In Depth: The Definition of Disastrous Diplomacy

Today, Sweden seemed to be returning to a more traditional brand of diplomacy after the Minister for Foreign Affairs’s threat to intervene in U.S. domestic affairs by skirting around a democratically elected government. But just as things started to turn around, another leading Social Democrat decides to diagnose the president’s mental state. It seems likely that Sweden will stay on Mr. Trump’s radar – with potentially disastrous effects on Sweden’s public and private sectors alike.

“It’s good that we received an answer yesterday regarding what President Trump meant when mentioned Sweden in a  speech. We have ongoing diplomatic contacts with U.S. representatives and in the context of these contacts, we inform about the situation in Sweden concerning various matters”, Ms. Wallström said in an email to news service TT.

Ms. Wallström chose a less emotional path than before and tried to tone things down a bit. Unfortunately, this attempt was swiftly derailed by Marita Ulvskog, the Social Democrats’ top representative in the European Parliament. Although not trained as a psychiatrist, Ms. Ulvskog feels competent enough to diagnose Mr. Trump, stating that “he doesn’t act as if he’s mentally stable.”

Ms. Ulvskog has a background as a journalist and party secretary of the Social Democrats, and how she has gained proficiency as a mental health professional is currently unknown.

However, if previously received information is accurate and that it is true that the MFA is planning to start a campaign in order to protect Sweden’s image, it may prove that it is playing with fire. Today, we see an increasing number of reports that something isn’t right about the polished image that the government has been communicating in regards to many years of high-volume immigration, regardless of whether these are asylum seekers or economic refugees. Economist Dr. Tino Sanandaji’s recently published book “Massutmaning” is one example, the author and journalist Lars Åberg’s study of Malmö, “Framtidsstaden” another. So far, neither of these works are available in English.

If the government’s image deviates too much from what now emerges domestically, it risks not only widespread protests at home, but also to be contested internationally. With today’s information technology, the government has no leeway to communicate messages to other countries that isn’t picked up by the Swedish electorate.

Since 2014, Sweden’s foreign policy has been characterized by contradictory statements, often provocative, as part of Margot Wallström’s “modern diplomacy.” Her position on North Africa and the Middle East was framed in this year’s foreign policy declaration by announcing that Sweden now intends to appoint a special envoy for negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

This appointment was met with stark reactions in Israel. Not so much in terms of the envoy as a person, but rather based on Ms. Wallström’s departure from diplomatic protocol and the baffling resistance to facts which now characterizes the political leadership at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The fact that the MFA now backs down from its aggressive stance is a sign that someone has started to notice the potentially dire consequences this departure from protocol may entail. Sweden is now a big blip on President Trump’s radar, which likely entails that the country can forget about any special treatment from the United States for the foreseeable future. Conversely, Sweden is now at risk for the opposite kind of treatment.

Diplomatic protocol rests on centuries-long tradition. Something that, unfortunately, seems to have been lost on the “modern” ambitions of the Swedish MFA. 

A first step in conflict resolution is to for an embassy to ask the host nation’s ministry for foreign affairs (in this case the State Department) a question. The next step is to send a diplomatic note from the Swedish MFA to the embassy or the ministry in question.

Then, in rough order, the following events take place, usually at a brisk pace:

  • The ambassador is called up to the ministry.
  • Threats of trade sanctions are made.
  • Trade and cooperation agreements are breached.
  • Intervention is made into the other country’s internal affairs.
  • The ambassador and/or other diplomats are expelled.
  • Diplomatic ties are severed.
  • Trade wars or embargoes of various kinds are launched.
  • Open war is declared.

Sweden went from a highly emotional style of diplomatic communication, as indicated by Ms. Wallström’s threat of intervening into U.S. domestic affairs, to retreat in the face of a diplomatic crisis. It was probably a wise decision; the United States is by no means unaware of how Sweden has changed its position on the Middle East and North Africa since the Social Democrats and the Green Party took office in 2014. Israel, Saudi Arabia and some other countries have kept the U.S. State Department informed.

