Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will visit Washington, D.C. on March 6 for the first time since President Trump took office — lagging behind other Nordic countries to arrange a state visit.
The Swedish government stated that the purpose of the bilateral talk is to focus on growth, job creation, and innovation. Other highly relevant issues to discuss will be external relations, security, and defense.
Sweden is the fourth out of the five Nordic countries to arrange a bilateral visit to talk with President Trump in the White House. It is worth mentioning that they met in 2017 in New York. This might not be a coincidence, and the long-awaited visit speaks volumes about the Swedish government’s trepidation to engage the controversial U.S. leader. However, this state visit is the opportunity to make a good impression on the president and put Sweden on the map for the Trump administration.
There are two competing factions in the Sweden — between Foreign Affairs Minister Margot Wallstrom and Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist. The defense minister wants closer relations and promotes the cooperation agreement with the United States while the foreign affairs minister is a proponent of the UN Security Council.
So what is the prime minister’s position, in terms of U.S. relations? When the visit was confirmed, he stated that “our relations with the United States are important, both for our economy and our security. Through our broad cooperation we create growth and security for our citizens.”
Sweden and the U.S. are both members of the UN Security Council, but Trump does not place the same faith in the UN as Wallstrom. Sweden and the United States, under the Trump administration, disagree on some issues — free trade, energy and climate, and feminism. This is a challenge and it is important that Löfven keeps the message simple.
Löfven should model after Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who made a good impression on Trump. They talked about economic growth and security, and Solberg gave examples of U.S. export that is successful in Norway. Trump was talking about Norway for a long time after the meeting and mentioned that Norway is a good trade partner and an important ally.
Löfven must focus on the things that are relevant to the current administration if he is to prioritize issues Sweden cares about. In particular, he should emphasize the economic ties between the two countries and areas of cooperation in international security. To emphasize job creation in the United States is strategically important for any conversation with Trump.
The foreign affairs minister has made no secret of her dislike for Trump. With regard to the unpredictable international environment, it is important to be pragmatic and not to criticize U.S. actions in recent months. There is no gain of going against the United States. Sweden is dependent on the United States, like it or not. It is a win-win to have good ties to the United States and vice versa, both in terms of security and economy. Sweden creates jobs in the United States and is an important investor.
Löfven should also remind Trump Sweden has an Embassy in North Korea that could be key for the United States regarding the nuclear issue as the official voice of the United States in Pyongyang. Additionally, Sweden has a long history of mitigating Russia, and in case of a crisis in the Baltic Sea region, Sweden would not say no to the United States or NATO members to use Swedish territory.
Whether Löfven will be criticized for this visit will depend on his speech when meeting the president. He will be here to represent Sweden and not his party, similar to how he must impress Trump, not the wider United States.
There is high probability that Löfven will be asked about the NATO Partnership and Sweden’s military capability. Washington pundits are becoming increasingly frustrated at how Sweden is refusing to fully commit to the NATO alliance. In the end, what is worse for Sweden: to increase the expenditure on defense or to increase the security risk?
The key recommendation is to find a balance between satisfying the Swedish population and supporting the Nordic and European state leaders in emphasizing the importance of the transatlantic relationship. At the end of the day, to make an impression and not to be the forgotten should be a top priority. We cannot forget, even though Sweden has many strengths, who is dependent on whom. Sweden’s leadership has to prove that Sweden is a good partner — both before, during, and after the Trump era.
Pragmatic leadership is what the Western world needs right now, and Sweden should be part of that leadership. It is not only about Sweden, Sweden is also a global actor. The prime minister should communicate these topics and make Sweden a part of Trump’s Nordic priority list.