Categories: Archive

Winter Skies, Frozen Seas and Northern Shores VIII: Sweden (part 1)


The Vikings made ashore in a land where tall green pines stand covered by snow. They join with the others who had been advancing by land having started the journey long ago. Both groups had begun their travels from the south, following the shoreline northwards. The men discuss the next steps to take, whether they carry on northwards or send the ships home to the South. It is a difficult decision; both places are important for them. The north promises vital resources to send home but pushing on into the unknown is daunting. But the quest they are on, to avoid or prepare for a possible Ragnarök, the Twilight of Times, was given by the Gods. The prospect freezes them and they ask themselves if they are ready to defend or prevent such terrible event. And yet there is no decision to be made. They must, because the strong howl that can be heard carried on the wind from the east might be the sinister Fenrir or Garmr, coming ever closer. Even the Naglfar, the ship made from the nails of the dead, might be sailing in the nearby with the terrifying Jörmungandr lurking beneath the water. The men shiver. They do not wish to see the terrible face of Hell.

Sweden and the Arctic/High North: Yggdrasil

Currently, Sweden is facing a similar situation comprising three issues: the Importance of the Arctic and the Northern Region (Lapland) for the Security and economy of Sweden; Russia being a northern actor (along with its attitudes towards Sweden, the EU and NATO); and the geographical and strategic importance of the Baltic. As a matter of fact, all of the three are interrelated and pose a serious challenge for Sweden, the most important being the integrity of the country. And following the recent events of Ukraine, the Russian intervention in Crimea and its annexation, evidencing Russian willingness to use the military force for the sake of its interests and its expansionist ambitions, this challenge or risk is manifesting itself strongly.

First of all it is essential to review the importance that the Arctic and the High North (in this case, the Lapland region in Swedish territory) has for Sweden in many areas, from its economy to its national defence, and also to point out the interests that the country has in the area(s). This to assess why a country like Sweden would have interests in, even if it does not have a direct access to, the Arctic and why in the end the Arctic or the High North matters for Sweden. This first article on Sweden will focus on topics other than defence, which will be reviewed in the next article.

The ties between Sweden and the Arctic provide a basis for the strategic priorities of the country in the region and serve as an argument for Sweden to consider itself as an Arctic state, despite the fact that it does not have a coastal territory on the Arctic. The first tie is of an historical nature: the consideration of the Swedish powers of Lapland as part of the realm and the interaction with the Sami people since the Middle Ages, and the resultant colonization towards the northern areas, together with biologic and botanic research. Other activities related to research have also been carried out by Sweden in Svalbard, as well as mining, and by the 1980’s and early 90’s Swedish icebreakers reached the Pole to execute research activities and the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat was established (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2011).

The second tie is related with security in the area: Sweden recognizes the influence that the Arctic has on the country’s security. For instance, the Cold War placed Sweden and its Lapland Arctic region between the interests of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Today this situation takes place in a similar way with the US and Russia. Sweden, however, thinks that there is no significant high level of risk in the area given the US – Russian Reset Initiative and the frameworks drawn up by the Arctic Council, plus the border agreement between Norway and Russia in 2010 at the Barents Sea.

But the presence of economic resources and new shipping routes in the Arctic means the rise of new security and strategic chances and challenges. An interdependent Europe makes Swedish security policies be more oriented towards cooperation, an example being the Nordic Declaration of Solidarity which will be discussed later (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2011).

The third tie is in the economic realm, where Sweden is making investments in resource extraction, fisheries and wood-related industries, along with reindeer herding and hunting. Also, research and development projects in the Arctic allows the country to cooperate for a more effective resource use with the private sector. For example, the space industry is based in the northern parts of the country, and Sweden has expertise in Arctic shipping and vehicle testing. Tourism is also being developed in the area (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2011).

The fourth tie is related with climate and environment, given the fact that the Swedish climate and environment are part of the Arctic and are affected by it. Extreme weather has an impact on Sweden’s society and infrastructure, as well as its native cultures.

The fifth tie consists of the research made by Sweden in engineering, natural sciences, social sciences and humanities being carried out by various Swedish institutions and organizations for the past 150 years.

The sixth and final tie between Sweden and the Arctic is the native people, the Sami, who have lived in the area for centuries and whose cross-border existence have allowed Sweden to reach various agreements with its neighbours, Norway especially, in this matter (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2011).

