Afghanistan: Time for a Changed Approach: Britt Theorin Provides a Swedish Critique of the War
Theorin, Britt, New Zealand International Review
In the last 200 years Sweden's approach to international affairs has been characterized by an aversion to war. It has pursued a neutral and non-aligned course. Since 1945 it has focused on supporting the United Nations and has played an active role in many peacekeeping operations. But Sweden's traditional stance has been compromised by its involvement in the war in Afghanistan. It joined the International Security Assistance Force at the invitation not of the United Nations but of Britain in 2001. Since 2006, though not a member of NATO, its forces have been under NATO command. It is time for Sweden to end its military effort and concentrate on policy, diplomacy and foreign aid.
To understand why there is such a strong critique in Sweden of the war in Afghanistan, one must look back some decades, even centuries. Sweden has not experienced war for 200 years now. For centuries before 1809 Sweden was a conqueror in Europe, fighting Russians, Poles, Germans, Danes and other people. Russia's sudden defeat of Sweden in 1809 brought the time of war to an end. Sweden started to search for other solutions than war.
During the Second World War Sweden declared itself neutral and non-aligned. When the attempt to create a Nordic defence alliance broke down after 1945 and Norway and Denmark joined NATO, Sweden again stayed neutral and non-aligned.
But neutrality and non-alignment did not mean passivity. On the contrary, Sweden was very active in United Nations, believing that the security of a small country was best defended through a strong world security organisation. Sweden started a long period of activity in defending human rights and international law, with disarmament proposals, nuclear disarmament and common security. It had strong support from non-aligned countries and in the Third World. Sweden's role was to solve conflicts instead of fighting in them.
From the United Nations' beginning, Sweden has taken its responsibility seriously and has played an active role in many peacekeeping operations. It has for a long time and with confidence acted as a mediator in peace. And Olaf Palme, with all his initiatives for disarmament and against nuclear weapons and with common security as the new security strategy, gave Sweden a more important role than its size as a country suggested. With Sweden involved in a war--in Afghanistan--that confidence has now been strongly eroded.
Sweden joined the European Union in 1995 and became much more silent in international activities. Even if foreign affairs remain each member's prerogative, the lowest common denominator is prevailing. With two nuclear weapon states,
nuclear disarmament is not on the agenda of the European Union. And many of the member states are members of NATO.
The attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 and President George W. Bush's declaration of war on terror changed both international society and policy. In the United Kingdom Tony Blair followed suit, and no political leader in the world dared to react against Bush's argument that 'either you are with us or with the terrorists'. No leader stood up and said: 'terror has a ground in the minds of men and could be fought in a better way than with bombing'.
Is war unavoidable? It goes without saying--no! War is intended, prepared and decided by human beings and can also be brought to an end by human beings. War is born in the mind of men and it is in the mind of men that peace must be built, according to UNESCO's statute.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are about power over the region and over oil. This is evident in the United States' plans for Iraq, which are being released piece by piece. First, the regime in Baghdad should be knocked down; thereafter Syria and Saudi Arabia. The oil should be privatised. The Arab world should be de-stabilised and a new democratic world born, resting on bayonets. But you cannot create democracy with bombs, as Olaf Palme said about the war in Vietnam. This is still valid. Democracy will fall on the battlefield.
What happened when Sweden became a henchman for the United States' war? Why are preconditions prescribed by the Swedish Parliament for taking part in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) not applied? What is the real motive for Sweden taking part in the war in Afghanistan?
This motive has changed from time by time. At first it was to protect Kabul and the government and the civilian aid organisations. Then it was to protect women from the Taliban. The next motive was democracy. Thereafter we heard from Sweden's defence minister that we have to protect Swedish business. And lastly the argument from Sweden's foreign minister is that we have to stop the trafficking of drugs.
Why does the government and even parts of the opposition want Sweden to fight a war in Afghanistan? Step by step, a new motive becomes apparent. Sweden is in the war in order to qualify as a reliable partner in US/NATO military operations.
This was clearly stated by military strategist Robert Egnell from the Defence High School in an article in October 2010: 'One of the most important motives for the Swedish military contribution in Afghanistan was that we wanted to be recognized as a reliable actor in international security, not least in the eyes of the USA.' He says what the politicians do not dare to say.
