Two distinctly different foreign policies

The Swedish tradition in foreign policy is largely the product of such Social Democratic leaders as Olof Palme. At the opposite extreme is the Conservative Party and its leader, Carl Bildt, whose career has been strongly supported by the United States security establishment and its NATO allies (see A Cold Warrior's Transfiguration).

Through Olof Palme's life and work there ran a common thread which makes it fairly easy to summarise his foreign policy. With Carl Bildt and the Conservative Party it is a bit trickier, since they have often been forced to retreat in the face of strong public opinion and/or an accumulation of facts that are difficult to explain away. In most cases, the problem has been solved by giving lip service to a general principle, while sending out completely different messages in the form of diverse reservations and criticisms. For example: It is a pity about apartheid in South Africa, but it is a long way off and really none of Sweden's business; Pinochet's coup in Chile was perhaps not the best solution, but the whole thing was actually Allende's fault; the United States may have got a little carried away in Indochina, but the whole thing was actually "North" Vietnam's fault; etc. etc.

The following comparison is based on Carl Bildt's and the Conservative Party's original messages, which may be assumed to convey their basic positions, as well as the underlying messages in their criticisms against the foreign policy of Olof Palme and the Social Democratic Party.*
     PALME/Social Democrats        BILDT/Conservatives

in the
As a tiny country trapped between two competing superpowers, it was in Sweden's self-interest to actively promote international law, not least through participation in such institutions as the U.N. As a tiny, insignificant country, Sweden must look to its own best interests and concentrate on strengthening its position in the immediate vicinity, primarily through EU membership.

Given its special circumstances, Sweden had a responsibility to do everything in its power to reduce tensions between the superpowers, whose conflict threatened all the people of the earth. This was possible only by maintaining as neutral a stance as possible; otherwise, the nation's credibility would be jeopardised. In any event, there was never any shortage of criticism against the Soviet Union. Since the Soviet empire was evil, and the USA's is good, it was necessary to openly embrace the latter. This meant, among other things, co-operation with and eventual membership in NATO, along with a constant ideological onslaught against the Soviet Union. Criticism against the U.S. is almost never justified; that of Palme was largely injudicious and dangerous "anti-American Third World romanticism".

and the
arms race
  Both must be forcefully opposed. The Palme Commission's proposals for "common security" and a nuclear-free zone in Central Europe were adopted almost word-for-word by Soviet leader Gorbachev when he initiated the disarmament process that continues today.    "The only problem with the balance of terror is its name," wrote Carl Bildt. Palme's policy served the Soviet Union's evil purposes and would inevitably lead to "common insecurity". The U.S.'s resolute armament policy was the only way.

Third World
  During the Cold War, the Third World underwent a transition from victim of predatory colonialism to primary arena for the superpowers' violent competition. Simple humanity and the entire world's security demands that the rights of self-determination and socio-economic justice apply even to these countries, regardless of which superpower may be displeased.   Sweden has no business in the Third World, other than that of capturing market shares. Every nation must see to its own affairs, and they do that best with market-liberal policies. Palme's meddling in foreign lands was futile and/or ridiculous, and it mainly benefited communist dictators. Foreign aid is usually wasted money, as in the case of the children's hospitals in Vietnam and Nicaragua.

South Africa
  Apartheid was an abomination that had to be fought with every means available. The trade embargo that resulted in the removal of the white regime was largely the work of Olof Palme, and the SDP contributed significant financial aid to the ANC.     Too bad about apartheid, but it was not Sweden's business. The trade embargo damaged Swedish industry. Both Palme and Nelson Mandela were wrong to insist on it. It would never occur to Bildt or the Conservatives to support the ANC.

Middle East
It is not possible to resolve the conflict without justice for the Palestinians-- a standpoint that first angered many Israelis, but has now been widely accepted. Sweden has for decades played a key roll in the peace process. The Palestinians are terrorists who do not deserve recognition. It was scandalous to allow Arafat to speak in the U.N. The Bildt government abandoned Sweden's long-standing mediator role, which was then taken over by the Social Democrats of Norway.
Etc., etc. . . . 

    Al Burke
November 1998