Dag Hammarskjöld and International Law in the World Today, daghammarskjold.se

Sverker Åström

Dag Hammarskjöld Lecture given by Sture Linnér and Sverker Åström at Uppsala University on 15 October 2007

Sverker Åström, longstanding political commentator on current issues of international politics in the Swedish public domain, remained faithful to
his image. Not only did he use the opportunity to reiterate his criticism of the hegemony of the United States and its intervention in Iraq. He also took the liberty of airing a few ideas about the role of the United Nations in dealing with this challenge.

Sverker Åströms anförande:

Gathered together here today to remember and honour Dag Hammarskjöld, it is natural that we take the opportunity to pay particular attention to the role of international law in his thinking and his actions. International law, as it is incarnated in the UN Charter, was for him the guiding light and source of inspiration, as well as the binding line of action, in everything he did as head of the UN. It was upon this that he wanted to build a world order that could ensure peace and create a foundation for the happiness and prosperity of future generations […]

Sverker Åström 1967

So I do not hesitate to ask the question of how Hammarskjöld as Secretary-General of the UN would have reacted to the American-British attack on Iraq in March 2003. For those who knew him well, and some of them are present here, there can be no doubt but that his reaction would have been extremely strong and that he would have seen the attack as a deadly blow to the principle of peaceful coexistence between peoples. Undoubtedly, before the attack he would have been very active in ensuring that the inspections in Iraq led by Hans Blix continued. He would – if the attack nevertheless had been carried out – most certainly have contacted the White House and demanded a cessation of military operations. This assumption fi nds support in the fact that Hammarskjöld on a large number of other occasions tried the response of travelling himself, or sending personal representatives, to areas where confl ict had erupted or was feared (Hungary in 1956, for example). […]

It was at this stage that the Swedish government took its offi cial position, when Prime Minister Göran Persson clearly stated that Sweden’s government considered the attack to be in contravention of international law. This stand, taken on principle, has not subsequently been abandoned by the Swedish government, although Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has made some vague statements to the eff ect that the legal situation is not clear to him. It is remarkable that when our new government, on 14 February 2007, presented its fi rst declaration on foreign policy, the Iraq War was mentioned in just one sentence: ‘The situation in Iraq is a cause for concern.’ One had expected a clear stand and a critical comment upon this, the greatest international catastrophe since the Second World War, with almost 100,000 Iraqi civilian casualties, two million Iraqis forced to fl ee their homeland (about 40,000 of whom fl ed to Sweden), one and a half million internal refugees, and material destruction such that the country will not be able to rebuild a functioning society for generations.[…]

The reason that the Swedish government, both the previous one and the present one, has been so silent about the Iraq issue is evidently that it does not want to off end Washington. This is a completely wrong approach. Criticism from Sweden would be but a mild breeze in comparison with the storm of protests that is heard from domestic American opinion, and in the long term would not have any bearing on our offi cial relations with the USA, which in our own interest must remain good. Our silence, however, means that we betray our values and traditions in a manner that will have far-reaching consequences for our self-respect and our standing among nations. Läs hela talet