Sweden’s ‘feminist foreign policy’ sparks off quarrels

Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom told a U.S. think tank last year that she wished to pursue a 'feminist foreign policy' (AP)

The diplomatic crisis between Sweden and Arab Gulf states is the latest in a series of spats the Nordic kingdom has fallen into since the minority government of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven came to office five months ago.

Löfven's Social Democrats party teamed up with the Green Party to form a minority government in Oct. 3, 2014, in which former EU Commissioner for the Environment Margot Wallstrom was named as foreign minister.

During a visit to Washington in January, the 60-year-old Wallstrom told the United States Institute of Peace (USIP): “We are going to pursue a feminist foreign policy.”

But since she took the role of Stockholm’s top diplomat, Wallstrom’s “feminist foreign policy” appears to be causing many problems for the Nordic Kingdom.

Also read: Swedish FM’s anti-Saudi remarks spark backlash in Stockholm

Her agenda – which she herself later admitted had received “a fair share of skepticism, to put it kindly” - has also exposed a struggle over Sweden’s identity and whether it should become what some politicians call a “moral great power,” or prioritize security and an export-led economy.

Sweden has long been seen as a neutral country, basing her international relations mainly on economic and political interests.

Under the previous government, it forged closer links with NATO, participating in military missions in Afghanistan and Libya, something Wallstrom had promised to tone down.

Following are some of the rows triggered by Wallstrom since she came to office:

Russia

Much like the quick, deadly succession of gunshots in the back of Russian anti-Putin opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, just steps away from the Kremlin, Wallstrom’s heated exchange with Moscow was brief but bitter.

The rift began when Wallstrom condemned Nemtsov’s killing - who the Russian government blamed on Islamist Chechnyan extremists- as part of Vladimir Putin’s “reign of terror.”

“Putin's reign has become a reign of terror. This is serious and affects the rest of the world too,” Wallstrom told the TT news agency, as quoted by Swedish English-language news outlet The Local.

She later penned an opinion article published by Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, where she advocated a “firm policy” against

Russian “aggression” and said that Moscow posed a “serious challenge to European peace.”

In its response, Russia’s embassy in Sweden suggested the Scandinavian country and other allies had provoked Russia into annexing Crimea territory by offering Ukraine a pathway to membership of the European Union.

“The main tool turned out to be a state coup, a violent power takeover, which pushed Ukraine into the abyss of civil war,” the embassy wrote on Facebook.

Sweden then hit back directly at the source, with its intelligence chief claiming on Thursday that one third of Russian diplomats stationed at the embassy in Stockholm are spies.

Israel

With Wallstrom’s push, Sweden in October became the first EU member in Western Europe to recognize Palestine as an independent state – a largely symbolic move that angered Israel.

“It is an important step that confirms the Palestinians’ right to self-determination,” said Wallstrom - who had only been appointed foreign minister earlier that month. “We hope that this will show the way for others.”

That prompted angry reactions from Israel with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recalling Tel Aviv’s Ambassador to Sweden Isaac Bachman.

Lieberman described the Swedish move as “unfortunate” and one that would “do a lot of damage.” Lieberman also used the Nordic country’s famed flat-pack furniture giant Ikea to take a jab at the Swedish government.

“Sweden must understand that relations in the Middle East are much more complicated than self-assembly furniture at Ikea.”

The spat continued into January, when Wallstrom had to cancel a planned visit to Israel, as reportedly, no Israeli official was prepared to receive her.

Morocco

In February this year Wallstrom angered diplomatic circles in Morocco when she told the Swedish parliament that her country was against the “exploitation of the natural resources of Western Sahara” by Morocco.

Critics aligned with Rabat have said Stockholm should pay more attention to Swedish “humanitarian” money, making sure it does not end up in the hands of organized criminal or rebel groups around the world.

Some critics referred to a report by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) revealing that some of the humanitarian assistance from the European Union to the residents of the Tindouf camps, south of Algeria, was being scooped by the military leaders of the Polisario Front running the camps.

Saudi Arabia

The most recent and ongoing diplomatic row was triggered when Wallstrom launched an attack on Saudi Arabia and criticized its judicial system.

The kingdom reacted by recalling its ambassador from Stockholm in protest. The UAE, Saudi Arabia’s Gulf ally, followed suit this week by recalling its envoy from Sweden and summoned the Swedish ambassador to Abu Dhabi to deliver a protest.

The row could have wider implications to Sweden, which has numerous business interests in Saudi-allied Gulf countries outside of defense.

“Much of what Sweden exports of high technology requires the various types of long-term commitments,” Wallstrom’s predecessor Carl Bildt wrote in his blog. “There is a real risk … [the cancellation] will hit Swedish interests, not only in Saudi Arabia itself.”

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