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  • The Social Construction of Swedish Neutrality: Challenges to Swedish Identity and Sovereignty, and: Life-Line Lost: The Rise and Fall of “Neutral” Sweden’s Secret Reserve Option of Wartime Help from the West
  • Kjell Engelbrekt
Christine Agius, The Social Construction of Swedish Neutrality: Challenges to Swedish Identity and Sovereignty. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2006. 253 pages. $51.00.
Robert Dalsjö, Life-Line Lost: The Rise and Fall of “Neutral” Sweden’s Secret Reserve Option of Wartime Help from the West. Stockholm: Santérus International, 2006. 299 pages. $44.00.

On the face of it, these two books, both published in 2006, have a lot in common. Each constitutes an ambitious investigation of Sweden’s foreign, security, and defense policies, with an emphasis on the experience of the Cold War. Both specifically explore the issue of Sweden’s policy of neutrality, and in doing so they highlight the social and institutional fabric that has underpinned that policy. Moreover, each book represents an adapted doctoral dissertation originally submitted to a British university department.

But a closer examination reveals major differences. Christine Agius, the author of The Social Construction of Swedish Neutrality, writes in the context of contemporary international relations (IR) theory. Australian by origin, Agius apparently has no prior experience with the topic of Swedish foreign policy. Precious few Swedish-language references feature in her bibliography. Her main aim, as outlined in the introduction, is to discuss the relevance of the concept of neutrality after the end of the Cold War. The uniqueness of the Swedish case, she argues, lies in the “embedded nature of its foreign and security policy” (p. 6).

Robert Dalsjö, the author of Life-Line Lost, works within the British discipline of war studies, but he is intimately familiar with Swedish foreign policy and makes extensive use of Swedish-language sources. His project is mainly that of a traditional historian, seeking to discern the pattern of secret Cold War–era cooperation between neutral Sweden on the one hand and the United States, Great Britain, and the Nordic members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on the other. Dalsjö draws on recent Swedish-language research into this subject, on declassified documents from archives on both sides of the Atlantic, and on his own interviews with former top military officials.

Most readers may not be inclined to pore over both books in order to gauge their respective qualities and drawbacks. But a parallel reading yields interesting observations on the sharp dissonances and complementary insights of the two volumes. Agius usefully examines the topic over a longer timeframe, and she pays more attention to [End Page 154] the role of the Social Democratic Party in framing the modern version of Swedish neutrality. Dalsjö, for his part, has an extraordinarily good grasp of the 1949–1989 period. He concisely explains the intricacies of regional and international strategic assessments at any given time in the Cold War.

Agius’s frequent references to IR theory will make readers familiar with that literature feel comfortable. She pays tribute to many of the most prominent names in the IR field (Kenneth Waltz, Alexander Wendt, David Campbell) by direct citation or by adapting striking phrases or well-known characterizations. Her impression that the concept of neutrality often has been neglected in this literature is clearly correct, as is her criticism that realist accounts tend to downplay the significance and feasibility of the neutral position (pp. 10–11, 20–24). Agius contends that neutrality should be seen as a “constructivist” practice of international relations, one that takes into account how relevant actors conceive of their actions and provide them a meaning of their own. To her the constructivist formula “neutrality is what states make of it” helps to explain the varying types of neutrality practiced by Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden (pp. 32, 48–56).

Agius begins unpacking an interesting puzzle but does not expressly raise it until the end of the volume; namely, why “a neutralist stance [is] still the definitive aspect of the foreign policies of Sweden, Austria, Finland, Ireland and Malta” (p. 206). But even if one accepts the premises of her constructivist interpretation of neutrality, the book suffers from...


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