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Sweden and the New High North

Sweden recently unveiled its revamped Arctic policy, having gone unchanged since 2011. The strategy’s details are familiar, focusing on climate change, multilateral cooperation, and sustainable development. The overhaul comes at a time of change in the High North. Facing new geopolitical pressures, Sweden is pressing forward with clear-eyed and agile Arctic policy.

Sweden and the EU’s Arctic Outpost

The Kingdom of Sweden’s Arctic position is unique in several respects. Their European Union membership provides them with substantial funding and avenues for collaborative effort in developing and defending their northernmost territory. Though formally a non-NATO state, in practice Sweden conducts joint operations with NATO frequently.

The economic and security benefits of a unified Scandinavian approach to Russia, China, and the United States generally outweighs any desire or ability for Sweden to act unilaterally. However, a formally unified strategy is far off. Near-Arctic and Arctic states alike are still in the midst of overhauling their blueprints for the region.

Sweden’s Arctic Interests

Sweden’s primary interests revolve around its resource rich Ferroscandian territory, specifically its iron, lumber, and hydropower. The new infrastructure and regulations needed for sustainable development of these resources is a key priority for the country moving forward. Historically, Swedish Arctic development conflicted with the indigenous Samí’s traditional practices modes of sustenance, such as reindeer herding. The Samí Parliament remains largely symbolic, but cooperation and mutual development with the Finno-Ugric group was earmarked in the updated whitepaper.

Though Sweden recognizes the possibility of further Chinese encroachment, the value of their trade networks and capital (especially with regards to mineral resource development) means that no significant action against the CCP is to be expected. However, Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist recently announced the reestablishment of five northern regiments to defend the country’s Arctic sovereignty. Expecting to increase military spending 85% by 2025, the five-year defense bill outlines a policy of increased cooperation with Norway and Scandinavia. Increasing tensions with Russia prompted the decision.

Summary

Sweden’s revamped Arctic policy is fairly standard fare, focusing on mineral resource development, climate change, Samí relations and sovereignty. The Kingdom will work via Arctic and European collaborative institutions to advance its interests, and will likely take on a greater role in Arctic institutional governance moving forward.

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