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Monday, 15. July 2024

What did Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt really say?

Radio Shows “Ekot” and “Ring P1”

On May 6th, the daily Swedish news show “Ekot” (broadcasted by Radio Sweden) interviewed a number of Swedish Members of Parliament (from the government coalition as well as from opposition parties) about Sweden’s policy on nuclear disarmament. The MPs directed criticism towards Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on various issues, amongst them the MFA’s decision to leave the New Agenda Coalition as well as their refusal to sign the humanitarian statement during the NPT PrepCom. Following this, Carl Bildt rather surprisingly called in to the morning show “Ring P1”, also broadcasted by Radio Sweden, after having declined to participate in the news show. Ring P1 is a daily radio show to which listeners amongst the public call in to speak their minds on various topics. Bildt placed his call after the host had tweeted and asked why he does not support a ban on nuclear weapons (this is what “Ekot” had reported, even if the humanitarian statement does not include a call for a ban).

In his talk with Ring P1, Carl Bildt argued that the humanitarian statement during the NPT PrepCom was “no big deal” and that Sweden practices “serious” disarmament work, especially highlighting the CTBT (the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty). The host, Ms. Alexandra Pascalidou who is not familiar with disarmament issues, then asked Carl Bildt why Sweden, being a peace nation, would not support a ban on nuclear weapons. Bildt replied that as a peace nation, Sweden should be serious in our disarmament work and achieve what is achievable. “We strive for a world free from nuclear weapons but that world is relatively far away, therefore we need to achieve what is achievable”, he said. He then exemplified this strategy by pointing to the importance of working on the Iran issue, on the issue of tactical nuclear weapons in our immediate neighborhood, as well as on the CTBT together with Mexico.

FM Bildt also argued that nuclear disarmament is conducted by the nuclear weapons states, and to get into and be part of that process it’s important to be a “serious actor”, to be perceived as serious. He asked himself the question “how do we get to a nuclear weapons free world?” to which he answered “reduction of strategic arms – if that is possible”.

Ms. Pascalidou then asked again why Sweden would not sign a ban on nuclear weapons – it seems to be a reasonable thing to do, she said. Bildt replied that “this is ‘placard politics’ - it’s not possible to realize, and with this approach we will not get any response by the serious powers.”  

Radio Show “Studio Ett”, May 6

During the afternoon of May 6th, Carl Bildt accepted to further discuss the nuclear disarmament issue in the Swedish radio show “Studio Ett”. Bildt, when asked again about the humanitarian statement, said that the statement was a side track that no “other serious states” participated in.

He also argued that Sweden devotes energy to issues that are on the agenda, as Sweden is engaged in the IAEA, the CTBT and in disarmament of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. The NPT PrepCom was just a civil servant meeting, he said, and the humanitarian statement was symbolic rather than of any substantial value.

The interviewers at Studio Ett then asked if FM Bildt does not see Norway and Denmark as serious states (given that they signed the humanitarian statement)? He replied: “Yes, but this is not the serious parts of their security politics”. The interviewers then asked the follow-up question “What makes your approach more serious than theirs?” To this, Bildt replied that “The statement was supported by 78 out of 190 countries, not many European states, and very few of the serious engaged states. We are seriously engaged to get actual results. Credibility and a way in to reach those who have nuclear weapons - that is the reality”.

The hosts of Studio Ett then called up a representative from the Norwegian MFA (while Bildt was still on the show) who said that the humanitarian approach has been the main focus for the Norwegian government for some time now. The fact that this issue was raised in many statements during the NPT PrepCom shows the big support for this approach, said the Norwegian representative.

The interviewers continued with asking FM Bildt what harm supporting the statement could have done, and he said again that this is “no big thing”. The issue has never reached his desk, Bildt said, arguing that these kinds of questions are not on his level at all and could be handled in other forums. [It was a bit unclear if he meant the statement or the whole humanitarian approach as such.] Sweden’s approach has been to handle issues of substance, he said, arguing that a ban on nuclear weapons is a diplomatic dead-end.

FM Bildt was then asked what he has actually achieved so far. To this he answered: “A number of states have ratified the CTBT”.

The issue was also commented on by SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) during “Ekot” at Radio Sweden later that same day. Mr. Shannon Kile from SIPRI was critical to Bildt calling the humanitarian statement “no big deal” and irrelevant. Mr. Kile argued that these kinds of appeals in fact can help to delegitimize nuclear weapons.