Another professor at the Defence High School, Gunnar Aselius, said in a broadcast some days later:
The purpose of the war is neither democracy, peace or women's rights in Afghanistan. Those purposes are no doubt noble, but nothing Sweden in normal cases should sacrifice lives for. The real purpose is to create a picture of Sweden as a reliable partner in a global western alliance. This everyone knows here in the Defense High School. But it is hardly the way politicians choose to put forward the Swedish engagement.
Neither the United Nations nor the government in Kabul asked Sweden to take part in the fight in Afghanistan, which is the precondition for UN peacekeeping. It was Britain that asked Sweden in December 2001 to take part in ISAF. Even before the decision was taken in the Parliament, the Swedish military sent a letter to the defence minister supporting the idea.
'Sweden is not going to take part in the US war in Afghanistan'. That was the opinion of the Swedish Parliament when it decided in January 2002 to send 45 soldiers for six months to protect the government in Kabul and civilians there. The conditions were clear: a different mandate and a clear distinction between the ISAF and the US Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Swedish delegation to the international security conference in Munich 2002 had a clear mandate: no planning for a bigger troop contribution and the maintenance of a clear distinction between ISAF and the OEF, exactly in line with Parliament's decision. When the conference discussed an increase in troops, the Swedish delegation asked if this was for a traditional UN-led force and if it was not essential to have support from Muslim countries. Today, that Swedish position seems na'ive. The force did not become a traditional UN-force led by the Security Council, but instead developed as a NATO force under US command. No Muslim states were allowed to send troops to take part. Nor was the war limited: in fact it has increased all the way into its tenth year.
Sweden is taking part in the fifth Afghan War. The British were defeated in three wars and Russia in one. The implications are clear: so long as foreign troops are on the ground of Afghanistan, there will be no peace.
The ISAF does not represent peacekeeping UN soldiers with blue helmets under the command of the United Nations. It was created because several countries did not want the United States and Operation Enduring Freedom to take over the security work in Afghanistan. Sweden is not a member of NATO, but since 2006 the ISAF has been under NATO command. Since 2009, by decision in the American Senate, the ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom have united under the ranking American general's command.
The US Central Command in Florida has brought Sweden into the coalition and US troops have the Swedish flag on their uniforms. The Swedish military has until recently denied that its soldiers are educated in the hard fighting rules of engagement American units have: 'Shoot first and ask afterwards'.
After 200 years of peace, Sweden is now de facto in a war in Afghanistan without the Swedish people, the government or the parliament having taken any decision for war. More than 500 Swedish soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan under the command of NATO and the United States. After more than nine years of war, peace has not come one single step forward and the strategy to make peace by war is a big failure. And in the eighteen UN peacekeeping operations in the world there is not one Swedish soldier. They are all in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan.
Sweden's main purpose in Afghanistan was to build the civilian society and protect aid organisations. This has been replaced by the objective of building up Afghanistan's army and taking part in war-fighting operations. Sweden is deeply involved in the war against terror in Afghanistan. Gradually, its effort has lost all humanitarian appearance. Two-thirds of Sweden's economic aid to Afghanistan goes to the military and one-third to civil aid.
From its 2002 position of a clearly limited mandate, Sweden has ended up with a war policy, contrary to its nonaligned policy and traditional peace policy. There is a silent paradigm shift with forces in the government and a large part of the opposition using the Afghan War to bring Sweden into NATO by the back way. Is it really that bad that they are prepared to risk Swedish soldiers' lives for that purpose, asks, among others, former Minister of Defence Thage Peterson.
Late last year the government and two of the opposition parties agreed in vague terms on the policy in Afghanistan, with the wish that the conditions should be good enough to bring back the Swedish soldiers in 2014. In the meantime, Swedish troops should be 'supporting', not fighting. But what has Sweden done so far; has it not been supporting?
In reality, the government proposed an increase in troop strength and the provision of more money for military operations. There was no strategy at all. Where are the goals? Are they political or do they point to a military victory? Nowhere in the agreement does it say that they are NATO-led troops.
So what should be done instead? After nine years of war, it is obvious that the military efforts have failed. A co-ordinated long-term peace strategy, which ends 30 years of war, is a must. It must be a peace strategy with civilian reconstruction and diplomacy in the driver's seat. But first of all let us reexamine the argument given for the war.
