Speech by State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Annika Söder, Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs at Atlantic Council conference. ”Navigating a Multipolar Values World”


Washington DC May 30, 2018
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I would like to thank the Atlantic Council for arranging this conference and express my gratitude for the great collaboration we have.

The ambition with our cooperation with the Atlantic Council is to tackle strategic challenges that are on or beyond the horizon. This global values issues discussion fits the bill.

This a very difficult topic to discuss in times of turbulence and unpredictability. The chessboard seems to be changing every day, and almost as we speak. We also have different definitions of what values actually are. We consider them to be a corner stone in our policies – both national and international. For us, values are codes of conduct for behavior. They include rights and freedoms as laid down in national constitutions, in the UN Charter and other global and regional documents.

When we started to work on the multipolar values challenges some years ago, we lived in happier times. You all remember back in 2015 when we had the Paris climate agreement, the WTO was strong and respected and we had the Sustainable Development Goals that helped identify where we want to be in 2030 when it comes to prosperity, human rights, good governance and sustainable growth. Some leaders still focus on Agenda 2030, on the climate deal and on free and fair trade, while other leaders now seem to try to deal with the challenges of globalization through a more zero-sum game approach, isolationism and protectionism. For Sweden this is dangerous. We are a small highly developed and export dependent country. The more protectionism, the more our society will be challenged.

There are three sets of issues I would like to address. Where we are now, what we should ideally be doing and what we realistically can do.

We all feel the urgency. We see the rise in authoritarianism in countries such as Russia and China. But we also see copy-cat approaches in many other places. Therefore, we need to protect our global values.

This is basically about people having influence over their communities and empowered to shape their own lives. The questioning of Rule of Law challenges the very foundation of many states. Elected leaders are allowed to become authoritarian.

We have institutions that work on democracy. In Sweden we have an international institution called IDEA and we have an enormous research project at the University of Gothenburg called Varieties of Democracy. As we feel that democracy is a corner stone of values, we support their work and their flagship report that is called "Democracy at Dusk". They are trying to deepen the notion of democracy without changing the fundamental parameters. Democracy is about electoral principles, liberal values, participation, deliberation and egalitarian access. This means that democracy must also have to deliver. I must also have to deliver to the poor and you have to build a society for democracy to be sustainable.

There are lessons to be learnt. In many countries there are questions about this depth and breadth of democracy.

Turning to another data base, Freedom House, only 45% of the world's people enjoy "fully free" or "partly free" speech. According to Transparency International, the majority of countries are making little or no progress in ending corruption. 

Violent non-state actors are on the rise, both in the physical and cyber realm. Governments are used to dealing with conventional and traditional threats and challenges, but less nimble and fast when it comes to dealing with new threats and challenges. Institutions to do so have not been created. The war on terrorism has also challenged several universal rights and norms.

This worrisome development can be seen also in Europe and in the European Union, where growing intolerance and declining respect for the rule of law is seen even in some EU Member States. Extreme right-wing governments and nationalism is on the rise. European cohesion is nowadays a constant daily struggle.

Sweden has a feminist foreign policy and a feminist government. Gender equality is moving forward in both Europe and also in some authoritarian countries. But I can note that in a democracy such as India the number of women in the workforce has over the past ten years decreased from 43% to 27%, despite, or perhaps because of, economic growth. One has to ask oneself if the headway we are making on gender equality is also perceived as a threat by some and that there are forces wanting to counter equality, despite the fact that all research shows that full participation of both women and men in the work force and in all parts of society is economically beneficial.

Security perceptions and international law are also related to our values. We can see the authoritarian tendencies in many regions are also combined with dangerous approaches to security. We need to find ways to counter this challenge.

The US national security strategy talks of increased challenges from both China and Russia. We would agree with this assessment, and although they are very different, we note the trends when it comes to human rights and freedoms in both these countries. This is something we have emphasized in the Swedish country reports on human rights that we published last year. We can see tendencies when it comes to Russian behavior and international law, which challenge the European security order. I am thinking of Ukraine and Russia abiding by international law in Syria. We also note that China is not abiding to international rulings when it comes to the South China Sea.

We want all the bigger players to be responsible partners in the existing multilateral order. The international order also contributed to the way that China has been able to prosper and grow. This is something we want to convey in our dialogue with China.

According to the 2017 Economist Intelligence Units Democracy Index a majority of the world's people live under hybrid or authoritarian regimes. Only 19 countries, or 4.5% of the world's population, fulfill the criteria of "full democracies". I also note that the US, the shining city on the hill, is categorized as a "flawed democracy". This is of course very worrying. Democracy is a work in progress, for all of us. Democracy needs constant attention and it always needs to be re-conquered.

The Global Financial Crisis ten years ago, which in Asia is spoken of as the Atlantic Financial Crisis, proved to many that freedoms and liberties are not prerequisites, at least in the short term, for economic growth. The nexus of values, the economy and security is very important.

We need to act now in order to safeguard global values and principles. In five or ten years' time we may well be in a much more difficult situation.

It is about international law, which encompasses human rights and international humanitarian law. It is about coexistence and collaboration. This is also in defense of us smaller countries. Our first line of defense is to work together with others in order to create mutual well-being. It is also bout opportunities for citizens.

