Independent Online

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Like us on FacebookFollow us on TwitterView weather by locationView market indicators

When it comes to Nato, neutrality remains progressive

Published May 19, 2022



As the world emerged from World War II, it looked to countries such as Sweden and Finland where the welfare state was in vogue. Much of domestic policy at the time was concentrating on forming partnerships or social compacts to rebuild whereas the developing world was more focused on freedom.

Story continues below Advertisement

In the foreign policy space, the world admired the noble Swedish stance on neutrality. As the international community fast moved into a bipolar world of the Cold War, Western countries, such as Sweden and Switzerland, stood out in their insistence on being neutral. No doubt, unofficial channels were open and opportunistic, but the official position inspired.

The Swedish international statesman and former United Nations secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjöld, once commented on this stance of neutrality. Addressing a gathering at Oxford University in 1961, he said: “The international civil servant cannot be accused of lack of neutrality simply for taking a stand on a controversial issue when this is his duty and cannot be avoided. But there remains a serious intellectual and moral problem as we move within an area inside which personal judgment must come into play.

“Finally, we have to deal with the question of integrity or with, if you please, a question of conscience… if integrity in the sense of respect for law and respect for truth were to drive him into positions of conflict with this or that interest, then that conflict is a sign of his neutrality and not of his failure to observe neutrality – then it is in line, not in conflict, with his duties as an international civil servant.”

Hammarskjöld’s solidarity with the developing world at the time was unprecedented for a UN secretary-general. In particular, we remember his contributions to the independence and work in the Congo as well as his advocacy against apartheid South Africa. Little doubt, his conscience and integrity drove him into conflict with those whose interests were contrary to the quest for freedom of the African people.

Another Swedish statesman and former prime minister, Olaf Palme, too insisted that “neutrality has never condemned us to be silent on world issues. Never”.

Speaking to a journalist at Time magazine in 1973, Palme went on to state that when Sweden “protested against Hungary, Czechoslovakia or the Berlin Wall in fairly strong language ”they didn’t hear anything from the White House about her neutrality“.

Story continues below Advertisement

“There is a long-term political objective,” continued Palme, “It’s all right for the superpowers to have detente. But one of the dangers is that if the superpowers have a detente among themselves they might feel free to push small countries around. The danger is this, that the enormous power of the superpowers will be a threat to the independence and right to exist of small countries. We have to speak up for the right of small countries to create their own future.”

Emerging from a Covid-19-ravaged international community which is fast moving into a bipolar world again, it would have been prudent to look to the neutrality stance of Sweden again and even its welfare domestic policy. Sadly, Sweden has abandoned this policy, with so many other progressive policies, since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Today Sweden, continuing on the path of the Right, is applying for membership of Nato, contrary to the views of international statesmen such as Hammarskjöld and Palme. Once a loadstar for the ANC, Scandinavian countries too have moved towards policies that favour the market instead of ensuring that the poor and marginalised of our societies remain the priority.

Story continues below Advertisement

Even worse, in the face of aggression by superpowers, smaller countries, as articulated by Palme, such as South Africa standing alone by not taking sides with the bullies in the playground and is mocked for wanting to be neutral.

If anything, the likes of international and inspiring Swedes, such as Hammarskjöld and Palme, must not deter us from continuing to take such progressive stands.

Wesley Seale has a PhD in international relations. He is also a Linnaeus-Palme scholar.

Story continues below Advertisement

Related Topics: