Professor: Sweden's UN bid mostly for "prestige"

5:59 min

Sweden’s government has faced criticism for its intensifying campaign to join the UN Security Council, but why is the country so keen on a seat anyway?

Earlier this week, Sweden’s foreign minister Margot Wallström was reported to the constitutional committee after it emerged that foreign-aid money appeared to have been used in the campaign for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.

With just over two months left to go before the UN Assembly vote, members of Sweden’s Centre Party now want the constitutional committee to review the Social Democrat foreign minister’s handling of the UN campaign.

But just why is Sweden’s centre-left government so keen on a place in the UN Security Council, anyway?

Professor emeritus Kjell Goldmann, a political scientist at Stockholm University, believes prestige has a good deal to do with it.

"From the point of view of Swedish national interest, this can be summed up as 'prestige'. The membership, even if temporary, is presumed to give more prestige to the country, to the government and to the foreign ministry," he tells Radio Sweden.

Of course, access to the temporary seat could increase Sweden's visibility in the world, and with that possibly also increase the chances of being heard, says Goldman, but, he notes, this is hard to measure.

Goldman does not believe that the recent bad publicity for the campaign in Swedish media will affect the country’s chances of actually winning a security-council seat

"This issue has been more important domestically, inside Sweden,” says Goldmann. “I don't think it is very important for the outcome of the vote.”

Sweden is competing against Italy and The Netherlands to get one out of two of the temporary seats on the UN Security Council in 2017 to 2018.

Out of the three countries, Sweden was the first to hand in its application back in 2004, just two years before the Social Democrats lost the power to the centre-right coalition known as the Alliance. However, the campaign to win a seat only really took off after the Social Democrats came back into power in September 2014, when they joined a coalition government with the Green Party.

"The present government is inclined to go back to a period when Sweden's foreign policy was more activist, more visible, and more expressive,” says Goldmann. "The focus on the security-council seat is part of this effort," he adds, noting that the previous, centre-right government was more focused on having an impact in the EU.

But the bid for a seat in the security council is not just to serve Swedish interests, but also because the government believes it can make a difference for international peace and security.

In this role, Sweden will have to choose between being a critic or a mediator and “bridge builder”, says Goldmann, an approach which,  he says, has characterised Swedish foreign policy for the past 50 years.

"My guess is that, if Sweden were to become a member of the security council, the country would focus on mediation rather than criticism. The security council is not quite the forum for making bold declarations, but it is very much a forum for overcoming conflicts between parties and being constructive," Goldmann points out.

That is generally the role for temporary members of a security council that has five permanent members with veto rights, says Goldmann. In other words, all three European candidates are expected to focus on constructive diplomacy and mediation.

"I am not sure it matters greatly if it is Sweden, Italy or the Netherlands," says Goldmann.