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Sep 21, 2022

There is apparently a similarity between the forthcoming mandate period and the previous one, 2018-22: demonstrably shaky parliamentary government/parliament stability and a foreign and security environment packed with uncertainty and threatening trends, regionally and globally.

This was clearly the case for the then Social Democrat lead government, with endless cabinet crises and clouds of deteriorating security mounting, and such is clearly the case now for the expected Kristersson coalition government, (to be) formed in the shadow of spectacular Sweden Democrat electoral success. Or even more so. Extraordinary security and foreign policy challenges are impatiently waiting for a/the new government to start working.

Several, but not all, of these extraordinary challenges are directly and indirectly connected to and caused by the Ukraine crisis – Vladimir Putin´s catastrophic war with his southern neighbor, with both motives, objectives and outcome scenarios still hidden in a fog of uncertainty.

Yes, it is not all about the existential Ukraine crisis. There is, after all, everything that can and must be said about the long-term China challenge, in terms of global geo-politics, geo-economics and geo-technology. And then there is the clear and now present threats from climate change and further pandemic waves. In the political sphere there is the global threat to Western style liberal democracies from the rise of illiberal authoritarianism. Plus the threat from nuclear proliferation, regional wars and the continued threat of various kinds and degrees of terrorism.

But a large part of the challenges facing all Western governments, including that of Sweden, pertains to Ukraine and the Russian aggression that led – among the many things that Mr. Putin judged wrongly – to Sweden and Finland seeking membership in NATO.

So the NATO accession process is one of the demanding challenges now facing the new Swedish government, including what it takes – politically and morally – to come to grips with the Turkish government which has used/abused its veto power as NATO member to slam its own, special conditionalities as hindrance to the Nordics´ NATO accession path, threatening non-ratification in spite of the compromise Trilateral Memorandum agreed in at the NATO summit in Madrid in late June. Overcoming this unexpected hindrance in negotiations with team Erdogan in Turkey over issues of terrorism and arms embargos is, then, one aspect. Without Turkey´s acceptance of Sweden/Finland´s sincerity of implementation in terms of concrete measures there will, so Ankara maintains, be no parliament ratification, and without Turkish ratification there will, so NATO charter provisions rule, be no full Nordic membership, even though all remaining 29 members states´ ratification and support pledges are materializing fast. Looming Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections add to cloud of uncertainty.

But there is ever so much more to the challenges of NATO accession and adaptation, over and above this particular element of challenging uncertainty. Acceding to NATO will be a profound exercise of organizational, defense planning and also mental transformation, to be implemented in parallel with existing planning to enhance Sweden´s own defense capacity, military and civilian, under decisions already in place with a view to reaching the 2% expenditure target within few years. Adapting to NATO standards (facilitated by the preceding years of interoperability training as “enhanced opportunities” partner to the Alliance) will require adaptation to the overall NATO planning in order to deter Russia from further aggression and to help Ukraine to prevail in the current war – a complete novelty for the Swedish armed forces in the current crisis atmosphere and thus a tremendous challenge for the new government. So much for NATO.

But then there is the EU, similarly heavily, and perhaps more broadly,  affected by the Ukraine crisis, not least (but not only) in terms of the balance, or duel, between Ukraine solidarity and anti-Russian sanctions, on the one hand, and Putin´s retaliatory measures in the energy security field, on the other, the EU struggling with the Ukraine crisis implications as regards energy security and refugees and more while seeking to safeguard European and transatlantic unity and universal respect for the bloc´s core values. Decisions at summit level within the EU structures are pending and ripe for decisions, including as regards issues pertaining to urgently needed cooperation and division of labor between the EU and NATO.  The EU rotating presidency was occupied by France until mid-year this year, then/now by the Czech Republic, but as from New Year it is up to Sweden to carry on the task of EU presidency, with huge reform tasks looming and many, many meetings (in Sweden and in Brussels) to be organized.

It follows from the above, the combined challenge load from the NATO accession and the EU presidency in the context of a real and dangerous war occurring in Europe (and all the other challenges), that Sweden can ill afford spending weeks and months on government formation frustrations similar to the pattern of the preceding mandate period after the 2018 elections. Clearly, even in more normal, stable government circumstances to handle all these tasks would be near-tantamount to mission impossible, or something close to this. But a protracted government formation process would not make life for those involved, those responsible for what it takes to promote and protect Sweden´s security in troubled times.

Michael Sahlin