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Carl Bildt

Carl Bildt

Co-Chair European Council on Foreign Relations @ecfr. Among many other things. På svenska på @cbildt.

Articles by Carl Bildt

Why This Time Was Different

17 days ago

In 2003, the world contained the SARS epidemic to Southeast Asia and ended the crisis by that July. Based on the limited information currently available, four factors help to explain the difference between then and now.

STOCKHOLM – How will the COVID-19 mega-crisis end? I don’t know, and nor does anyone else. So, perhaps it would be more productive to reflect on how it started. By addressing that issue, we might be able to improve our chances of averting another pandemic in the future.

What AIDS Taught Us About Fighting Pandemics

PS OnPoint

Mariette Pathy Allen/Getty Images

Free to read

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Welcome to the Post-American World

April 28, 2020

With Donald Trump in the White House, the age of American global leadership is over. On the matter of America’s role in the world, Trump has practiced what he preached during his election campaign – and, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, he is practicing it with a vengeance.

STOCKHOLM – The first global crisis of the post-American era is here. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will shape the world for years to come.For the better part of a century, the United States has always come forward during times of crisis to exercise some sort of leadership. Sometimes, this contribution has been mostly welcomed; other times, it has not been. And the results have not always turned out as planned. But the basic American

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The Responsibility to Report

March 25, 2020

Given the growing frequency and severity of viral epidemics, there simply is no excuse for the depth of the COVID-19 crisis. All governments urgently need to come together to create new mechanisms and protocols for preventing such disasters from recurring.

STOCKHOLM – An unprecedented threat demands an unprecedented response. Rarely, if ever, have governments had to shift into crisis-management mode as quickly as they have in the past few weeks. So far, the focus has been on the most immediate medical, political, and economic issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic – as it should be. But gradually, governments’ attention will have to turn to the longer-term consequences of the crisis, and to the need to prevent such

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Has Australia’s Luck Run Out?

February 21, 2020

After three decades of surfing on a wave of Chinese demand for its coal and other resources, Australia is now confronting a dual crisis that will eventually come to define the twenty-first century. One way or another, climate change and China’s rise will force policymakers everywhere to reckon with trade-offs they have long chosen to ignore.

MELBOURNE – By any reasonable standard, Australia is a long way off from most other countries. Sydney is closer to the South Pole than it is to Singapore. Direct flights from Washington, DC, or Brussels to Canberra remain beyond our technical capabilities; there is always a layover somewhere.
The White Swans of 2020

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

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Hostages of History

January 17, 2020

The recent flareup between the United States and Iran is merely the latest installment in a decades-long grudge match, with both countries clinging to old grievances. The tragedy is that there would be plenty of room for cooperation to advance shared interests if both sides’ hardliners weren’t calling the shots.

NEW DELHI – During the recent flare-up between the United States and Iran, US President Donald Trump tweeted that he was prepared to bomb “52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago).” Some of these targets, he added, would be “important to … the Iranian culture,” suggesting that he was willing to strike Iranian national heritage sites.
The Truth About the

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Which Way for Europe on China?

December 12, 2019

Under its new leadership, the European Union has promised to step up its engagement on the world stage to ensure that it does not become a pawn in an escalating Sino-American great-power rivalry. To succeed, it will have to strike a careful balance between economic priorities and its own security.

STOCKHOLM – Recognizing that the European Union is facing a number of vexing challenges on the world stage, Ursula von der Leyen, the new European Commission president, has promised to lead a “geopolitical Commission.” Echoing this sentiment, Josep Borrell, the new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has challenged the EU to decide whether it wants to be a global “player,” or just a “playground” for

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Impeachment and the Wider World

November 20, 2019

As with the proceedings against former US Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump is ultimately a domestic political issue that will be decided in the US Congress. But, unlike those earlier cases, the Ukraine scandal threatens to jam up the entire machinery of US foreign policy.

STOCKHOLM – Once again, the United States is undergoing the profound drama of presidential impeachment proceedings. But, unlike in the past, this time the implications for the rest of the world could be substantial.
Abolish the Billionaires?

PS OnPoint

Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

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Time to Bite the Bullet in Syria

October 18, 2019

US President Donald Trump’s impulsive decision to pull American troops out of northern Syria and allow Turkey to launch a military campaign against the Kurds there has proved utterly disastrous. But a crisis was already inevitable, given the realities on the ground and the absence of a coherent US or Western policy in Syria.

