Welcome to our new column, Security Council Presidency, providing insight into the United Nations Security Council member sitting in the rotating seat of the president every month, starting in July with Sweden and its ambassador, Olof Skoog. The column is meant to be an informative capsule of not only the country’s ambassador but also the ambitions of the country in the presidency. A short country profile is also part of our new feature. As Americans say, Enjoy!
Sweden stepped into its role as president on July 1, the second time it has held the position since it became an elected member of the Council for a 2017-2018 term. (The presidency rotates among the 15 members by alphabetical order.) The last time Sweden was president occurred in January 2017, when the Council had to deal with sudden meetings on Gambia’s constitutional turmoil, which was resolved quickly by regional bodies. As a result of dealing with a geopolitical upheaval like that, Sweden said it was ready for any unexpected situation this month in the Council as it also promotes its trademark feminist foreign policy agenda.
PassBlue recently discussed with Sweden’s ambassador to the UN, Olof Skoog, his role as an ambassador and his life in New York. An additional interview was held with Carl Skau, the alternative representative to the Security Council, about the priorities of Sweden’s presidency. In addition, brief details of Sweden’s government and other national details are provided.
Sweden’s Ambassador to UN: Olof Skoog, 55, from Lund
Ambassador to UN Since: 2015
Languages: Swedish, Spanish, French, English
Education: Lund University, Bachelor of Law
His story, briefly: In the early 1970s, when Skoog was 9 years old, his father got a job in Indonesia (he worked for a Norwegian company); this experience was eye-opening for young Skoog, who said, “To fly to the other end of the world . . . that was where my international interest was awakened.” Only 2½ years later, the Skoogs were back in Lund, but being in Indonesia, he said, had been “overwhelming in many ways,” such as being “confronted with the poverty” in Jakarta — the “third world” — “so those are very strong memories and really awakened my interest in global leadership.” In Indonesia, Skoog had gone to an American school, so language-wise, the experience was also difficult. But the overall experience was “positive and I always wanted to go back to Indonesia.”
It turns out that he went back as an adult when he became the European Union ambassador to the country (on loan from the Sweden ministry). One of his sons attended the same school that the elder Skoog attended when he was in Jakarta as a child. (Skoog has two sons, who live in Sweden, one studying at university and the other a journalist; his daughter works in London.)
The Indonesia connection continued: his wife, Johanna Brismar Skoog, is the current Swedish ambassador to the country; she and her husband see each other about every two to three months. He said that being separated so far and for so long can be “difficult,” and that one remedy for him is to work a lot. On the positive side, he said, it is very passionate when they meet. (Brismar Skoog is moving to New York to join Skoog in September.)
How do you like New York City? “Professionally it’s fantastic, this is the diplomatic capital of the world, and having 192 colleagues on your speed dial is amazing,” Skoog said. “But the job is very intense [being on the Security Council] and long hours, so you don’t get to enjoy aspects of New York.”
What do you miss about Sweden? “I miss it a lot, my family and friends there; there are beautiful things about Sweden . . . snow in the winter, winter landscapes; on occasional summer days, there’s no reason to go anywhere else. It’s so beautiful . . . but I’m also happy to be away from there, in the winter darkness.”
Priorities of Sweden’s presidency: Effectiveness: making sure every meeting has a purpose; inclusivity: bringing the voices of women and youth to the table (Sweden will hold debates on such matters as children in armed conflict and on climate-related security risks); prevention: discussions on Africa, including a focus on gender equality.
Significance of the timing of your second presidency: “Broadly, it’s a challenging environment, it’s hard to think of a more difficult time in terms of conflict on the [Security Council] agenda, and broader political dynamic,” said Skau. “At the same time, there’s no more important time, and we have been guided from the beginning by our commitment to multilateral diplomacy as a means to prevent and respond to conflict — and the centrality of international law. These voices are more important than ever. . . . ” But one of the most challenging aspects of Sweden’s presidency, Skau admitted, is the World Cup. With Sweden still competing (as of July 5), he said he would have to make sure his troops aren’t too distracted. “The World Cup will continue, so hopefully we won’t be too distracted by that!”
The challenges of carrying out Sweden’s feminist foreign policy “In the Council,” Skau said, “I don’t feel like there’s much resistance, but not much energy and excitement, either. Sometimes it feels lonely, but the normative framework for peace and security is quite strong.”
Head of State: Stefan Lofven (prime minister); King Carl XVI Gustaf
Foreign Affairs Minister: Margot Wallstrom
Type of Government: Democratic parliamentary constitutional monarchy; elections held every four years. Currently, the country is led by a center-left coalition made up of the Social Democrats (Lofven) and the Green Party (next general election is Sept. 9, 2018)
Year Sweden Joined the UN: 1946
Years in the Security Council: 1957–58; 1975–76; 1997–98; 2017-2018
Closest Allies: Denmark, Norway, Finland and other European members on the Council
Population: 9.5 million
Memberships in Regional Groups: The Nordic Council (since 1952). European Union (since 1995)
Adult Literacy Rate: 99% (2014)
Maternal Death Rate: 0.5% (2015)
GDP per Capita: $51,599 (2016; 11th globally)
Emissions (tons of CO2/year): 5 (world average, 5)
Total Contributions to UN Operating Budget: $23 million (2018), making Sweden the 19th-largest contributor to the UN
Total Contribution to UN Peacekeeping Budget: $64 million (2018)
[The article was updated.]
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Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.