“The natural evolution of non-alignment” A qualitative case study of how Sweden’s identity as non-aligned is reconstructed through narratives in a changing security context

University essay from Göteborgs universitet/Institutionen för globala studier

Abstract: Sweden’s defence policy is characterized by non-alignment, which historically has meant avoiding military alliances to stay neutral in war. This policy of non-alignment is over 200 years old and deeply ingrained into Swedish national identity. In recent years, military tensions in Europe have increased, most notably through the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and subsequent presence of Russia in northern Europe. This increased threat has brought on a shift in the strategic implementation of the non-aligned policy and Sweden has increasingly been seeking military cooperation. This shift in the policy has received criticism from the public, as well as attention from the academic community. Scholars have mostly focused on the strategic implementation of the policy in this new security context, while leaving the implications for identity mostly unexplored. This thesis aims to understand how Sweden’s identity as non-aligned is reconstructed in this changing security context. I do this through a qualitative analysis of articles and speeches published by the Swedish government regarding the military cooperation between Sweden and Finland. I utilize a framework of strategic narratives, distinguishing between system, identity, and issue narratives. The thesis draws upon critical constructivist theory and the co-constitutive nature of identity and security, emphasizing the role of language. This approach enabled me to study the discursive connections between identity as plural and fluid in the context of Sweden’s non-alignment. Findings show that the tensions arising between the normative and strategic parts of non-alignment are being resolved discursively. The Swedish Government achieves this mainly through drawing on three distinct identity narratives. The first represents the historical non-aligned identity and is contrasted by the two other identity narratives. These additional narratives both serve to extend the notion of “we” and emphasize collective security obligations, thus facilitating the strategic implementation of military cooperation. All narratives exist simultaneously but are utilized by the government in different contexts. Thus, non-alignment is still held high but has been re-constructed discursively through these two additional identity narratives.

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