CANBERRA – Recent events in Syria have naturally raised two questions: Who lost the country? And where might the international community go from here?
The High Price of Trump’s Great Betrayal

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Can Capitalist Democracy Survive?

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Ukraine Gets Its Chance

September 19, 2019

Few former Soviet states have fared worse than Ukraine over the past three decades, owing to the country’s domestic politics and geopolitical position. But with an popular new president who has promised to crack down on corruption and get serious about economic reforms, Ukrainians are right to be optimistic.

KYIV – Suddenly, opinion polls find that Ukrainians are more optimistic about their future than are citizens of most other countries around the world. That will come as a surprise to many, given Ukraine’s manifold challenges. And yet it is justified by the country’s current political trajectory.
The Meritocracy Muddle

PS OnPoint


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Remembering the Miracle of 1989

August 19, 2019

Thirty years ago this month, a series of peaceful demonstrations in Eastern Europe set off a chain of events that culminated in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Looking back, it is now clear that Europe experienced a miracle in 1989: the story could have had a much darker and bloodier ending.

STOCKHOLM – This month marks 30 years since Europe – and human civilization generally – began to undergo a miraculous transformation that is now etched in the world’s memory. By the summer of 1989, the Soviet Union was already in terminal decline. The only question was whether communism would disintegrate peacefully, or amid an explosion of violence and devastation.
The Case for a Guaranteed Job

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Our Kind of Diplomat

July 19, 2019

In his biography of the late American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, George Packer tells a broader story of what he sees as "the end of the American century." But while there is some truth to that historical framing, the fact is that while America has sometimes overextended itself, it has always continued to stumble forward.

STOCKHOLM – Our Man, the American journalist George Packer’s new 600-page biography of Richard Holbrooke, is a masterful book, not just for what it says about the late US diplomat himself, but also for how it portrays the evolution of US diplomacy more broadly.
Asia’s Scary Movie

Getty Images

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Russia’s Strategic Priorities, Viewed from Within

June 20, 2019

Like leaders of all major powers, Russia’s elite must regularly try to divine the future, in order to shape the country’s strategic priorities in a way that anticipates likely challenges. In Russia’s case, a recent report by the semi-official Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations urges a turn to the West.

STOCKHOLM – While the European Union gears up for new leadership this fall, and while US President Donald Trump has just launched his 2020 re-election campaign, Russian President Vladimir Putin is sitting steady in the saddle with a mandate stretching to 2024. But what, exactly, does Putin intend to do with his next five years in the Kremlin?

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Russia’s Strategic Priorities, Viewed from Within

June 20, 2019

Like leaders of all major powers, Russia’s elite must regularly try to divine the future, in order to shape the country’s strategic priorities in a way that anticipates likely challenges. In Russia’s case, a recent report by the semi-official Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations urges a turn to the West.

STOCKHOLM – While the European Union gears up for new leadership this fall, and while US President Donald Trump has just launched his 2020 re-election campaign, Russian President Vladimir Putin is sitting steady in the saddle with a mandate stretching to 2024. But what, exactly, does Putin intend to do with his next five years in the Kremlin?

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Europe’s Only Decision

May 20, 2019

After months of polling, speculation, and hand-wringing over the European Parliament election this month, one might think that nothing else matters. But there is a far more important question than who will lead the European Union for the next five years: What is the overarching strategic agenda that will guide their decisions?

STOCKHOLM – As the European Parliament election approaches, Europe is abuzz with speculation over who will lead the main European Union institutions for the next five years. Among the positions up for grabs are those currently held by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker; European Council President Donald Tusk; Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative

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The Kremlin’s Little Green Duds

April 17, 2019

In the decade since the European Union forged a stronger partnership with the Eastern European countries on Russia’s doorstep, the Kremlin has tried desperately to reassert its sphere of influence, even launching illegal incursions into Ukraine. Yet it is now clear that Russia’s efforts have backfired spectacularly.

