mean is that it won’t defend itself if attacked. Neutrality also includes not allowing other countries military access or bases and other stipulations regarding alignment. Sweden does indeed have a military and would, I suspect, defend itself valiantly if attacked, but the Swedish stance of neutrality has created peace throughout this land for over a hundred years – something not many countries in the world can claim.
The advantages of neutrality are obvious. No war. Also, the ability to remain outside of any alignment obligations during any lead up to war. Politically, it completely changes the discussion, negotiation and position for government officials, diplomats, ambassadors and representatives. 100 years of peace. Enough said, right?
As impressive as this peaceful reality is, as always with things political and global, it’s just not that simple. In discussions I have had with various Swedes about this topic, there are clearly some disadvantages to a stance of neutrality, though no one is questioning that this political stance is right for Sweden.
First and foremost, not fighting Hitler poses the obvious and massive moral question. Despite their neutrality, it is well known that Sweden gave safe haven to Jews from throughout Scandinavia and participated in other measures believed to help the Allied forces. However, it is also well known that Nazi sympathizers throughout Sweden (of which there were many throughout non-German Europe – power is frighteningly intoxicating) provided advantage to the Axis powers, as well. Perhaps some native Swedes with some historical perspective on this can share more in depth about the legacy of World War II, neutrality and Sweden.
Another disadvantage is the self-deception, particularly in young people, that accompanies a successful (read: no war) neutral stance. I get the distinct impression that many people here think they are somehow above war. That other, less civilized, countries are the ones that have to resort to war because they cannot figure it out diplomatically or as adults. After initially questioning the practicality and moral virtue of “neutrality,” I definitely believe it is important to have neutral countries that are willing to intercede from their position on behalf of many other nations when the time calls for it, but make no mistake, Sweden can be successfully neutral because other countries choose to fight. These countries working together with Sweden is a good thing, but neutrality is a convenience that only a few specially placed and specific types of countries can or should enjoy.
Another disadvantage of a neutral stance, similar to the first, is the message that is sent to all Swedish citizens. Neutrality is easily mistaken for isolation and isolation is easily mistaken for non-participation. And non-participation in today’s world is simply not an option. I am often concerned that Swedes, particularly the young people I work with, are satisfied letting the rest of the world just do it’s own thing and as long as everything is okay up here in Sweden, then all is well. Does neutrality inevitably lead to disengagement? No. However, there can definitely be an underlying sense of isolated arrogance up here that is perhaps one of the casualties of a neutral stance.
Sweden is well equipped to be a world leader in so many ways, and many of those ways Sweden does indeed rise to that challenge, but would there be a greater nationwide sense of responsibility and engagement without the neutrality tag?
I’ve said far too much to exclude my qualifier of “I’m no geo-political expert.” These are simply concerns, observations and considerations meant to provoke some thoughts and maybe even discussion on such a vital and all-important topic on Linköpinglivin’ (much less, in Sweden).
For those that are interested in more about the current flood of Iraqi immigrants into Sweden, the International Herald Tribune (the global daily English newspaper published by the New York Times) provided an interesting article last week which also included some accurate summations of the Swedish character:
Pictures above? What kind of pictures capture “neutrality?” I don’t know so I posted some pictures of me throwing axes and swinging from a 40-foot high trapeze (and the students who joined me) this past weekend. Here's to controlled and harnessed violence in a non-violent, neutral country.