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21st Century Challenges for the Baltic Sea Region and European Security

21st Century Challenges for the Baltic Sea Region and European Security

Speech by H.E. Dr. Björn von Sydow, Swedish Minister of Defence. Warsaw, March 6, 1998. Source: MoD, Stockholm.

Dear colleagues and friends,

Fairly few of us are young enough, not to have lived the greater part of our lives in the dark shadow of the Iron Curtain. Therefore, it is still a very pleasant sensation to cross the old division line that used to cut the Baltic Sea in two. I profoundly enjoy coming to Poland for the second time as Minister of Defence and to speak freely among friends in the heart of the new, liberated Europe. I would like to thank all those who are involved in and co-operate with The Nordic Forum for Security Policy for offering this opportunity of getting together.

Today, we Europeans live in an unprecedented period of secure peace. That is truly great. Several unfinished crisises in the Balkans are however sad exceptions, now particularly threatening in the areas with Albanian population. It all escalates in an unfortunately typical and traditional European way. One may, however, nurture a hope that the present international climate will prove lasting - that inter-state wars belong to the past.

Democracy is nevertheless dominating today. It should also not be forgotten that a foundation of that progress is the presence of military forces which, given the controlling eyes of civilians and cross-border openness, can reassure us about the sovereign rights of states and guarantee international law. The recent agreement between Iraq and the UN is another example of a principled victory for diplomacy against a background of military readiness by the international community.

Today’s hopeful situation in Europe is new, which has a history of war, war, civil war and again war. Europe has attempted many was to come to peace with itself. Balance of power gave some relief, but was very costly and only temporarily stable, as it presumed hostility, encouraged arms races and sometimes gave an excuse for dictatorship or infringement upon democracy.

The only viable security at the turn of the millennium is a common security. Willy Brandt must not be forgotten. He was a defender of freedom as the brave Mayor of Berlin and the Chancellor of reconciliation, and said in his last will: "Wherever people are being caused great suffering, it concerns us all. Do not forget, if injustice is allowed to continue for long this is opening the door for future injustice." Security can no longer, if ever, be built upon the expense of others. Independence and self-defence are first, but insufficient, steps. The key-words are co-operation and interdependence.

Today’s better order is not the result of war, but of a peaceful change from within. Therefore it does not need to nurture national resentments and desire for revenge. The Polish people and its Solidarity pioneered the search for freedom from foreign control and the terror of the Cold War, thereby taking much of the pain for giving birth to a new Europe and indeed a new world. We should never forget to appreciate that courage.

The quest for freedom in the Soviet empire gave birth to new states, that base their statehood on democratic legitimacy. Others, like Poland, regained lost sovereignty. And indeed, Germany - the long-time trouble-maker in Europe - could come together, creating a backbone for European peace. For the first time, Germany is now exclusively surrounded by friendly neighbours, and safely embedded in European and trans-Atlantic bonds. Nobody needs to fear the Germany of today.

The challenge is to make the same pattern spread eastwards, moving the frontiers of fully stable democracy - in just and safe societies - well beyond Poland and to take in all of the Russian Federation. I am rather optimistic, when I see the following factors at work.

Firstly, we live in democracy. For the first time ever, almost all peoples on our continent have political freedom and are ruled by freely elected leaders. A few exceptions are still there. We have serious concerns for Belarus. But we see that our pan-European institutions encourage and sometimes enforce the practices of democracy at the national level. Social despair is indeed breeding extremism in some places, but I believe that all Europeans have gained a taste for freedom that hardly can be suppressed again. The revolution in communications is also undermining possibilities for totalitarian control. Therefore, for example, the EU High Representative in Bosnia Carlos Westendorph so much supports the existence of free media.

Moreover, we have overwhelming evidence that freedom of political expression greatly enhances economic prosperity.

Secondly, market economy bind the countries together to mutual benefit. The enlargement of the European Union will speed up and consolidate that economic partnership, while the free movement of people and borderless economic activity make territorial control less interesting. The classical motives for war will be gradually eliminated, as there is less to gain and more to lose from such conquests. This process does, of course, not end at the shores of Europe.

Actually, the creation of new, smaller states and the political decentralisation we see in Europe have a paradoxical consequence. The new economic units have less ability to go alone. Smaller communities are ever more dependent on successful trade and the integration of its production with outsiders. Nationalist excesses are tempered by economic reality.

Thirdly, a common thinking is taking root when it comes to defining the future threats and risks to our common security. The bitter Bosnian experience has taught us a useful lesson, laying the ground for future joint efforts. One can hardly overestimate the political importance of having Americans and Russians, NATO members and non-allied, Europeans and non-Europeans working together to establish peace based on democracy and multiethnic co-existence. We are proud to have the Nordic-Polish Brigade at the heart of this formative operation.

This new thinking is expressed in a report on Sweden’s security that was presented to me two weeks ago by a cross-party parliamentary commission. On the commission members is present here. Mr Juholt, I would like to thank you! The report serves as a basis for developing and refining Sweden’s security policy and defence planning. The commission says the following and I fully agree. "The EU and NATO both have essential tasks to perform in the European security co-operation. The operations in Bosnia have functioned as a catalyst for the development of the ... Euro-Atlantic security system. [It] has hastened NATO reform ... [and] ... more clearly defined the roles [of] the different organisations."

They further note that the fundamental importance of the European Union for ensuring lasting security in Europe, as well as the importance of American presence and inclusion of Russia in all fields of co-operation. A central observation is that "The imminent enlargement of NATO ... will satisfy these countries’ aspirations [and] should provide the basis for greater security in Central Europe." We all know that Russia has opposed enlargement, but the coop-eration and restraint shown by NATO have kept the disadvantages for Russia to a minimum. I further quote: "A Europe that concentrates on structuring its military resources for crisis management and which, together with the United States and Canada, directs ... the dominant defence organisation increasingly towards broad security co-operation involving the whole of Europe, should be in line with Russian national interests."

These carefully worded sentences are taken from a text that is provided in full in this book to be found here at the conference. Yes, around the Baltic Sea we still find a wide disparity of solutions in terms of national security policy. However, while some concerns persist and question-marks remain, I believe that we are increasingly complementary in our respective roles and aspirations. We reinforce each others security by finding forms for ever closer collaboration in the military field for true defensive purposes, while making unfounded and misinformed suspicions impossible. Our co-operation within the Partnership for Peace, as well as our direct support for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and our increasing exchange with Russia are very important efforts in this context.

Let me finish by taking a look at the Nordic countries! Historically our area is not the idyllic one it seems today. For centuries Denmark and Sweden fought wars about the control over the Baltic Sea. Finland, Norway, Greenland, Iceland and the Faeroe Islands were all colonised and only secured their nationhood during this century. The Aaland Islands demilitarised, while Finland had to fight a war with Russia in order to retain its independence. Germany occupied neutral Denmark and Norway, while Sweden escaped the last world war and has had almost two centuries without war.

It is not so strange that such disparate experiences can produce different views of how to deal with war and peace. Anyway, today we live happily together and enjoy each others peculiarities without serious animosity. I believe that the same soon will be true for all of us. The Baltic Sea was a division line. That will fade in the memory and new generations can grow up around a Baltic Sea representing peace and prospering partnership. Refering to the development in the Nordic area and putting it in a historic perspective, we can be fairly optimistic. The Swedish government is committed to that vision.

Thank you very much for your attention!


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).