Along with the aforementioned ties, Sweden has great interests in the area that inextricably links the country to it, thus every event in the arctic will have a knock-on effect. In a general sense, Sweden aims to keep the Arctic a low political tension area, to strengthen the Arctic Council as a forum for discussing Arctic related issues as well as the Barents cooperation, while enhancing a common policy and specific projects. Sweden also aims at contributing to an EU Arctic Policy while promoting the EU as an important cooperating partner in the region, utilising in turn the cooperation mechanisms between the Arctic Council and the Barents Cooperation. In the same way, Sweden wants to focus on projects taking place in the Arctic that have an important value for the Arctic Council. Sweden also intends to exert any activity and cooperation projects within the frames of International Law, UN conventions and other international treaties (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2011).

All the previous general interests mean that Sweden has as an overall – and main – priority in an efficient multilateral cooperation, through dialogue, confidence-building, transparency and cooperation within international law. This approach is also the basis for Swedish security in the Arctic. The discussion on whether the most effective way will be made in the second part of this article.

Sweden focusses on a number of important actors for the sake of its multilateral and cooperative approach including: the Arctic Council, the European Union, the Nordic Cooperation, the Barents Cooperation, the United Nations, the five other Arctic coastal states (in order to gain a more active participation in the decisions of the Arctic Council and other political issues on the area), and the Sami Cooperation.

In a more specific way and according to the Ministry of Defence of Sweden, Perry and Andersen (2012),  and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2011), the country’s Arctic Strategy has three main priorities.

The first of all is the climate and the environment, with a focus on climate, environmental protection, biodiversity and climate and environmental research. Bergh and Oldberg (2011) remarks that environment is the top priority to be fulfilled by cooperation focused on oil spills and their prevention, as well as focusing on air pollutants and strengthening natural and societal resilience before any climate change.

The second is the economic development of the region, with a focus on free trade in the Arctic, promoting industrial interests in the Barents region, meeting educational and research needs, and promoting the Swedish economic interests in the Arctic [i].

The third is the human dimension, with a focus on the effects on health by the Arctic’s geographical conditions, the impact of climate change and hazardous substances on the population, the impact on native cultures, their industries and the survival of their language (Sami), transfer of knowledge, and a research programme on the Sami people.

Sweden, although it is not an Arctic state in the sense that it has no direct coast on the Arctic Ocean, has strong interests in the area because of the diverse causes, resources and infrastructure there, along with the obligation to protect the environment and native people. But as it happens, similarities between the Swedish approach and that of the CanadianIcelandic, and Finnish approach are strikingly similar in the placement of environment, native peoples. Even their approach to the economic issues in the Arctic are similar, placing cooperation as an important tool for the reaching of agreements. The accuracy of such an approach might prevent Sweden from securing the Arctic, its interests and even itself. The reasons for this will be explained in the next article.


Bergh, K., & Oldberg, I (2011). The New Arctic: Building Cooperation in the Face of Emerging Challenges. Conference report. SIPRI. Stockholm, Sweden. Retrieved from: on 20.01.2014.

Ministry for Foreign Affairs (2011). Sweden’s strategy for the Arctic Region. Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Departament for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Arctic Secretariat. Stockholm, Sweden.

Ministry of Defence (n.a). Sweden’s strategy for the Arctic Region. [Power Point Presentation]. Retrieved from: On 20.01.2014.

Munch, P. A (1926). Norse Mythology. Legends of Gods and Heroes (Trans. Hustvedt, S. B). The American – Scandinavian Foundation. New York, US.

Perry, C. M; & Andersen, B (2012). Chapter 4. Other Key Stakeholders in the Future of the Arctic. Sweden. In: New Strategic Dynamics in the Arctic Region: Implications for National Security and Cooperation (pp. 138 – 140). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis.

*Cover image ‘Sweden Grunge Flag‘ by Nicolas Raymond

[i] Those interests are, according to the Ministry of Defence of Sweden (n.d.): mining, petroleum and forestry; land transport and infrastructure; maritime security and the impact of shipping on the environment; Search and Air Rescue (SAR); ice – breaking; energy; tourism; reindeer husbandry; and others.


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