STOCKHOLM – Five years ago this month, a small force of “little green men” – soldiers wearing no national insignia – seized control of a police station in Sloviansk, a small village in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast. Thus began the second stage of Russia’s campaign to dismember Ukraine, following its illegal annexation of Crimea that March. As the Kremlin’s own statements at the time made clear,

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Toward a New Global Charter

March 21, 2019

Whereas the failure to forge a lasting world order at Versailles resulted in the catastrophe of World War II, the establishment of shared principles under the 1941 Atlantic Charter led to eight decades of prosperity and relative stability. With the world undergoing another geopolitical sea change, a new global charter is needed.

STOCKHOLM – In August 1941, even before the United States had entered World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt met secretly off the coast of Newfoundland to discuss how the world could be organized after the war. A similar feat had been attempted at Versailles just over two decades earlier, but it had clearly failed.

Jose Luis

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Showdown in Munich

February 20, 2019

Not for the first time, this year’s Munich Security Conference may well be remembered as a turning point for global geopolitics. The messages coming from Europe and the United States could not have been further apart, implying dim prospects for transatlantic cooperation on managing economic and strategic threats.

MUNICH – It was at the 2007 Munich Security Conference that Russian President Vladimir Putin first signaled a cooling of Russian-Western relations. Soon thereafter, Russia invaded Georgia; and in the years since, it has annexed Crimea, launched incursions into Eastern Ukraine, and carried out cyber-attacks against Western democracies. Today, Russian-Western relations are in a downward spiral.


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The Trump Administration’s Farewell to Aims

January 17, 2019

Whereas previous US political leaders used speeches in Cairo to explain America’s broad objectives in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently opted for a different approach. Rather than articulate a strategy to bring peace and reform to the region, he promised only further confrontation.

STOCKHOLM – Every now and then, a US political leader descends on Cairo to deliver an address outlining America’s policy objectives in the ever-challenging Middle East. For example, in June 2005, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made waves with a speech that firmly put the promotion of freedom and democracy on the agenda.

Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images


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Decision Time for Europe

December 21, 2018

After muddling through a series of profound crises over the past decade, the EU now finds itself confronted with a political meltdown in Britain, a potential trade war with the US, and mounting security threats on its periphery. To address these and other challenges, Europe will have to make decisions it would rather continue to postpone.

STOCKHOLM – Say what you will against the European Union, but it does not lack ambitions or plans for realizing them. Almost immediately after the June 2016 Brexit referendum, the EU’s 27 other member states agreed to the “Bratislava Roadmap,” charting the course for a future without the United Kingdom. One year later, EU leaders reconvened in Tallinn and adopted a “Leaders’ Agenda” to “guide

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Are EU Troops on the Way?

November 22, 2018

Between US President Donald Trump’s bluster and the United Kingdom’s impending withdrawal from the European Union, Europeans have as much reason as ever to worry about their collective defense. Yet, for all the excitement over new proposals to establish a joint defense force, a true European army remains a distant aspiration.

STOCKHOLM – Suddenly, the debate about creating a joint European Union army has gained real momentum. After French President Emmanuel Macron recently proposed the idea, US President Donald Trump disparaged it (in a tweet, of course), but German Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed it (while urging caution).

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty

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The End of Scandinavian Non-Alignment

October 17, 2018

Massive NATO exercises in Norway this fall will include forces from two key non-NATO countries: Sweden and Finland. With no time to waste, Scandinavia is finally breaking fully with the Cold-War era doctrine of neutrality, and embracing a more prudent and proactive defense policy.

STOCKHOLM – Having debarked from ports in western Sweden, military convoys from various NATO countries are crowding Swedish streets and prompting the police to issue traffic warnings. They are on their way to Norway, where some 50,000 soldiers, airmen, and seamen will come together for NATO’s largest military exercise in years. The operation – “Trident Juncture” – has a clear goal: to demonstrate the alliance’s ability to defend Norway against a foreign aggressor.

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The Case Against Climate Despair

September 24, 2018

The growing severity and frequency of extreme-weather events suggests that climate scientists’ nightmare scenarios must be taken seriously. Fortunately, rapid advances are being made in clean-energy technology and carbon-neutral forms of living.

STOCKHOLM – Heat waves and extreme-weather events across the Northern Hemisphere this summer have brought climate change back to the forefront of public debate. Early analyses strongly suggest that natural disasters such as Hurricane Florence – which barreled into the US East Coast this month – have been exacerbated by rising global temperatures. Though US President Donald Trump has reneged on the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the rest of the world is becoming increasingly convinced of the need to

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Navigating the Syrian Endgame

August 23, 2018

Now that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian sponsors have reclaimed most of the territory previously held by opposition forces, his regime will soon be able to claim victory after seven years of carnage. For Europeans, it is imperative that that victory proves hollow.

