YouTube video

The Swedish government is distributing pamphlets warning of an impending war to all 4.8 million households, in what journalist Eirik Vold says is part of a larger propaganda campaign to convince the population to support joining NATO

Story Transcript

BEN NORTON: It’s the Real News. I’m Ben Norton.

The government of Sweden is spreading fear among its population after it announced that it is distributing disconcerting leaflets to all of the 4.8 million households in the country, warning that a war could be on the horizon. These dramatic 20-page pamphlets include terrifying illustrations depicting Swedes fleeing their homes, along with warplanes, tanks, and helicopters. They also warn of potential cyber attacks and terrorism. These government-issued pamphlets detail what Swedes should do in a time of total war. They explain how people can obtain food, water, and heat, they help locate bomb shelters, and they even provide tips on avoiding so-called ‘fake news.’.

The British newspaper the Guardian noted that the Swedish government issued similar pamphlets during World War II in 1943. Which country is supposedly threatening war on Sweden is not spelled out clearly, but it is quite obvious that the Swedish government is implying Russia could be the potential threat. Sweden is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, and polls had historically consistently shown widespread public opposition to joining the international military alliance. In recent years, however, amid similar public fear campaigns and increasing violent conflicts throughout the world, public support for joining NATO has grown.

Joining us to discuss this is Eirik Vold. Eirik is a Norwegian investigative journalist and author who has reported extensively on politics in Scandinavia and internationally. He is also a political adviser for the Red Party in the Norwegian parliament. Thanks for joining us, Eirik.

EIRIK VOLD: You’re welcome. It’s a pleasure.

BEN NORTON: So let’s just start with these particular pamphlets, and we’ll move to a broader discussion of politics in Scandinavia. Can you respond to the Swedish government’s decision to send these pamphlets warning of war to all 4.8 million households?

EIRIK VOLD: Well, this is definitely a very drastic measure. I mean, while it’s clear that small states that are traditionally sort of squeezed in between bigger powers has a historic or geopolitical sort of reason to always be prepared, it’s difficult to see this as something, to see this as something free of scaremongering. There is, there is definitely a certain, there’s a part of this that is really, looks like scaremongering, and it looks like there is a clear geopolitical purpose behind this.

It’s certainly unprecedented in times of peace. I mean, as it was said in the introduction, this happened during the Second World War, when the whole of Europe was, was in flames in war. And it is much more difficult to see the justification of this dramatic measure in the times we currently live in. There’s no clear threats. There’s no clear reason to believe that any country is planning to invade Sweden or impose war on Sweden.

BEN NORTON: Yeah, and then let’s talk more about why you think the government might be issuing these pamphlets. Like you said, there is no clear threat of war. And it seems to me that this is clearly politically motivated. Can you comment specifically on the role of Sweden in larger Scandinavian politics vis a vis NATO? So Norway and Denmark are members of NATO, but Sweden and Finland are not members of NATO. And this has been a point of contention when it comes to Swedish-Western relations for some years now.

EIRIK VOLD: Yes. So first of all, some of the issues that are treated in this leaflet are, are legitimate worries. I mean, terrorism. There’s certainly been a rise of terrorism in Europe after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the civil war in, the war in Syria, and the NATO invasion of Libya those three wars have greatly increased Islamist terrorists attacks in Europe. So, so there might be some reasons to worry about terrorism. There might be some reasons to worry about cybercrime and and cybersecurity threats. But as we said, there is clearly also a political campaign going on in order to pressure Sweden to join NATO.

Now, if we go back in time, Sweden has played a particular role not just in Scandinavian politics, but actually in world politics. Some might remember the ex-Prime Minister Olof Palme, who was the prime minister of Sweden during parts of the ’70s and the ’80s until it was, before he was finally murdered, while still being a prime minister, the head of state. Palme was a sort of uncompromising peace activist even as he was president. He strongly opposed the Vietnam War. He strongly opposed the coup, the coup d’etat in Chile against the democratically elected Allende government.

So, so Sweden at that, for some time really punched above its weight in terms of, of playing a constructive role for peace in the world. Now, a part of this was the refusal to join NATO. But what we’re seeing lately is a gradual, and I would say accelerating, process in which Sweden is slowly, and without a really honest, open democratic debate joining, de facto joining NATO. In 2016 there was a, Sweden signed an agreement, a so-called host support agreement with NATO, which allows U.S., or so-called allied forces, mainly U.S. forces, other NATO forces, to use Swedish territory in times of war or in times of crisis. It also gives, it’s also unclear to what extent these foreign military forces would have increased access to Swedish territory, also in times of peace, but through mechanisms often, often described with euphemisms, such as exercises, or rotational exercises and the like.

And the importance of this is that Sweden has a very long coastline towards the Baltic Sea, which is the, the sea, the maritime area that separates Sweden and Scandinavia from Russia and the Baltic states. And so for a NATO that is, has during, since the Cold War been encircling Russia, closing in on Russia’s borders, increased NATO access to the Baltic Sea is something that is obviously seen as, considered as very threatening by the Russians.

BEN NORTON: Yeah, and then can we talk more about the increasing militarization inside Scandinavia? We know that in every year since 2011, Sweden has in fact increased its military expenditure. And last year in 2017, in fact, Sweden held its largest military exercise in 23 years. So clearly while there is this larger mounting campaign to try to pressure Sweden to join NATO, there’s also a remilitarization. Can you speak about this?

EIRIK VOLD: There is clearly a remilitarization. And since you mentioned 2011, this was the year when Sweden joined the NATO, the illegal NATO campaign for war, for regime change in Libya. This was unprecedented in modern Swedish history. And so that’s maybe one of the clearest signs of Sweden actually more or less joining NATO, for all practical purposes.

And so there’s been a rearmament, there’s been, there is basically an armament race going on between NATO and Russia, although the latest news is that Russia is actually planning to slash its military budgets, but there’s no reciprocity to be seen here. So the NATO area is clearly rearming, and Sweden is playing a big role in this.

BEN NORTON: All right. Well, unfortunately we’ll have to end Part 1 of our discussion here. We were joined at the Real News by Eirik Vold. Eirik is a Norwegian investigative journalist and author who has reported extensively on politics in Scandinavia, and he’s also political adviser for the Red Party in the Norwegian parliament. Thanks for joining us, Eirik.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Ben Norton is a producer and reporter for The Real News. His work focuses primarily on U.S. foreign policy, the Middle East, media criticism, and movements for economic and social justice. Ben Norton was previously a staff writer at Salon and AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.