A winter evening in Stockholm, lights glinting in the harbor, snow falling outside. “And what about us,” I am asked, “up here in the North? What happens to us?” My Swedish companions are journalists, analysts and civil servants, people who care about their country’s national security. Though neither elite nor wealthy, they do share a worldview. They think their country’s prosperity depends on the European Union and its open markets. They also think their safety depends on the United States’ commitment to Europe. And since President Trump took office, they suddenly find themselves staring into an unfathomable abyss.
It’s not party politics that bother them: These are conservatives, by Swedish standards, and Republican presidents have suited them in the past. Trump’s tweeting and bragging don’t bother them that much either, though they find these unseemly. The real problem is deeper: Sweden’s economic and political model depends on Pax Americana, the set of American-written and American-backed rules that have governed transatlantic commerce and politics for 70 years — and they fear Trump will bring Pax Americana crashing down. Nor are they alone: Variations of this conversation are taking place in every European capital and many Asian capitals too.
The Swedes do have specific, parochial concerns, and one of them is Russia. For the past several years, Russia has played games with their air force and navy, buzzing Swedish air space and sending submarines along the coast. Jittery Swedes have brought back civil defense drills, and until November, it looked as though other changes were coming. Once, Swedish neutrality was a useful fiction, both for them and for the United States, because it gave Sweden a role as a negotiator. Now, Swedish support for joining NATO is at an all-time high. But they seem to be late to the party. If the U.S. president feels lukewarm about NATO, then what is the point?