To me, the question is if there is a common sense of urgency and what coalitions are possible? The Nordics and countries such as the Netherlands, UK, Germany and Australia are often highly ranked when it comes to freedoms, electoral democracy, rights and lack of corruption. We need critical mass.

The EU is a powerful tool when it comes together and it is a powerful tool in safeguarding standards and norms. The EU was created not only to avoid wars, but to promote coexistence and values.

We hope to be able to work together with you on the other side of the Atlantic. The US shaped the world after the Second World War through the UN, the Bretton Woods Institutions and engagement for European and Asian security. The Constitution's First Amendment is still a powerful beacon.

Is the US willing and able to partner with Europe and leading democracies in order to defend and further universal values? And where do we find other allies? In Latin America or Africa? I can mention Botswana and Namibia as good examples, as is Indonesia.

I really feel we need to search broadly in order to find the appropriate allies for close cooperation.

Our starting point for rebuilding democracy must be human rights. In the UN Charter we talk of civil and political rights. We also talk of economic, social and cultural rights. Sweden has placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of decent work, labor standards and other aspects that have led the business sector to see this as a comparative advantage. Social responsibility is good business, as is sustainability and green thinking.

Can democracy make it back as a general tool?

The task of democracy is to create the best conditions in and for a country. It is also about having good collaboration on what the values are and mean. Power distribution by gender, socioeconomic position and social groups, not to mention universal welfare, education and health quality, have an impact on how representative our democracies are and how equal we are as citizens.

Through the Honorable Madeleine Albright, the Alliance of Democracies was founded. That Alliance has member that today may not fully abide by the criteria that were set from the start. Can we again bring such an initiative forward? Can we make our values and democracy more attractive to those who so far have not seen the beauty of it, or who have decided to move in another direction?

We see trade as a vehicle not only for bringing countries closer together but also as a vehicle for values and understanding to countries where these ambitions are still dormant. Today I fear that trade has become a major threat to coexistence. The the initiatives from Washington, and the Iran deal, the tariffs issues relating to China, are worrying Sweden and European Union members. There is a risk that trade differences and possible trade wars will undermine the international rules based system and increased uncertainty. It will make it more difficult to promote our values and democracy.

We have always felt that the TTIP and the TPP would be some of the most powerful tools to create collaboration and to safeguard the standards of trade and a level playing field in a common strife for growth and not least inclusive growth.

Let me also mention transparency as a tool to counter corruption. With corruption follows poor government, inefficient utilization of national resources, abuse of rights and freedom and poverty. Public access to documents is key. In Sweden it is compulsory for government to be very open with all that is happening in the public sector. Sweden introduced this transparency long before we introduced democracy, as early as 1766. I believe this is part of the Nordic comparative success when it comes to fighting corruption.

We see the global institutions as the main safeguards to standards and norms. New institutions, such as the AIIB, in themselves are not a problem. The problem is when new institutions play by other standards and old ones are being watered down and when basic rules are made less relevant.

The Atlantic Council is also doing great work with us on technology. In a way technology is in a separate category but it is having a major impact on values and norms, and our societies. Social media has a huge impact, as will artificial intelligence and the ability to target political messages and, in the wrong hands, to control citizens. Access to technology, from agriculture to computer literacy, may well become a question of rights and freedoms.

How important are the values? What values are we prepared to fight for? I would argue that we are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend our own country's way of life, our own laws, freedoms, rights and territories. If this is done in conjunction with others, we will fare well.

We are in control of our own laws and territories, we are responsible for our own societies and we are free to develop coalitions with like-minded states. We are free to negotiate trade deals and bilateral agreements and define what standards and norms apply to us or when doing business with us.

The question is if we can do this in greater coordination.

Another alternative would be to focus on shared global interests and skip the values discussion. Such a scenario would nationalize values. A world without global values and principles would be less stable, less predictable, less equal and much poorer and fragmented.

Let me commend the work Madeleine Albright and others are doing here at the Atlantic Council. A declaration of principles is a first step. But how do we make them attractive to others. Is it enough with criteria and scorecards or do we need to twist the arguments to be convincing.

I believe we need to talk to everyone. Dialogue is essential. I am sure there are some standards on global economic government, environment, trade and investment transparency where we will all be able to engage, also with countries that from our perspective consider to be authoritarian.

But this is not only for states, but also for businesses, cities, foundations and NGOs who share our concern and want to pledge to a certain standard. If states and other entities are prepared to take on the challenge, I am sure others will join.

Unpredictability is also a major enemy. Predictability creates trust. We need respect and individual rights. It is a fact that common security is not only about defense, but about working together. We must also make full use of the entities we have on the regional level, be it the AU, EU or OSCE.

We are at a serious juncture. Either we democracies work together, identify and hold on to standards for anti-corruption, human rights, the rule of law and democracy, or we will live in a world of fragmented values and where might is right.

If we fail to convey the message and if we fail to create a broad and grand coalition of high values, I believe future generations will look back and ask: "who dropped the ball?". The writing was on the wall back in 2018.