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Utopia Talk / Politics / Sweden may not be nuked by Russia
| Sat Sep 16 06:31:52
Hungary saves Sweden from total destruction. Now Hungary should quit NATO to save itself.
It’s Hungary’s Turn to Undermine Sweden’s NATO Accession
All eyes were on Erdogan, but now Orban has found an excuse to be outraged and delay ratification.
There are stern diplomatic letters—and then there’s the one received on Sept. 14 by Sweden’s foreign ministry, addressed to Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom. The petulant letter is written by his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Szijjarto, and informs Billstrom that unless Swedish politicians and the country’s national public radio stop criticizing Hungary’s democracy, Hungary won’t ratify Sweden’s NATO accession.
And because, unlike Hungary, Sweden is a well-functioning democracy and therefore its government can’t tell opposition politicians—some of whom have been lambasting Hungary lately—or Swedish public radio what to say, that means no NATO ratification. Sweden’s NATO membership may die for now—because of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, not Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Billstrom will not have enjoyed Szijjarto’s missive, which was sent after Billstrom, as Szijjarto points out, recently initiated a number of meetings to discuss Hungary’s ratification of Sweden’s membership. For maximum effect, Orban’s spokesman Zoltan Kovacs has uploaded the letter to Twitter. Before further reading of it, it’s useful to remind oneself why Billstrom was inquiring about Hungary’s ratification.
In July, when Sweden and Turkey reached an agreement on Sweden’s NATO accession, it seemed obvious that Hungary would swiftly ratify it too. President Katalin Novak tweeted congratulations, adding that she had asked Orban “to do everything possible to ensure that the … #Hungarian Parliament also contributes to the enlargement of the defense #Alliance as soon as possible.” Indeed, NATO’s other member states had long assumed that Hungary would fall in line and ratify as soon as Turkey decided to do so.
More than two months later, Erdogan seems to be backpedaling on his promise, linking Turkish ratification to “the security in the streets of Sweden,” a reference to the violent protests that have erupted in some heavily Muslim-populated neighborhoods since Iraqi refugee Salwan Momika’s Quran burnings in June. And now Szijjarto has let Billstrom know that Sweden can’t count on Hungarian ratification either. In his letter, he gets straight to the point: He doesn’t like the “biased, unfair and unjust accusations” toward Hungary that have been put forward by Swedish politicians.
And now, Szijjarto adds, things have taken an even more offensive turn: Hungarian parliamentarians “have read in the news that as part of your school curriculum provided by UR [the educational sibling of Swedish Public Radio], belonging to a state-run foundation, serious accusations and fake informations are being spread in the schools of Sweden, suggesting that democracy has been on a backslide in Hungary in the recent years.”
Szijjarto is right to observe that Swedish politicians have been rather critical of Hungary. The ones who have verbally attacked the country are, however, not Billstrom nor any other members of the parties forming the government. Instead, it’s coming from former Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden’s long-ruling Social Democrats, who is still licking her wounds after losing last year’s election to a center-right coalition, and has compared now-Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s policies to those of Orban. Morgan Johansson—who was Andersson’s justice minister and home affairs minister and is an energetic Twitter warrior—has suggested that Kristersson is turning into Orban and turning Sweden into Hungary.
Orban is, in fact, a tool that some Swedish opposition politicians enjoy using for hyperbolic purposes. Unlike him, Kristersson would, of course, never compare Ukraine to Afghanistan, or suggest that it quit fighting the Russians. But by putting the two in the same sentence, Andersson and her ilk hope some of the mud will stick.
These are hardly words designed to endear Orban, Szijjarto, and their parliamentarians to Sweden’s NATO accession. And with the new school year underway, Swedish schoolchildren studying UR’s educational content will indeed learn that Hungary’s democracy has certain flaws. This is not news; the European Commission has frozen COVID-19 relief funds over the Hungarian government’s practices in rewarding contracts, and last year, the European Parliament passed a resolution labeling the country an “electoral autocracy” because of shortcomings within its constitutional and electoral system. But for the most part, Hungary needs the EU more than vice versa. Sweden, by contrast, desperately needs Hungary. And Szijjarto seems to have gone looking for Swedish offenses.
If the criticism in Sweden continues, the Hungarian foreign minister has now informed Billstrom, Hungary won’t ratify Sweden’s application: “You urge our Parliamentarians to ratify your accession to NATO, while you continue to accuse them as if they had destructed democracy in Hungary.” Szijjarto, of course, knows that Billstrom can’t tell opposition politicians to stop disparaging Hungary, nor can he or any other government minister tell UR—an independent agency—how to design its curriculum. In Hungary, meanwhile, the opposition struggles to even make its views heard in the country’s media.
So, Hungary looks unlikely to ratify any time soon. Even if Erdogan decides that he’s done adding new demands to let Sweden into NATO, it won’t matter. Without Hungarian ratification, there will be no Swedish accession. That means no NATO lake in the Baltic Sea and no standard Swedish participation in alliance-wide intelligence sharing. It also means that Sweden’s outstanding defense industry will continue to be hampered by its status as a NATO outsider.
And it means that Russia’s two closest allies within NATO have undermined what would have been the alliance’s proudest moment in recent years: the addition of Sweden and Finland, which had proudly spent decades outside the alliance and were set to bring formidable assets ranging from superb Swedish submarines to fierce Finnish Army units into the alliance.
Now NATO is only getting half of that, plus a big debacle that’s dividing the alliance. But as I wrote for Foreign Policy this summer, being outside NATO isn’t a disaster for Sweden—especially since the alliance is making a big and public effort to involve the country in every conceivable way.
Sweden’s ratification debacle, though, also demonstrates that domestic voices can—wittingly or unwittingly—cripple a major foreign-policy initiative. Andersson and Johansson, now his party’s foreign-policy spokesperson, should have known that insulting Orban was a bad idea at a moment when Sweden needed him. (Their party has long been opposed to NATO membership, and Andersson only decided that Sweden should apply when Finland decided to do so.) And Momika and Danish provocateur Rasmus Paludan burnt Qurans in Sweden to anger Erdogan at a sensitive NATO moment, while other activists hanged an effigy of him in Stockholm around the same time. They all knew that these actions would cripple Sweden’s NATO accession, though they have been primarily motivated by the fame they could—and did—gain.
But professional politicians should have known better. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing Hungary’s democratic backsliding, and anyone is free to do so in Sweden—but giving authoritarian leaders excuses to throw a wrench in the works is.
Other countries, pay attention: This could happen to you, too. If you plan a major foreign-policy initiative, signal to thin-skinned foreign leaders that there may be people in your country who see an opportunity to get famous by slinging insults. You can also be certain that some of those foreign leaders may be looking for excuses to feel insulted. Just imagine what might happen now that Western countries need to work more closely with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Sultan.
| Sat Sep 16 10:50:52
NATO doesn't really exist anymore. Granting vetoes to irrelevant little countries killed NATO.
| Sat Sep 16 12:23:30
So Nato’s existence is dependent on Sweden? :)
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