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Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström at Athens Democracy Forum

Athens, 14 September 2017. Check against delivery.

Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to have been given this opportunity to speak to you here at the Athens Democracy Forum – and on the eve of the International Day of Democracy. A most pertinent time and place for this conversation.

As many before me have noted, the idea of liberal democracy is being challenged. Many western countries are facing a crisis of confidence.

There seems to be a growing divide between people – and declining trust in elected officials. Globalisation has lifted many people out of poverty, but it has also left many behind – many of whom now voice their discontent at the ballot box or elsewhere.

At the same time, many emerging democracies are beginning to show signs of backsliding. In May this year, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs published reports on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in 135 countries. Unfortunately, the reports show that the situation is deteriorating in many parts of the world. At the same time, there are more armed conflicts and violence in the world today than in a long time. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program at Uppsala University, there are currently 50 state-based armed conflicts in the world.

There are many explanations for how we ended up here. Thousands of analyses have been made. But we don't have all night...

I do believe, however, that we can all agree that confidence in democratic institutions needs to be regained, on many different levels. Of course, measures need to be taken nationally.

To build confidence globally, leaders must put short-term self-interest aside, and work together to achieve the stability and security that people who voted for them rightly expect – to work for peace.

The inability of the international community to prevent conflict undermines trust in institutions such as the United Nations. Syria is just one example.

So, today I would like to talk about how the concept of security and the nature of conflict are changing. About how we should manage today's wide range of security threats to prevent armed conflict from breaking out. I will talk about how to invest in long-term peace for future generations.

First, I will say a few words about the need, as I see it, to change the mindset about security. I will then make three points on the action we can take.


Changing the way we think about security.

It may be trite to say that we are living in dangerous and turbulent times, but this is a fact that must be emphasised. Perhaps it has never been as difficult to deal with contemporary challenges as it is today.

More than ever before, our reality is characterised by complex and interlinked conflicts, threats and challenges. Be it the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons, the increasing tensions between Russia and the West, or the seemingly unstoppable Syrian conflict and the migration and refugee flows stemming from it.

And these conflicts and threats are far from the traditional conflicts of the past. Now we have non-state actors. Terrorism. Cyber warfare. It is harder to distinguish between beginning and end, and harder to distinguish who the winner is.

Against this background, it is unfortunate that in recent years the global conversation about security has increasingly focused on military spending.

There are about 65 million displaced people in the world today. This means immense human suffering. And it also threatens stability, not least in Europe. We have all witnessed the EU's inability to deal with large influxes of refugees.

By 2050, an estimated 250 million people may be displaced by climate change. That is four times the number of displaced people in the world today.

Climate change will make the world a less safe place in many ways. Lack of food and water is a great driver of conflict. It is high time we made the connection between climate and security.


So, what action do we need to take?

Firstly, we need to defend the multilateral world order and improve collaboration.

Many of today's security threats, including climate change and terrorism, know no borders. This is why we need to harness the full potential of multilateral platforms such as the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union to find common and sometimes global responses.

The Paris Agreement is one such response. The fact that almost every country in the world was able to agree that climate change is a real threat requiring global action is a historic achievement we should be proud of.

Yet today, the whole idea of collaboration and multilateralism is being questioned. Brexit, increased protectionism, abuse of the veto in the UN Security Council, and the US decision to leave the Paris Agreement are some examples. Actors in the international system appear to increasingly view the world from a transactional perspective – as a zero-sum game, where you can only win if someone else loses.

I do not share this world view; the fact that collaboration between nations often produces win-win situations and common security is well documented. The EU is one good example – perhaps one of the most successful peace projects the world has ever seen.

The multilateral rule-based world order came into being for a reason. The opening words of the United Nations Charter are: "We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war...". To achieve global stability, we must defend this world order. Might does not make right.

Real democracies, built on equality, trust and social security, are more resilient and much less prone to armed conflict. There can be no compromise on principles. We cannot achieve sustainable peace and security merely through political transactions. If we want to achieve real results, we must be guided by our principles and values. This is the smartest policy.


Secondly, we have to invest in peace. Spend money on the right things.

Si vis pacem, para bellum: If you want peace, prepare for war. Unfortunately, this well-known Latin proverb seems to resonate just as much today as it did in the 5th century.

Some people want to make us believe that buying weapons means buying security. But their business plan is flawed. Raising military spending to two per cent of our GDP won't make the world's security threats disappear. Perhaps we need an additional target: a spending target for investments in crisis prevention, development and economic cooperation – in long-term, sustainable peace.

This means encouraging countries to invest in security-building measures such as diplomacy and confidence building, foreign aid and development cooperation, multilateral cooperation and action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Diplomacy is the first line of defence. As US Secretary of Defence James Mattis said in 2013, while Commander of US Central Command: "If you don't fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition."

For most countries, military spending and proper military capability will of course continue to be a cornerstone of security policy. But there is no way military spending alone will solve the wide range of threats and challenges we face today.

Sweden contributes one per cent of GDP to foreign aid and development cooperation. Today, I am happy to announce that we are committing an additional SEK 225 million over the next three years specifically for long term investments in peace and security. This includes support for free media, women's representation, disarmament and strengthening the UN's work to prevent conflict.

Modern times require modern policy. Considering the many and varied threats and challenges facing present and future generations, the words to live by should be: Si vis pacem, para pacem: If you want peace, prepare for peace.


Thirdly, more women more peace

Gender equality is the unfinished business of our time. We know that when all of society is included, and both women and men have a voice, we stand a better chance of building a foundation for legitimate peace agreements that create socially and economically sustainable societies.

As some of you might know, Sweden has a feminist government and a feminist foreign policy. Half the population cannot be left behind if the aim is sustainable peace. Research shows that the probability of a peace agreement being sustained is 35 percent higher if women participated in the process, yet only 4% of the signatories of peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women.

Peace processes therefore inherently need to be inclusive. Women must actively participate in all decision-making processes at all levels and be active in defining priorities and resource allocation, in times of peace and in times of war. To put it simply: "Nothing for women without women."

To put words into action, I have initiated a Swedish network of women peace mediators, and Sweden is simultaneously taking part in the development of a Nordic women's mediator network. The goal is not only to strengthen our national capabilities but, more importantly, to cut across traditional divides and create cooperative networks with international women mediation teams worldwide.

As a member of the United Nations Security Council, Sweden works to ensure that women are present – in resolutions, statements and debates – in peace negotiations and operations.

Wherever I have travelled in the world, from Ukraine to Colombia to DR Congo, I have met brave women who strive to de-escalate violence and promote initiatives for peace, often in very dangerous environments where risks to personal safety are extreme. The work of these women is extraordinary and it deserves our full support and long-term commitment.


To conclude:

By changing the way we view threats, and taking a long-term perspective when we respond, we can prevent immeasurable human suffering and the huge monetary costs involved in managing conflicts after they break out. When we do this, we also restore confidence in the ability of leaders and the international community to do what is right.

I would like to end by quoting former US first lady, diplomat and human rights activist Eleanor Roosevelt: "It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it."

Thank you.