Author: Margy Anderson
There is a sense in which the phrase war on terror is nonsense, and the idea of Scandinavia being treated as a bloc is also wrong. Apologies to the more sensitive Finns for what follows, but Finland was ruled by Sweden from the 14th century. From the time of Queen Margaret of the Three Crowns, to that of the family of King Oscar and the sardines, the Finns were puzzled about where they stood on sovereignty. Who exactly was their master? At its lowest ebb Finland even was a Russian Grand Duchy with a Russian Governor-General.
The Finns themselves are not Nordic, but Finno-Ugric, speaking a language which is not at all similar to that of Sweden, Denmark and Norway - who all have a similar Germanic grammar and structure. Scandinavia is a geographic term usually used to describe a peninsular. But the fates of Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway have been so tied up together, and they more often than not vote as a bloc in the U.N.; there is rough justice in taking a long view and comparing Finno-Nordic attitudes towards the major international conflict of the twenty-first century, Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
Problems for the Nordic foreign ministries began on 11 September 2001 when a terrorist attack on the United States started a rolling disaster for foreign policy experts in the Nordic area. Two aircraft flew into the World Trade Center. The first hi-jacked American Airlines Flight crashed into the north tower in New York Center at 8.48am. The tower collapsed at 10.28am. At 9.30 a United Airlines flight crashed into the south tower and it collapsed 56 minutes later, shortly after an American Airlines flight crashed into the Pentagon. Around 1010am a United Airlines flight crashed near Shanksville, Pa, but not before passengers on the flight called relatives on the ground with their cellular phones (most likely Eriksson or Nokias) to explain in terror, fear and determination, that they had been hi- jacked and were about to try to regain control of their aircraft by rushing terrorists at the controls of the Boeing 757.
It seemed a very long time before the highly centralized US administration recovered from the shock sufficiently to put together words of explanation and comfort .It took about 12 hours for President Bush to address the United States as a nation from the White House, setting in train an addled fiasco of wrong turnings that has left world diplomacy in ruins and given future Presidents an unresolved continuing mess which will take generations to overcome if it is ever possible.
The Bush administration struck out blindly. In a speech of crass stupidity Bush used the word crusade recalling a long past era where Christians and Muslims, crusaders and infidels, fought over territory ranging from Venice to Istanbul in war over territory and faith that could never have a final solution. Bush used what was in effect the U.S. NATO arm for the first time in history, invoking article 5, which stated that an attack against one was an attack against all. The difficult question was who was the attacker? Bush hit upon Osama Bin Laden as “likely to be connected” as early as 12 September, and by 24 September Osama Bin Laden his weighty assets in the US frozen.
Who was Osama Bin Laden and what was the Taliban? Hardly anybody had heard of either. Pulitzer Prize author Steve Coll put the record straight, but it took until 2008 for his book The Bin Ladens: the Story of a Family and its Fortune to become an important and necessary insight into the ironies of the situation. Only in Sweden were Nordic countries’ wisest leaders on the ball.
Swedish politicians saw the importance of 9/11 at once. This was despite being distracted by the need to control the levers of Swedish direction of the EU. In 2001 Sweden had the novel responsibility of handling managing the new Europe. Under a democratic rotation system, by chance Sweden one of the nations in charge during the year of the Muslim kamikaze attacks. The Swedes dutifully kept the EU on its plotted course with the bureaucratic expertise they had shown and their nation had personified for generations, from Oxenstierna in Queen Christina’ day, to Dag Hammarskjöld in the twentieth, Hand Blix in the twenty first. When Sweden’s role as president of the EU expired Goran Persson as prime minister was unchallenged. He was a national and party leader with a mandate approved (with a few exceptions) to whole heartedly support a U.S. led campaign then in train which included the bombing of parts of Afghanistan.
The ill considered crusade word was quickly dropped, but the anti Muslim search for retribution for the destruction of so much American Property and the loss of so many lives triggered what was described as “a war on terror”. In the immediate aftermath of S11 the Swedes were happy to go along with UN policy but their minds and energies were not fully engaged.
Generally speaking, it was hard for the Nordic nations to turn their minds to the almost 3,000 dead in New York for more than a television sound bite as their own domestic economic problems were rapidly accelerating. The dot com bubble burst affected Ericsson badly. Sweden was home to the world’s largest producer of mobile phones, and the country’s GDP was expected to fall in 2002. Norway was preoccupied with petroleum prices, which fell from what now seems a ludicrously low price of $26 a barrel to $20, and the government was forced to announce that it was prepared to dip into the Petroleum Fund to pay budget deficits – should they arise. Denmark was experiencing a burst of racism against immigrants and asylum seekers, but was diverted long enough by the 9/11 catastrophe to drop its opposition to joint exercises with the EU in areas of defense and to undertake legal cooperation with its neighbors. The Danes suspected worse was to come from clandestine terrorists as well as immigrants. Are not all terrorists a particularly dangerous species of clandestini? The Finns more or less ignored 9/11. The big event for their September was the visit of Russian president Putin who trod on every toe his footsteps neared in Helsinki. Putin showed at that point that he was a better spy than diplomat, raising the Finnish demands for the return of Karelia, noting that he saw no need for NATO enlargement and – obviously insincere- promising not to drum up opposition to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania should they try to join the NATO alliance. In the event, Finnish president Halonen did Putin’s work for him, getting bogged down in a messy argument over whether or not she opposed the Baltic states joining NATO leaving Finland as the only non aligned nation in the Nordic region.
