In the Swedish debate on security policy, we in the peace movement are increasingly faced with personal attacks and unfounded accusations. The Minister of Defense and others use a rhetoric in which traditionally female characteristics are attributed to civil society to reduce it, writes Agnes Hellström, chairman of Swedish Peace.
The security policy year 2017 began with the National Conference of the People and Defense in Sälen. For the second year in a row, Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvist insinuated to a large audience that the peace movement is engaged in spreading misinformation. The year before, the Minister of Defense's proposal was based on Swedish Peace wondering, among other things, how the nuclear issue would be handled if Sweden signed the host country agreement. Hultqvist then replied that we spread "myths, inaccuracies and misinformation". He certified that there would be no nuclear weapons on Swedish territory and that this would be clarified in the Riksdag's deliberations.
This year's proposal was made on the occasion of an article in Journal of Strategic Studies. Swedish Peace and others were accused of spreading misinformation in the debate on the host country agreement with NATO and that we unknowingly acted as agents of Russian interests. The author of the article later admitted that the accusations were incorrect, but the article had been read by hundreds of thousands before it was corrected.
The debate has seldom been more barren
The ground for a broad and nuanced security policy debate has seldom been barren. By and large, the discussion only revolves around how much extra money that needs to be added to our military defense to raise the barriers to external attacks. This is despite the fact that Sweden's commander-in-chief has said that the probability of a military attack on Sweden remains low.
Regardless of different views on how best to build a secure world, it is still possible to distinguish a common goal in civil society, politics and the armed forces, namely a secure, open, democratic society. At the same time, it has become depressingly clear how the participation of civil society in democratic dialogue is being increasingly opposed.
A telling example is the incident in connection with the military exercise Aurora which was carried out in Sweden in September. A network of different peace organizations planned a joint demonstration in Gothenburg to protest against the exercise. The public was asked to donate money using the Swish payment service to pay for travel for those who wanted to participate but could not afford to travel.
It soon turned out that the collection had been subjected to sabotage because a number of people had swished 1 kroner. Since organizations that use the Swish service pay a fee of approximately SEK 2 for each transfer, the one-krone donations became a cost instead of an income. When SVT followed up who was behind the sabotage, it turned out that the majority were employees of the Armed Forces.
When the incident reached the Armed Forces, a blog post was published with a mark against the employees' actions: "As an employee of the Armed Forces, you must protect free speech, not hinder it", was the headline.
But the damage had already been done. People with the task of protecting democracy had made a conscious attempt to limit people's ability to exercise their democratic rights. And the event was a logical consequence of the narrowing of the debate that we who work in civil society constantly need to relate to.
At the times when we act or react, it has been the rule rather than the exception that we are met with personal attacks and unfounded accusations. It has meant everything from claims that we are naive and deceived to dangerous. These contradictory attributes have been attributed to us in Twitter posts, political proposals, debate and news articles and on leader pages.
Suddenly the argument changes
In recent months, Sweden's participation in banning nuclear weapons has been the subject of intense debate. On July 7, 2017, 122 states voted in favor of an international ban on nuclear weapons in the UN. Sweden voted yes but has not yet signed the agreement. Pressures to refrain have been made from all possible directions, including from the United States. And it is suddenly argued that the signing of an international ban on nuclear weapons not only threatens military cooperation with the United States, but may even be a threat to peace.
The same thinking that Svenska Fred raised about the role of nuclear weapons at the signing of the host country agreement in 2016, and which was then dismissed by the Minister of Defense as misinformation, was now presented as accepted truth. Banning nuclear weapons could make it impossible to continue approaching the Nuclear Weapons Alliance. An inquiry was appointed with the task of reviewing Sweden's conditions for signing. The end date was set for October 2018, one month after the parliamentary elections.
In connection with the appointment of the inquiry, ICAN, the campaign that has been the driving force behind the ban on nuclear weapons, won the Nobel Peace Prize. A huge confirmation for the 468 organizations in 101 countries that worked together under the ICAN umbrella. The following week, a Sifo survey was conducted in which 86 percent of Swedes considered that Sweden should sign the agreement and ban the world's only permitted weapons of mass destruction.
Important issues are overshadowed
We are beginning to reach the end of an eventful year of peace policy, marked by both setbacks and progress for civil society actors. We are approaching an election campaign where NATO and an international ban on nuclear weapons should be given issues to debate. But the risk with an investigation whose conclusions are presented only after the parliamentary elections is that these important security policy issues are completely overshadowed.
One of Sweden's foreign policy goals is to increase women's and girls' participation and to strengthen their human rights. At the same time, the Minister of Defense and others use a rhetoric in which traditionally female characteristics are attributed to civil society in order to reduce it in the security policy debate. We are naive, dreamy, irrational and deceived.
This warns of a development in which the security policy arguments that are not "right" are silenced, a development that it should be in everyone's interest to oppose. It also means that 2018 will be an election year where we will have to work harder than ever to stand up for everyone's right to live in a safe, open and democratic society.