Sweden – Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom Speaks on Feminism, Trump, & Sweden’s Future
Date: January 1, 2017
SWEDEN – FOREIGN MINISTER MARGOT WALLSTROM SPEAKS ON FEMINISM, TRUMP, & SWEDEN’S FUTURE
Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s Foreign Minister, on Friday in Ramallah, in the West Bank. Credit Abbas Momani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
By SOMINI SENGUPTA – DEC. 18, 2016
UNITED NATIONS — Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s top diplomat, has sought to advance what she calls a feminist foreign policy. What does that mean?
She says it is a way to use the usual tools of diplomacy to address three questions: Do women have equal rights? Are women at the decision-making table? And, are resources equitably distributed to women?
“A feminist foreign policy,” she said, “is an analysis of the world.”
That worldview will be put to its biggest test yet next month, when Sweden will begin a two-year term on the United Nations Security Council, including serving as the body’s president, just as Russia and the United States seem poised for conflict.
In her two years as Sweden’s foreign minister, Ms. Wallstrom has found that fulfilling her government’s left-of-center outlook can be tricky. Last week, she visited Israel, but was refused a meeting with Israeli officials, and met only with leaders of the Palestinian Authority. Sweden is one of a few countries that recognize Palestinian statehood, and her comments about Palestinians who resort to violence have been condemned by the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Last year, she criticized Saudi Arabia’s restrictions against women, spurring a diplomatic spat: The kingdom recalled its ambassador to Sweden and temporarily refused to issue business visas to Swedes. The move sent chills through Sweden’s business community. Saudi Arabia is an important trading partner, and Ms. Wallstrom is quick to say that relations have since normalized.
Ms. Wallstrom must contend with what she calls Russia’s “provocative posture,” and an incoming American administration that she worries is uninterested in international cooperation. Sweden has staunchly held out against joining NATO, the Western military alliance, and, until recently, its defense budget had been steadily shrinking.
As Sweden prepares for its term on the Security Council, I sat down with Ms. Wallstrom in New York to discuss President-elect Donald J. Trump’s foreign policy, the future of NATO and the international refugee crisis.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
As a feminist Foreign Minister, what is your message to Mr. Trump?
I will, of course, use the argument that this will make America great again: if he includes women and makes sure he works for gender equality. Without it, he will not be able to make America great again. It is smart policy. It is not just the right thing to do.
Do you think a Trump administration will continue to cooperate with Sweden on defense matters?
I don’t think anyone is worried they would proactively break a deal that is beneficial to both sides. I don’t think we should speculate. You should be judged by what you do. We just have to prepare. We have to stand our ground and present our arguments. We have to cooperate, and we have to insist on wanting to continue our close contacts.
Given Sweden’s concerns about Russian intentions in Europe, is nonalignment still the best policy?
We are an independent country that has chosen for 200 years to be militarily nonaligned. It has served us well. We have to be credible by also showing we are ready to defend ourselves. We have a worsening security situation in our neighborhood. It’s a threat to the European security order since Russia has illegally annexed Crimea. We see threats of the use of nuclear weapons. They have had a very provocative posture in our neighborhood, not that we see they are direct threats to our territorial integrity or our security. There are no direct threats to Sweden. But it’s a behavior that’s been very provocative.
Sweden has been deepening its cooperation with NATO. Will it ever join the alliance?
Right now, we are very comfortable where we are. We don’t want to be under a nuclear weapon umbrella, and we think we should stay militarily nonaligned. We are in a good position, especially now, when we don’t know what will happen with NATO with the new President in the United States or with Turkey being increasingly difficult, as well. There’s a lot of uncertainty. We don’t know what Trump will do with NATO.
Sweden opened its borders to more than 100,000 refugees in 2015, but has since scaled back. Will Sweden continue to welcome refugees?
It’s not as though we have closed our borders, but we apply a stricter rule book, so to say. We could not take so many people, especially so many children. We needed to have other European countries to step up. Those we gave asylum to are supposed to enjoy the same rights and opportunities and possibilities as those who have been living in Sweden a long time. This is our principle. We have to build houses, we have to make sure there are schools. We needed over 30,000 new teachers all over the country. In the end, you need also public support to continue to be generous. So you need a balance.
What’s your position on banning Muslim veils, as some European countries have?
We don’t have any rules about that. You can wear a head scarf. It’s not a problem.
Do you have any concerns about President-elect Trump?
The lack of conviction about multilateral solutions. Because most of the problems we see are global. If a big country or a superpower like the United States says it will not even honor its signature on the climate deal in Paris, that worries me a lot. We want to find solutions that are of mutual interest, that create a win-win situation with the United States. Engaging in trade will bring more jobs and a better economy on both sides. The trans-Atlantic link is good for security on both sides. And those are the arguments that we have to use, maybe not so much of ideology or party lines or values. Maybe that’s what he will understand best.