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Hal Brands

Sweden’s Faux Neutrality Couldn’t Survive Putin’s Ukraine War

Life can be pretty sweet for a nonaligned state as long as a superpower like the US guarantees its survival.

Neutral no more.

Neutral no more.

Photographer: Jonas Gratzer/Getty Images

Is there life after empire? I pondered the question last week at the Engelsberg Seminar, a gathering of academics, journalists and policy makers held in a disused ironworks two hours by car from Stockholm. Sweden once controlled vast stretches of northern Europe. It then contented itself, after a series of military defeats, to a more modest existence as a small neutral power with a healthy welfare state.

Judging from the quantity and quality of champagne consumed at Engelsberg, life after empire can be pretty sweet — so long as some other superpower can keep your world from falling apart. For generations, a nominally neutral Sweden could thrive only by aligning itself quietly, if unmistakably, with the American empire. Today, the country’s push for North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership is making that alignment explicit.