When the Finnish economy slid towards zero growth there was zero interest in Bush and his problems; the Finnish foreign minister had enough of his own, being forced to deny he had called the Israelis Nazis on account of their treatment of the Palestinians. By the end of 2002 the Finnish public retreated to the entrenched necessity of going it alone again, as they ad done in the winter war and the continuation war, such was the puzzle unfolding before their eyes as the U.S. reacted by ramping up NATO and their Russian neighbor retaliated by putting pressure on Finland to remain outside the organization. By a coincidence the diaries of Urho Kekkonen were published in which Kekkonen used the still relevant term “national realism” to describe what happens when a small state is confronted by a large one. While Russia declared it would not be pleased if NATO bases were established within 200 km of its borders, the Finns replied coolly that while the majority of Finns favored non-alliance, believed they could not expect help from the west, and were happy to build another nuclear reactor to lessen the country’s reliance on Russia for energy needs. Finland had to co- exist with its nearest super power neighbor.
The Danes reacted differently, tweaking Russia’s nose by releasing a Chechen separatist leader in the face of Russian demands for extradition. Public opinion in Copenhagen changed under a perceived threat to Denmark’s national identity caused by the large number of immigrants settling as asylum seekers. Danes began to think that their future belonged to its alliances with the U.S. and with the more conservative members of the EU, and it was in this context that Anders Fogh Rasmussen was elected prime minister in a post September 11 with a result which showed the biggest swing to the right among Danish voters since 1920. In Norway, the Storting decided that Norway should fight on in Afghanistan. Mine clearers and experts in high mountain warfare were thought to be a sensible contribution, as indeed they were. By chance Norway was one of the rotating members of the UN Security Council of the United Nations in 2001-2002, and from that vantage point led the Scandinavian bloc by insisting that the UN should have a say in any decision concerning Iraq. For by the end of 2002 Bush, rather like the angry schoolmaster who spins from facing the blackboard, turns to face his enemy, and demands to know who in his class farted. Bush decided, facing away from the events he and Dick Cheney were up against, was that there were two stinkers, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. In the land where infart and utfart are constantly before the eyes of motorists and everyone else, the Scandinavians took Bush’s words with a grain of salt.
Osama Bin Laden was part of a multi billion dollar family empire which aped Western tastes and eschewed Islamic frugality. While the black sheep of the family, Osama Bin Laden embraced hard line Islam, many of his 54 bothers and sisters were investing in U.S. movies, horses, real estate, even privatized prisons, and an airport. In 1993 world media picked up on Osama as a fearless rich hero to the mujaheddin, and as one of the financiers behind a bomb which killed six innocent New Yorkers in a spectacular terrorist attack. . The Norwegians could swallow some of this, but not all of it. They went on record as being unconvinced by the alleged link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Specifically, Norwegians distrusted the British intelligence reports which claimed Iraq had a weapons program which was intended to finish off what S11 started. The Nordic bloc at the first stages of the conflict was determined to act only within UN guidelines to establish the truth.
When the United States invaded its second Muslim country in 18 months by invading Iraq alarm bells rang in the Nordic area. On the one hand, weren’t some Muslims the cause of social and political dislocation in Scandinavia? The US did not care what the Nordic nations thought. The US claimed to have the right to make a preemptive strike when American national interests were threatened any where they chose anywhere in the world. It was no coincidence perhaps that oil rich Iraq was chocker block with malevolent Muslims and at the same time overflowing with oil. Nor was it a coincidence that Dick Cheney had run Haliburton, or that Condoleezza Rice had had an oil tanker named after her.
