Neutrality as a concept and practice has long been conceptualised in IR theory as problematic. Broadly seen as the tool of small and weak states with dubious moral credentials, a limited understanding of neutrality has persisted from the Peloponnesian War to the ‘war on terror’. Furthermore, as globalisation and non-traditional security problems animate international politics, neutrality is seen as a policy of the past. This book argues that neutrality has been a neglected and misunderstood subject, limited to realist understandings of war and viable statecraft, and in doing so aims to uncover the normative strands of neutrality that mesh with identity, security and alternatives to the anarchic international order. Using Sweden as a case study, it explores the domestic roots of neutrality via a constructivist analysis, examining how neutrality is embedded in ideas of self, and part of a wider Social Democratic vision of active internationalism. Identity, however, is malleable and subject to change, and this analysis also considers the impact of globalisation and European integration, the end of bipolarity, and new security threats such as global terrorism on neutrality as an idea and a practice.
Tracing the origins of Swedish neutrality, 1814–1945
Exploring the advent of Swedish neutrality via a constructivist analysis, this chapter re-examines the ‘realpolitik’ explanation of its origins. It focuses on Sweden's demise as a great power in the region and the ensuing (conflictual) debates about identity that became tied to neutrality, before being adopted as part of the platform of the Social Democratic Party which considered neutrality an important feature of its idea of the folkhem(‘People's Home). Yet during the period covered in this chapter, neutrality was unevenly practiced, ranging from passivity to interwar activism in the League of Nations, and culminating in a widely-criticised ‘pendulum policy’ during the Second World War, which saw it favour first Nazi Germany and then the Allied forces. Sweden was seen as an isolationist, self-interested actor, morally dubious and profiting from war. This assessment was to have a lasting impact on Swedish identity and the future of its neutrality policy.
In the post-war years, Swedish social democracy developed into a hegemonic political force, and with it, neutrality took on a more defined meaning. Determined to ensure that neutrality would not be subject to the criticism it faced after the war, a ‘credible neutrality’ policy was crafted, centred around non-alliance, self-defence and consensus. Active internationalism characterised Sweden's foreign and security policy, and Sweden's ‘good offices’ as a neutral state cohered with domestic institutions such as the welfare state and the Swedish Model.
This chapter aims to reconsider the legacy of neutrality outlined in the previous chapter. With the end of the Cold War and the demise of bipolarity, the rationale for neutrality seemingly disappeared. However, neutrality persisted, despite expectations that it would no longer be a viable security policy option. This opened up intellectual space to question the limits of realist explanations in this context. By linking neutrality to identity via a constructivist approach, it is possible to explore how ‘neutrality is what states make of it’ rather than an isolationist, exogenously-determined security policy choice. Viewing neutrality through constructivism furthermore challenges some of the rationalist assumptions that have defined neutrality as a largely self-interested policy, uncovering the possibilities for understanding neutrality as a form of active internationalism.
Bildt, Europe and neutrality in the post-Cold War era
At the turn of the 1990s, domestic and external changes would make a decisive impact on Swedish identity and neutrality. Carl Bildt's non-socialist coalition broke the hegemonic position of the Social Democratic Party, instigating a new approach to the Swedish Model, Europe, and neutrality. Bildt wanted to steer Sweden away from the past towards a European identity where neutrality had no place. An equally powerful challenge came from the external realm, where the collapse of bipolarity appeared to make neutrality obsolete. The meaning of security expanded beyond traditional definitions that focused on the state. The 1990s was a significant period for neutrality per se as many neutral states struggled to understand their place in the new post-Cold War world. For Bildt, neutrality was no longer an appropriate way to describe Swedish security policy.
This chapter traces the development of neutrality from the Peloponnesian War to the Cold War in order to uncover the meanings and associations that became attached to the concept and practice. It examines its treatment in legal philosophy, its relationship to the rise of sovereignty, and the dominance of the realist conceptualisation of neutrality, which contained contradictory understandings of the place of the neutral state in the anarchic international system.
Swedish social democracy was presented with a new set of challenges in the 1970s and 1980s, both domestically and externally. As the Swedish Model faced ruptures internally, social forces challenged the established idea of Swedish identity and society nurtured by the Social Democratic Party. The possibility of European integration and shifts in Social Democratic ideology would pave the way for a reconsideration of Swedish identity that underpinned the consensus on neutrality.
This final substantive chapter considers the implications of European integration, globalisation and new security threats such as global terrorism for neutrality. Exploring the tensions between identity, security policy and the broader post-9/11 environment, it examines the likely shape and persistence of neutrality as a security policy, and the implications of its demise.
Although Bildt's government was short-lived, the impact of Swedish politics and society was not insignificant. When the Social Democrats returned to power, they steered Sweden into the EU. This presented a particular challenge to neutrality for a European Union that had ambitions to develop a common security policy.