The independent aid organisation Care, which has 300 schools in Afghanistan, rejects the argument that foreign aid must be protected by military force. The Taliban has not burned down a single school. A respectful connection with local citizens and the real influence of their leaders are the explanation. On-going conflict will jeopardise progress made so far.
The American Greg Mortenson's Central Asia Institute builds schools in Taliban areas. It is not the soldiers who protect them, but the local people, who feel ownership, he says.
The study 'Afghan women speak' from Notre Dame University states that since the Taliban were defeated in 2001 the promotion of Afghan women's rights has been a highly politicised appendix to the military intervention. It is, however, impossible for girls and women to be liberated in a military environment. In spite of threats and murder, a majority of the interviewed women supported a negotiated end to the war. 'The situation is not better now than under the Taliban', says the scientist Sarah Smiles, and she adds: 'if you want to support women's rights in Afghanistan you have to end the war'.
New York Times journalist Nicolas Kristof says the same. All of the Afghan women he met were afraid of a new Taliban regime, but even so the majority supported negotiations because, as they say, 'it will then be a sustainable peace'. He cites Sakena Yacoobi, who operates 300 schools, not one of which has been burned down by the Taliban.
The Swedish Afghan Committee, which has worked with rehabilitation, education, health and medical care and development in the countryside, has built 400 schools.
We have managed totally without the military for 28 years in confident cooperation with the people of Afghanistan. On the question if we need support by the military we answer--No! On the contrary -confusion between the military operation and ours would be devastating.
The cost for an Afghan child to go to school is 350 Swedish crowns a year. A safe birth giving for one Afghan woman is 35 Swedish crowns. The cost of the Swedish military commitment in Afghanistan is one million crowns a year. Says one leader of the Afghanistan Committee, such welfare work is a much more practicable way to let the United Nations have a collective role and presence in Afghanistan. He wants the military paradigm to be replaced by a civilian one.
Sweden is not alone in its investment. The United States, Denmark, Germany and Great Britain have together invested 2.450 billion Swedish crowns in weapons and soldiers in Afghanistan. This is nine times as much as the whole world has paid for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
Instead of supporting the many UN-led peacekeeping operations, Sweden has chosen to take part in war operations led by NATO. This has disqualified Sweden from playing its traditional role of recommending cease-fires and negotiations and from nominating and taking part in a UN-led Muslim peace force, according to former minister Pierre Schori. Sweden should now instead concentrate on the time after the war.
Sweden should end its multi-billion investment in the military and put a real effort into policy, diplomacy and foreign aid. For the 500 Swedish soldiers, we can get 25,000 well-educated teachers or support 720,000 pupils. The shadow talks with the Taliban must change to serious negotiations before it is too late for compromise.
A Marshall Plan for the region should be developed with a powerful civilian programme, such as building Afghan civil capacity, strengthening the leadership of the provinces, rehabilitating rebels, boosting economic development and, last but not least, developing a well thought through strategy to support Afghan women's and girl's civil and human rights.
As a member of the European Union, Sweden can act to change the policy of European Union. Instead of accepting the situation today, where for every euro spent on civilian efforts five euros go to the military, we could act to reverse that.
Today there is not one Swedish soldier in the eighteen UN peacekeeping operations. To my mind Sweden should be led by the United Nations, not by NATO. If that were the case, Swedish troops could return to defending international rights and supporting the United Nations.
No one knows what will happen when the foreign troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan. It is possible that the Taliban will take over if negotiations do not start quickly and seriously. What we know for sure is that there would be more girls in schools if we reversed our priorities, and devoted military money to civilian purposes, even in Taliban areas. What we know is that this war cannot be won militarily. That is why Japan, Holland, Canada and soon Denmark are bringing their soldiers out. And the United States will in 2011 start to bring its soldiers home. Will Sweden be the last on the barricades?
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Maj Britt Theorin is a former Swedish ambassador for disarmament. This article is the edited text of an address he gave to the NZIIA's Wellington branch on 15 November 2010.…
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Publication information: Article title: Afghanistan: Time for a Changed Approach: Britt Theorin Provides a Swedish Critique of the War. Contributors: Theorin, Britt - Author. Journal title: New Zealand International Review. Volume: 36. Issue: 3 Publication date: May-June 2011. Page number: 6+. © 1999 New Zealand Institute of International Affairs. COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.
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