Anders Mellbourn Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Sweden in the Post-9/11 World: Conversation with Anders Mellbourn, Director of the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, April 19, 2004 by Harry Kreisler

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The Role of a Superpower

I hear you saying that this superpower, the United States, if it were more subtle in its policies (and with subtlety goes patience and perseverance), it would have more friends than it has when its policies are unsubtle and impatient.

Yes, of course. It's a very simple point, but it's true. We now talk about the U.S. - European rivalry, or whatever it is. To me, it's very hard to see that that is of a fundamental nature, that we will really fight one another -- of course not in a military sense, but even [otherwise]. There are differing interests, there could be differing business interests, but of course, we are in this together. The American dream is basically the European dream that has turned universal. But in order for this to work, the superpower also has to make some compromises and concessions.

The problem that many of us have had with the Bush administration is the rhetoric. Maybe another administration would be rather similar [in policy]. But in the modern world, you don't control [foreign] policy like the domestic [ideal] where you push some buttons according to the Keynesian economic scheme and you get certain results in inflation and growth and employment. The world doesn't work that way.

In the modern world, in politics, personal styles, contacts, networking, openness in discussion, trust in people, become even more important. That's why these style issues are extremely important for how we perceive things, even if structurally many positions would remain regardless of the administrations in this country. That's what makes us so worried today, in addition to the actual situation in Iraq as it's developed.

One final questions: How do you think Sweden will have to change its views, its processes, in dealing with this post-9/11 world, or is it very well positioned to offer a unique contribution to solutions to some of these problems?

I think it's decently positioned to do something. What I'm worried about with my own country is that we have been rather passive the last few years. There are many things that we try to do in mediation, new ideas that are part of our independent position that we are not pursuing. The great activists that I am impressed by at the moment have been Norway and Canada. They are both NATO members, but they are more active with new ideas, mediating ideas, and also ideas that are critical of the U.S., than we are, because we haven't found our way in working in a new multilateral setting, or even if we conceive ourselves as multilateralists. As I said, we are not consistent in our commitment to the EU, and we have to be more open in our relationship with the U.S.

I don't think NATO membership is the more important issue, but it's a great challenge for us to pursue our traditional idealism in a new context, where the EU is the first context, where we have to have a much more wholehearted commitment. I'm sure we can do that by upholding or perhaps even improving the transatlantic link, and perhaps helping the EU to do that, and paradoxically enough, by not being a NATO member.

On that positive note, Dr. Mellbourn, I want to thank you very much for coming to Berkeley for the Peder Sather symposium and also for being a guest on our program. Thank you very much.

The honor is all mine. It was great to be here, and it is great to come to this part of the U.S., especially.

Thank you very much. And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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