Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström at Managing complexity: Addressing societal security challenges in the Baltic Sea region
Stockholm, 11 June 2018. Check against delivery.
There is a strip of sea that glimmers grey at the sky's end,
it has a dark blue wall that looks like land,
it is there my longing rests, before it flies away home.
The poet Edith Södergran, 1916. Doesn't she capture something that many of us have in common: a slightly melancholic relation to the sea, our sea, the Baltic Sea?
Södergran was born in St Petersburg, lived in a Finnish city which is today part of Russia, spoke German and wrote her poetry in Swedish.
A true Baltic person, active during a time when our continent was torn asunder by tensions. World war, civil wars.
Remembering this is a good backdrop for my address today. Södergran reminds us of how closely linked our countries have always been. And her era reminds us of how fragile stability can be, if we do not cooperate to maintain it.
I will focus in this speech on our common security, and how we can act together to enhance it. After giving my view on the notion of common security, I will mention three points, or rather three levels, where I think we can do more to create security.
The security situation in our region is more tense than it has been for a long time. The European security order is threatened, mainly by Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and its aggression in Eastern Ukraine. In the Baltic Sea we are seeing more exercises and rearmament. We are also experiencing how activity in the hybrid and cyber domains – such as disinformation, trolls and hacking – pose new challenges for trust and cohesion in our societies.
The Swedish response to this new environment is threefold. We are strengthening our national defence, we are deepening our cooperation with others, and with our military non-alignment as point of departure, we carry out an active diplomacy and security policy.
The notion of security has many dimensions. During this conference, the focus will be on the broader aspects of security: about threats and challenges that don't care about borders or national flags.
These security threats – be they climate change, epidemics or the nuclear threat – affect us all, and we need to act together to face them.
The response that I want to promote is that of common security. Of building security together.
The Baltic Sea region is a good example of cooperation for common security. We have several organisations, including the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Nordic Council, where our countries meet and engage in practical cooperation.
And in times of tension, it is even more important that these organisations function as platforms for dialogue and cooperation.
Now let me point to three areas where I believe that strengthened cooperation between our countries would be beneficial for our common security.
Firstly, it makes sense to start with the individual. The world is, after all, made up of individuals and peace begins in the minds of people.
People-to-people contacts are the first building block for common security. When we travel, make friends from other countries, learn new languages and get to know new cultures, we stop looking at others as 'them'. This kind of understanding between people is a necessary condition for common security.
There is already a great deal of people-to-people exchange in our region. Erasmus programmes and other opportunities for exchange studies in our different countries. Funds for cultural exchange, sports. Both the CBSS and Barents Euro-Arctic Council have a clear youth focus, which I support fully.
I try to do my share: whenever I speak to youngsters in Sweden I say, "learn Russian", "read Icelandic authors", and so on.
But much more can be done. I think that the CBSS and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council should discuss how to promote the movement of young people between the member countries, perhaps even produce an action plan.
I think we should all look at how to make higher education even more accessible to young people in other countries around the Baltic Sea.
And I often talk about the idea of creating a youth corps to give young people an opportunity to work as volunteers to meet different needs in society – such as environmental or social issues. Perhaps this could be done in a Baltic Sea states setting?
Secondly, if we zoom out a bit, there is the societal level. I would argue that the stability of our region is linked to the stability of our societies.
We must give issues such as social inclusion, welfare, equality and gender equality a place in the discussion about security policy.
When we talk about resilience – isn't an equal society with high trust and low corruption more resilient in the face of any challenge?
Don't such stable and secure societies pose less of a threat to other countries?
There is cooperation on social issues, for instance in the work to fight trafficking and violence against children in the CBSS.
I would like to see more. An increased exchange of knowledge and experience, for instance, when it comes to the design of social security systems, the promotion of gender equality, and the integration of new groups and minorities into society.
Or more exchanges between researchers on welfare politics and security policy.
Thirdly, the planet.
This is where the notion of common security originally belongs. We are destined to live on this planet together. And, once again, we have no choice other than to survive together.
How many of you are grandparents? I became a grandmother a few years ago. And honestly, if I knew I'd like it so much, I would have wanted grandchildren before I had children.
When I became a grandmother, the future became even more important. And no issue is so crucial to the future of my grandchildren, for humankind, as the climate.
We see the changes already. The melting Taiga. The melting ice in the Arctic. How our Sami populations are affected by changing weather conditions. The last few weeks in Sweden have broken all weather records, and although it is hard to complain about a Mediterranean climate in Stockholm, the aftertaste was bitter.
Climate change issues are high on our regional agenda. Work is under way in the Barents Euro-Arctic Council to create climate action plans and reduce environment hot spots. In the Arctic Council, cooperation is under way among researchers. We have done a lot of work on the environment in the Baltic Sea.
But frankly, when it comes to the climate, this fateful issue, we owe it to our children and grandchildren to do all we can to mitigate the changes in temperature and the effects on us. We can only do this together.
To make our peoples feel safe and secure is the core task of any government. In all we do, we should ask ourselves – how do we act to maximise our peoples' safety and security?
Safety and security – in Swedish the word 'trygghet' better captures this – reproduce themselves. If my neighbours feel safe and secure, I will be safer. Growing insecurity, on the other hand, creates a downward spiral. Perhaps that is what we are seeing in the world today.
Common security is not a zero sum game. It increases the more we build trust, the more we cooperate, the more safety we build as individuals, as societies, as humankind.
I sincerely hope that this conference will be one step further in achieving this.