The Scandinavian nations were doubtful to say the least over the motives for Bush’s strike at Saddam. The plan to introduce western style democracy by force was ludicrous to Nordic social democrats. The almost total absence of gender equality in business and politics in Iraq and similar countries was unacceptable to Scandinavians. Neither democracy nor gender equality could grow out of the barrel of a gun. The strength of the Norwegian krone had resulted in a weak market for the more expensive Norwegian exports and consequently Norwegian companies had moved some of their production to the cheaper labor markets in Eastern Europe and Asia. The Norwegian in the street was much more interested in Free Willy the orca who died in Norway on 12 December, than George Bush. For Sweden, 10 September 2003 over shadowed 11 September 2001; on that afternoon Sweden’s foreign minister Anna Lindh, was stabbed to death in NK in the CBD of Stockholm. To get some idea of the impact on shopping Swedes imagine if Condoleezza Rice was killed with a knife in a store in New York. Lindh had the charisma of Hilary Clinton. Her characteristic smile was not adult. It was beam as inclusive in its happiness and optimism as that of a four year old at birthday party. Her murder was a horrible crime with the message- as on September 11 – that in an advanced western democracy with every possible security blanket then devised no one was safe.
Lindh was the crown princess of social democrat politics; she was expected to succeed Goran Persson as prime minister of Sweden as the most able and energetic of the cabinet. Paradoxically she one of most aware of the importance of dealing with Muslim alienation in Sweden. She was innovative not punitive in her attempt to massage the connection between Muslim and non-Muslim Swedes in one of the world’s most successful multi cultural societies. Swedes are not demonstrators of public emotion, but as in the case of Olof Palme they wept in the streets and maintained their grief until the time the trial of the Swedish- born Serb convicted for the offence. Who were the Serbs? The war criminals that in 1993 exterminated Muslims and destroyed parts of their own country in the name of religion and nationalism.
The Swedes could not ignore the Iraq war. Hans Blix, a Swedish citizen, played a key role with a potential to stop the crisis escalation as the UN’s chief weapons inspector. A key factor in which focused the question o the invasion of Iraq was whether on not Saddam had weapons of mass destruction in his country and was thinking of using them to repeat the Muslim terror attack of 9/11.A young Cambridge political scientist, Glen Rangwalla, spotted that the UK government dossier justifying the invasion of Iraq was mostly pinched from the internet. The claim that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapons industry hidden in the desert and weapons capable of launching them into Europe proved to be a lie which split British politics. And divided the ruling party in London. In 2003 two cabinet ministers resigned, Robin Cook and Clare Short, when Prime Minister Tony Blair reneged on a pledge to work through the UN. Swedish public opinion was naturally opposed to military action outside the UN, and as Hans Blix made his tortuous investigation which eventually found no weapons of mass destruction, Swedish media reflected this and became rock solid in hostility to Bush and US foreign policy and the mad adventurism of the coalition of the willing. Across the Sound, profoundly disagreeing with their Swedish cousins, Denmark was one of the few EU nations to actively support the US led war in Iraq, making a contribution with a warship and a submarine: 500 Danish troops were sent to support the British, and the first of them to die was shot dead in a fire fight near Basra in August 2003.
The British had tremendous problems of their own as one of the central protagonists in the Iraq war. Since British foreign policy and Nordic foreign policy had been intertwined for centuries, the unfolding complexity of the invasion made more and more impact on the Scandinavians. Norway had traditionally been close to the UK, through regal intermarriage and shared hostility to Germany in two world wars. Sweden had been ambiguous, having pro German sentiments in the early twentieth century and a policy of neutrality which allowed them with building bank accounts to trade weapons to both belligerents in world was two. The Danes thanked the British for their efforts to help liberate occupied Denmark, and the Finns felt let down by the lack of active British government involvement in the winter and continuation war. When the Nordic countries spotted that British ministers had not told the truth when they said that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction at the time of the 2003 US led invasion of Iraq, Blair’s lack of penitence led to problems of accepting the credibility of all involvement in the war and enraged some members of the Nordic bloc. But not all. Denmark’s 500 troops in Iraq were under UK command. Danish newspapers told their readers that the Danish government had ignored their own intelligence reports that the likelihood of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was minimal. The Danes were tarred with the same brush by world public opinion as evil themselves when the commanders of the Danish battalion in Iraq were summoned home to explain alleged abuse of Iraq prisoners by Danish troops. In Copenhagen a minority anti-American group was further distraught when a Danish citizen complained that he had been tortured by American soldiers in Afghanistan before being imprisoned in Cuba for 2 years.
A fight for democracy? That was the question. Finland went in swinging, using the time honored expedient of having its President say things the prime minister could back away from if necessary. President Halonen told the UN that the US military invasion in Iraq was out of line. Addressing the General Assembly shortly after Bush had spoken, Halonen criticized the international community for ignoring common will and using force which was not compatible with international law. Norway remained unobtrusive, its increasing income from oil revenue in the market augmented by the disruption to Iraq supplies making its policy of the less said the better seem appropriate in Oslo.
By 2005 the war in Iraq had become a fizzer for Bush and rat poison for his political party. Although public opinion in the US was riveted to TV coverage of a conflict which was costing three American lives a day, the Nordic area – with the exception of Denmark – had by then begun to stand aloof.