STOCKHOLM – After a suspiciously sudden conversion, Russian President Vladimir Putin now claims to be worried about the fate of millions of refugees who have fled the carnage in Syria. In a recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin expressed his hope that the European Union would help to rebuild Syria so that its displaced people could start to return home. And in recent weeks, Russian diplomats have been hawking the same message

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The End of NATO?

July 18, 2018

US President Donald Trump escalated his war on US alliances and multilateral institutions at NATO’s summit in Brussels and then at his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. There is now little doubt that Trump’s strange affinity for Putin represents a serious threat to European security.

STOCKHOLM – What is left of NATO and the transatlantic order after US President Donald Trump’s tumultuous week in Brussels, the United Kingdom, and Helsinki, where he defended Russian President Vladimir Putin against accusations of cyber warfare by America’s own intelligence agencies?

Andia/UIG via Getty Images

Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Valery SharifulinTASS via Getty Images

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The Battle for Germany’s Soul

June 28, 2018

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Although the flow of migrants and refugees into Europe is far below what it was in 2015 and 2016, immigration remains a hot-button issue across the continent. In Germany, an escalating debate over migrant and refugee policies could even decide the future of the country’s role in Europe, and of European integration more generally.

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Why Marx Was Wrong

May 9, 2018

On the occasion of Karl Marx’s 200th birthday, the co-founder of communism has received a more than a few positive reappraisals, even from Western leaders. But those arguing that Marx cannot be blamed for the atrocities that his ideas inspired should reexamine his ideas.
STOCKHOLM – The bicentennial of Karl Marx’s birth has occasioned a surge of interest in the man’s work, complete with the unveiling of a statue in his hometown of Trier, Germany.

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At a celebration of Marxism in Beijing last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that, “like a spectacular sunrise, the theory illuminated the

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The West’s Crisis of Confidence

April 19, 2018

Even barring worst-case scenarios, the West will be facing a new world with new aspirants making new demands about the future. So it would be a fateful mistake to abandon the ideas and institutions that delivered prosperity and stability in previous decades.
STOCKHOLM – In an age defined by US President Donald Trump’s rage, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revisionism, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s unbridled ambition, the international order is becoming increasingly disorderly, dysfunctional, and even dangerous. How did we arrive at this state of affairs? And how can we leave it behind?

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Putin’s Pyrrhic Victory

March 23, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign incursions and public displays of militant nationalism have proved effective in winning over large swathes of the Russian electorate. But they have also turned Russia into an economic lightweight, and left it increasingly isolated on the world stage.
STOCKHOLM – Vladimir Putin’s reelection to a fourth term as Russia’s president was a foregone conclusion. The Kremlin undoubtedly orchestrated ballot-box stuffing and other measures to ensure that Putin received at least 70% of the vote across all regions. Yet, even without such shenanigans, Putin probably still would have cruised to victory on the nationalist wave created by his 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The Year Ahead 2018

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European Security in the Trump Era

February 15, 2018

In the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the fear that he would abandon America’s longstanding commitment to European security was not borne out. But that does not change the fact that Europe has entered a new world of hard-power conflicts in which it can no longer rely on others for its defense.
MUNICH – At last year’s Munich Security Conference, the mood of fear and apprehension among European security officials was palpable. Three years earlier, Russia had annexed Crimea and launched incursions into Eastern Ukraine. And in the previous year, a narrow majority of British voters had decided to take their country out of the European Union, and Americans had elected a president who was critical of NATO and openly admired Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Securing the Digital Transition

January 22, 2018

Within a few decades, the Internet has transformed the global economy and rendered the old Westphalian order increasingly obsolete. But without a new governance framework to manage cyber threats and abuses, what has been a boon to globalization could become its undoing.
NEW DELHI – Every year, the World Economic Forum publishes a Global Risks Report, which distills the views of experts and policymakers from around the world. This year, cybersecurity is high on the list of global concerns, as well it should be. In 2017, the world witnessed a continued escalation in cyber attacks and security breaches that affected all parts of society. There is no reason to believe 2018 will be different.

The Year Ahead 2018

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