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Opinion piece from Ministry of Defence

The EU and NATO: Divided they fall

Published

This article was published in the Summer 2016 issue of Europe's World.

More than two years have passed since Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, and the peninsula has still not been returned to the sovereign state of Ukraine. Despite persistent Russian denials, regular Russian troops remain in Donbass, and Moscow continues to provide military equipment and training to the separatists in eastern Ukraine. The Russian aim is obviously to keep Crimea off the international agenda, let time pass and hope that this will simply become a fact of life. The intensity of the conflict in eastern Ukraine can be increased or decreased depending on what best serves the interests of the Kremlin at any given moment.The illegal annexation of Crimea cannot become the status quo. It cannot be written into our history books as something that just happened. The annexation and the Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine is the greatest challenge to the European security order. Russian actions against Ukraine go beyond aggression, they constitute a threat to the right of countries in Russia's neighbourhood to make policy choices of their own.

It is unacceptable that military force, deception and disinformation are being used to change borders in Europe in the 21st Century. Such behaviour is in direct contravention of the fundamental principles of the European security order laid down in the Charter of Paris for a New Europe and the Helsinki Final Act. Ukraine, as any other sovereign nation, has the right to make its own foreign and security policy, and to retain the integrity of its territory. We cannot accept that another country interferes with that right. Our European and transatlantic response should be united, firm and leave no doubt of our resolve to defend the European security order.

Tensions in the Baltic region have also increased in recent years. From the Russian side, we see large-scale military exercises and provocative behaviour around our borders. Snap exercises in our vicinity have become a regular feature. From time to time, we hear Russian officials produce statements regarding nuclear capability. The question is why they continue to bring this up? It is a very real concern for us. We are in response reinforcing our military capability and deepening our ties with partners from the platform of non-military alignment. The cooperation between Sweden and Finland builds on the intention that we will have the possibility to act together in case of crisis or war.

Russia, in all this, is testing the unity and resolve of the EU and NATO. What must absolutely be avoided is to give in to these attempts to sow division. Sweden, as a NATO partner, welcomes the increased defence measures taken by NATO in the Baltic, where the alliance has a key role to play ensuring stability and deterring threats. The US role in the Baltic is of equal importance in its own right, and has a clear threshold effect. We in Sweden welcome the US ambition to increase its presence in Europe.

We must avoid a situation in which existing international norms and principles are allowed to be watered down. We should also withstand any attempts at new grand deals on European security. This is not the time to rebalance the concept of comprehensive security. Respect for the UN Charter, the Statute of the Council of Europe and the OSCE principles, norms and commitments, including democracy, human rights and the rule of law are at the core of a predictable, rules-based European security order. We cannot give up on these basic principles.

On Europe's southern flank, five years after our hopes that the Arab Spring would bring about a better future, conflicts and crises are tormenting the region and forcing thousands of people to flee their homes. Sweden has been hugely affected by the migration flows. We are the largest per capita receiver of refugees in the European Union. We need to tackle the causes of people fleeing, but the many challenges we face in the southern neighbourhood point towards long-term destabilisation. The most urgent threat is Daesh and likeminded terror groups. Their unparalleled brutality in Syria, as well as the atrocities committed in Europe most recently in Paris and Brussels, is against everything the transatlantic security community stands for.

From Sweden's perspective, the future of regional peace and stability depends on the EU, NATO and the US together defending our basic values. Only as a united transatlantic community, ready to stand up for our values and principles, will we be able to contribute to global peace and stability.

Peter Hultqvist, Minister for Defence