The relationship with Saudi Arabia has been cosmetically repaired by having Sweden’s head of state, King Carl XVI Gustaf, write a letter to the Saudi king and send the MP and aristocrat Björn von Sydow as an emissary to the court. This after Ms. Wallström’s baby steps in the foreign policy arena led to condemnation by Saudi Arabia and brought the relationship down to rock bottom, which raised uncertainties about Sweden’s position in the Middle East. 

The background to the crisis, which few remember today, are the interpretations of the letter of intent executed by former Swedish Minister for Defense Leni Björklund and Saudi Arabia in 2006. The agreement was a direct result of then-incumbent Prime Minister Göran Persson’s close relationship with President George W. Bush. There is a shadow agreement to this letter of intent between Sweden and Saudi Arabia; an agreement between the United States and Sweden that gives Sweden unique benefits not enjoyed by any other country, not even America’s closest NATO allies. The agreement gives Sweden access to advanced U.S. technology and computers that are otherwise subject to export bans — equipment with precisely those capabilities that the Swedish SIGINT agency, the FRA, need for their operations and which are not available from anywhere else in the world. The agreement includes a number of reciprocal commitments. One example is certain provisions included in the the first version of the “FRA law” that regulates Swedish SIGINT activities. In order for integration with U.S. databases, it was to include the collection of information regarding sexual orientation, which could be cross-checked with religious affiliation.

Another commitment is that Sweden must serve as an intermediary in the exportation of defense materials. Sweden can thus import sensitive technology inaccessible to other countries, develop it and sell it on to countries where the basic technologies are subject to export control measures by the United States Congress; legislation that can only be bypassed by executive order.

After Sweden insulted Saudi Arabia, which is one of the few countries that Israel has an R&D partnership with for solar energy and water purification, Sweden approached Iran. Iran has been the arch-enemy of Saudi Arabia for nearly 1,400 years, since the inception of the conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam. Its theocratic, authoritarian administration also shares the Muslim Brotherhood’s desire to wipe the state of Israel off the face of the Earth.

Both parties in the current Swedish administration, the Social Democrats and the Greens, have strong relationships with organizations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, it is no secret that Ms. Wallström’s political staff consists of several advisers with Iranian origin or descent.

This toxic cocktail, the close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and the rapprochement with Iran, is a completely new position that the U.S. administration must evaluate. Sweden is now, since 2014, moving in a direction away from Saudi Arabia and Israel towards closer ties with Iran, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. Turkey and Hamas both maintain close relationships or are in some way associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in the same fashion as Syria and Hezbollah are strongly linked to Iran.

Since Sweden is now a big, fat blip on Mr. Trump’s radar, it will likely lead to a reevaluation of the special relationship between the U.S. and Sweden. For government and business alike, the risk is imminent that Sweden will lose its special status, not least as a sanction for the government’s increasingly inimical position towards Israel. It also comes as no surprise that President Trump has taken note of the Muslim Brotherhood’s destabilizing role in the MENA region.

If Trump would put two and two together, Sweden’s approach to Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Muslim Brotherhood’s own activities, the consequences will reach far into the UN Security Council and all the way into the assembly halls of Sweden’s fighter jet, the SAAB JAS 39 Gripen.

Hence, it makes complete sense for Ambassador Lyrvall to, to the best of his ability, snatch the gas can out of Ms. Wallström’s hands and prevent more fuel being added to the fire. To do whatever it takes to play down the situation and get Sweden out of Mr. Trump’s field of vision. Such efforts are pointless when high-ranking Swedish officials keep insulting the U.S. president and his administration. Thus, we must ask the question:

Are the actions of the Swedish government causing irreperable harm to Sweden’s unique and beneficial relationship with the United States? 

Om författaren

Johan Westerholm
Johan Westerholm
Redaktör och ansvarig utgivare för Ledarsidorna.se. Fd underrättelseofficer med studier i politisk islam. Bott i Stockholm, Madrid, London och Boston men nu landat i Furusund.

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