As a nation, Sweden faced a horrific death toll itself from the Asian tsunami, which Swedes thought initially had killed about the same number of Swedish tourists in Thailand as Americans who died in the twin towers collapse. In fact it turned out to be more like 500 than 3,000, but when searching Google for the news, Swedes preferred to dwell on their successes not disasters, taking the celebrations of 100 years of Norwegian freedom as an example of what the Nordic area could achieve when it came to constructive foreign police problem solving. In 1905 the Norwegians simply declared that Oscar 11 had not fulfilled his duty as king of Norway and therefore the Swedish-Norwegian union was at an end. The Swedes accepted this. The Finns spent most of 2005 worrying about whether the incursions into Finnish airspace by Russian aircraft was simply a matter of bad navigation, or a message about the unwisdom of following the Estonian example and joining NATO. The Danes, however, threw themselves into the war on terror with indecent enthusiasm, and were rewarded by a visit from President Bush himself. Naturally Bush provoked demonstrations against US intervention in Iraq and Denmark’s involvement, but by a ghoulish coincidence Bush arrived one day before terrorist bombings in London, triggering fears that Copenhagen’s underground could be next. A statement on the internet claiming to be from al-Qaeda in Europe threatened to attack “crusader states” and dignified Denmark’s role by singling the Danes out by name. Mind you, they sometimes confused Denmark with Norway, but who doesn’t now and then?
By 2006 the Swedes had given up on the U.S. as they did during the Vietnam War. The difference was they did not make continual protests about the war in Iraq, they by and large ignored it. Twelve years of socialist rule in Sweden was ended on 6 October when Fredrik Reinfeldt was chosen as prime minister leading a centre-right government with an absolute majority in the parliament. Finns sucked their pencils and wondered what it all meant. If NATO became more European, mused one Presidential candidate, Sauli Niinisto, might Finland then be wise to join NATO – provided Finland itself was threatened, an unlikely eventuality. As Nokia increased its world market share of Mobile phones to 34% who cared about Bush in Helsinki? Norwegians played with their paper clips (the only thing Norwegians have ever invented) and worried about pollution by the world’s oil and gas industries (that is, them) and celebrated the return of two stolen Munch paintings. If they felt any anxiety and longed for a good scream, it was not about Iraq. Denmark was the only Scandinavian nation still in the thick of things, and the Muslim question turned even uglier for Danes after the Jylland-Posten published 12 cartoons offensive to Islam. Danish exports to the Middle East were hit hard. The Danish flag was burned across the Muslim world. There were 530 Danish speaking troops still in Iraq and as well as the 290 under NATO command in Afghanistan. This made sure that the Danes continued to wake every morning with a sneaking worry they were on the next terrorist list. Two police raids, one in Odense and the other in Copenhagen, found suspected terrorists cells which were said to be linked to international networks, and were in the possession of explosives, to be used in Denmark and abroad. “Abroad” in this connection did not mean Helsinki, Oslo or Stockholm.
As George Bush nears the end of his ruinous term of office, the Scandinavians and the Finns scratch their heads? Is it possible that he and Dick Cheney will do it again, headed off into new Indian Territory looking for scalps? You do not have be Robert Dessaix or Nidia Hagstrom, Al Simon or Hugh Stretton to know that the Nordic region is over supplied with gentle people, highly educated, politely astute, with the welcome mat out (except for Finland) to refugees, black or white, Muslim or Buddhist. From the Nordic point of view, one man’s Scarlet Pimpernel is another’s Bin Laden. Jerry Adams and Saddam Hussein- what’s the difference? It depends who controls the justice system. The Finns know all about civil wars, and what happens when a great power invades a smaller one is always chaos. Greece or Finland, Iraq or India – imperial adventures always end in civil war. For the Finns what is happening in Iraq is not a war against terror, a fight against evil, and attempt to establish democracy: it’s a predicable civil war between the long term enemies and factions within the state during the power vacuum caused by a crusade not for Baptist values, but for oil. President Svinhuvud informed the obliging Germans, when Finland was at last free of its ambiguous membership of the Russian empire, with Grand Duchy status, no, thanks but no thanks. They did want von der Goltz and German bayonets fighting in Finland. But the Finns got their civil war nevertheless, the Reds versus the Whites and as Churchill said after the1916 Irish Rising, grass grows over a battlefield but never over a scaffold: a tag Bush and Cheney have not grasped. The Scandinavians are experts in keeping their heads down. Munch with his painting The Neutrals said it all; the effect of the Malmo agreement between the three kings of Scandinavian nations in 1914 led to a heap of corpses, including many of their own citizens. Hitler kicked his Blitzkrieg off by invading Norway and Denmark in 1940 – no wonder Sweden kept its eyes averted from the Winter and Continuation Wars in Finland, and the fiends in Norway, and the collaborator level in Copenhagen. With this bloody past, who could blame them for using their own techniques to solve the Muslim Problem?