Monday, 21 April 2014

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Sweden´s lonely soldier at the UN

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The Swedish government is under fire for its record low contributions to UN Peacekeeping. At one point during 2013, only one soldier served for the UN.  Sweden´s total contribution, however, is now 52, if other personnel such as military advisors and policemen and women are included. The troop contribution had risen to seven at the end of the year. 

The Swedish UN Association, however, remains unimpressed and points out that the total contribution for the last 6 years is around 30 on average, all personnel included. “This sits badly with the principle of UN membership being the cornerstone of Swedish Foreign Policy, “writes Aleksander Gabelic and Linda Nordin, Chairman and Secretary-General of the UN Association of Sweden, in an op-ed on 5 January 2014. 

In addition, Sweden announced last year that it would participate in the UN peacekeeping operation in Mali with one C-130 Hercules transport plane as well as with a personnel of 70. For technical reasons, this plan was not realized and only 5 Swedes have been allocated to MINUSMA in Mali. In its last annual report, the Swedish military says it plans to increase its participation in UN peacekeeping.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt´s centre-right government has in the past few years apparently given priority to EU and NATO led interventions instead of direct troop contributions to UN Peacekeeping, which Sweden, the 6th biggest financial contributor to the UN System, continues to support generously.  

“The fact that Sweden participates in EU and NATO led interventions is not in opposition to our UN involvement,” wrote Sofia Arkelsten, chairperson of the Foreign Affairs committee of the Swedish parliament and Cecilila Widegren, chairperson of the defense committee in an op-ed article. “It is the UN Security Council that has mandated and asked the regional security organization for help and leadership in some interventions.”

Participation in EU and NATO -led operations does not explain the lack of contributions to UN operations, according to researchers Michael Karlsson and Nujin Tasci at Södertörns högskola. They say that in contrast to Sweden, the other Nordic countries contribute generously both to UN led and EU/NATO led peacekeeping.

At the end of August 2013 Swedish total military presence abroad in all such operations numbered 468 – a 40 year old low.

As of 30 June 2013, Swedish troop contributions consisted of one soldier in South-Sudan. This is not a unique situation, according to researchers Karlsson and Tasci, since contributions have usually been from one to four men during the last five years.  Twenty years ago, on 30 June 1993, 1041 Swedish solders served in UN Peacekeeping forces. They also point out that Sweden both contributes fewer personnel and fewer soldiers than other neutral countries in Europe such as Austria, Finland and Ireland.

Former UN Under-Secretary General Hans Corell says in an interview with the Newsletter that is important to contribute not only financially, but also with troops, since it sends out an important signal and demonstrates genuine commitment. “At the same time present-day peacekeeping missions are more multifaceted than before. It is therefore important to be able to contribute also civilian components to assist in the development of systems for transitional justice, democracy and the rule of law. This means that contributions can be made not only by troops, but by other constituents such as civilian police, law enforcement officers, judges, and so forth.”

Iceland and Finland have both failed to be elected to the Security Council, and Sweden to the Human Rights Council, with a “Nordic ticket” in the last few years. In a research paper the International Peace Institute came to the conclusion that one explanation was their diminishing contributions to UN Peacekeeping.

According to Gabelic and Nordin, more generous troop contributions would help Sweden´s candidacy for a non-permanent seat in the Security Council, and even more importantly it could, for example, “reduce the likelihood of genocide in the Central African Republic.”

Furthermore they write. “Swedish soldiers have, and still are, fulfilling important international tasks with their good training, equipment and rights and gender based principles. With these competences, Sweden can contribute to strengthen all UN efforts.”




Nordic contributions to UN Peacekeeping as of 30 November 2013

Finland 364 (of which 334 soldiers)
Denmark 31 (of which 14 soldiers)
Norway 68 (of which 16 soldiers)
Sweden 52 (of which 7 soldiers)
Iceland 0

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