As Germany already has done and Sweden is in the process of doing – there is a need for overall priorities set down in national security strategies. The German strategy has recently been presented and the Swedish is expected for Spring 2024. Avoiding a Christmas tree of wishful thinking is of primary importance for most countries at a time of multiple crises and war. Yearly budgetary struggles in the context of domestic politics should not be allowed to determine fundamental security policy issues.

But it is, indeed, easier said than done. During the pandemic all eyes were on managing the spread of a global wildfire, first by seeking to do it on your own, and then later by increasing cooperation, in Europe not least on the level of the EU. It was very difficult for politicians to think about anything else. After the Russian full-scale aggression against Ukraine 2022, for Sweden and Finland priority attention had to be directed at accession to NATO and the re-establishment of a serious military defense. In  Germany, €100 billion were set aside to speed up implementation of priorities set already back in 2014 in terms of national defense. A vital part of these new defense priorities in the US and many European countries included assisting Ukraine, on a successively more robust level, increasingly less concerned about unwanted escalation to a full-scale war directly between Russia and NATO. And it was hoped that the world would perceive these priorities in much the same way as European countries closer to the battlefield.

But security policy is never a process of actions alone, but a process of action and reaction, not only symmetric, but also asymmetric.

Russia used, sometimes skillfully, every possible avenue to respond not only to the Ukraine war effort. It used both before and after the renewed aggression the full scope of its hard and soft power assets that could help to undermine Western resolve and Western unity. It has over time become more and more obvious that this Russian policy orientation is succeeding to an extent which may impact the international system over a longer period of time. This means that Western states need to widen their scope of fundamental priorities, because what may be won on the battlefield could in other ways still be lost on the global and regional levels.

Ahead of the UN General Assembly yearly session in September, David Ignatius recently wrote: “The US needs the Global South on Ukraine. It has to offer more in return”. He goes on to criticize American lack of delivery on global development. The UN sustainable development goals set in 2016 are to a large extent not being implemented. Global food insecurity is affecting over 345 million people — more than double the 2020 level.

Russia is still some 30 years after the Cold War perceived in many Third World countries as a power willing to support governments in the south against their former colonial masters. Russia did so in Egypt and Syria ahead of the 1973 October War in the Middle East, Vietnam, Angola, and elsewhere. Their support was and remains by no means altruistic, but as a means to diversify dependence on the colonial West. After the Cold War, in a partly new narrative, Russia together with China further developed the message to a wider group less democratic governments in the south. It Is not difficult to guess what is being communicated to governments, partly behind closed doors:

“You’re okay, there is no need to listen to the West preaching it’s liberal values without understanding your history, culture and need to address immediate security threats from terrorism and external powers. And we can help you to not only re-establish order, but to build infrastructure and supply everything from food to computer chips. We can help you, and you can help us, to develop a new world for instance in the context of BRICS much closer to the real needs of the Global South. We understand that sometimes military coups may be necessary to get rid of corruptive links with the West and we are willing to support you in your endeavors to create real independence. Yes, the war in Ukraine means complications for instance in terms of deliveries of grain, but we will do our best to compensate you as soon as possible through other directions of delivery.”

It is noteworthy that in the German national security strategy, there is already implicit attention to this narrative, and even more explicit it is a part of the concerns developed by the EU High Representative Borrell who since sometime is putting increasing emphasis on the need to create and maintain partnerships in the Global South – which recognizes that we do not live in a perfect world in terms of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. The EU Strategic Compass for security and defense includes the overall priority:

“In order to address common threats and challenges, the EU will:

– strengthen cooperation with strategic partners such as NATO, the UN and regional partners, including the OSCE, AU and ASEAN.”

As Christine Lagarde, President of ECB has noted, the European Union is not and will not for a very long time be self-sufficient, but will need at least one third of its goods to be delivered from outside of the Union.

The European Union cannot afford to allow Russia to help weaponize migration, helping right-wing forces in European politics shutting down efforts to maintain global empathy with those that are poor and vulnerable to environmental degradation and climate change.

Cooperation must once again become a fundamental priority, not allowing a possible disastrous outcome the American elections 2024 to lead to a shutdown of cooperation with China and its closest partners.

In the German security strategy, therefore, the focus on the level of headlines is not only on deterrence, defense and resilience but also on sustainability. This not only in terms of fighting environmental and climate change, but on also creating a sustainable partnerships worldwide. Chancellor Scholz: “we are investing in new partnerships with the up and coming countries in Asia, Africa and America, and are widening our trade relations”. And Green Foreign Minister Baerbock adds: “We are committed to partnerships that benefit both sides, are sustainable and do not create one sided dependencies. We will thus increasingly dovetail our instruments – from crisis prevention and stabilisation measures to sustainable development cooperation.”

In this context, of course, the EU becomes a high priority as an actor in support of global governance, where the global South has a recognized fundamental role. Not even the largest economy in Europe can do this on its own and also not NATO with its fundamentally hard security profile.

The German government believes that the EU  also needs to develop its deterrent capabilities in an ongoing hybrid warfare situation requiring an integrated security policy. But the German posture in terms of priorities is substantially wider, addressing mid and long-term security policy priorities, which currently are less clearly perceived in many European countries.

The security policy discourse cannot be reduced to responding to a threat from the east. The Swedish public came to realize this brutally only a few weeks ago when the Swedish security police decided to elevate the threat level to the second highest level (4 on a 5 level scale) not with a direct reference to Russia, but to organized crime and terrorism with links primarily to threats from the South – although indirectly also from countries such as Russia and Iran.

For the private sector, national security policy is once again of fundamental importance in terms of setting the stage for international trade and security of supply. Strategic autonomy for Europe is an important objective in some respects and transatlantic cooperation remains of fundamental important for European prosperity and security. But it is not enough. There needs to be a global policy, not only of defense but also cooperation. Priorities need to include the Global South and the EU as a vital actor in this context.

Remains to ask the obvious question: To what extent are the German recipes applicable to other Western states including Sweden? Or is its diversified focus to be seen as a provisional compromise in the ruling coalition?

The author is former ambassador, holds a PhD and is a fellow of The Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences.
The text is earlier published by Consilio International.