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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

Competition and Coexistence

8 days ago

Just when the world needs to come together to tackle the pandemic and mobilize a response to climate change, geopolitical tensions are rising, threatening the prospects of cooperation. The situation demands a level of global statesmanship that has yet to materialize.

STOCKHOLM – These are demanding times. Geopolitical tensions are rising, primarily – but not exclusively – between China and the United States. Yet, at the same time, there is a deep need for inclusive global cooperation to fight the pandemic and meet the threat of climate change. How the leading powers manage these competing demands will set the course of global development in the years and decades ahead.
The Statelessness

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The Dangerous Balkan Standstill

August 18, 2021

Even after a quarter-century of relative peace, the Balkans have yet to achieve the lasting stability that was hoped for when the region’s wars were brought to an end. And now that the EU integration process has stalled, one cannot rule out a return of violent conflict.

STOCKHOLM – With two decades of war in Afghanistan coming to the grimmest of possible ends, it is worth remembering that three decades have now passed since war came to the Balkans. Both are case studies in how the mismanagement of war can have devastating effects that linger for decades.
Pax Americana Died in Kabul

Marcus Yam/LA Times

When America Remade the

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The Variant Threat Is Real

July 19, 2021

Rather than translating their own COVID-19 vaccination successes into a renewed global push to end the pandemic, rich countries are becoming complacent while the rest of the world grows increasingly desperate. But the emergence of dangerous new variants threatens everyone.

STOCKHOLM – It has now been 18 months since the SARS-CoV-2 virus was first sequenced in China. Within a month, the World Health Organization had issued its highest possible global alert, declaring the COVID-19 outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Weeks later, the WHO declared a pandemic. Yet we are nowhere near the end of the crisis. On the contrary, we have entered a dangerous new phase in its evolution.

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Biden Is Back, America Isn’t

June 21, 2021

China’s leaders clearly understand the critical importance of trade linkages to their country’s global clout. Unfortunately, US President Joe Biden’s administration needs to relearn that lesson.

STOCKHOLM – America is back. That was the key message US President Joe Biden sought to convey during his first trip abroad since taking office in January. But while Biden himself has rejoined the mix of global leaders – having served as vice president in Barack Obama’s two administrations – past US policies might not get the same opportunity for a comeback.
The Gaps in Bidenomics

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Killer Politics


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What to Do About Gaza

May 19, 2021

The current spasm of violence between Hamas and Israel is following a familiar, tragic pattern that reflects a broken status quo. Devising a viable solution will not be easy, but it is possible with a long-term process based on four principles.

STOCKHOLM – Gaza has long been one of those geopolitical problems that everyone wishes would just disappear. Israel, certainly, would prefer to seal off the Palestinian enclave – both from its own territory and from its collective mind. And notwithstanding occasional utterances to the contrary, Egypt tends to feel the same way. Whenever there is renewed talk of pursuing peace in the region, Gaza is almost always the issue that is left on the back burner.

The Big Lie

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War or Peace in Ukraine?

April 19, 2021

The massing of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s border does not necessarily spell war in the near term. But it should serve as a reminder to all of Europe that the region will not know peace until the Kremlin learns to live with a genuinely sovereign, democratic Ukraine.

STOCKHOLM – Can Russia accept living peacefully next to a sovereign, independent, and undivided Ukraine? Or is open war inevitable? This has long been the paramount question for Eastern Europe, and it has abruptly returned to the fore with the massive buildup of Russian military forces in Crimea and along Ukraine’s eastern border.

Build Back the State


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Humanity’s Historic Test

March 22, 2021

National leaders who bend to domestic pressure and hoard COVID-19 vaccines will ultimately leave their own countries worse off, given the coronavirus’s propensity to acquire new mutations. It is now us versus them – humankind against the virus and its many mutations.

STOCKHOLM – With “vaccine nationalism” intensifying by the day, the global effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic is at risk of faltering. As of mid-March, the coronavirus has infected approximately 120 million people globally, causing around 2.6 million deaths. Though these are huge figures, they represent merely a fraction of the global population, which means that the pandemic still has a very long way to go.

The Shape of Global Recovery

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Ending the Forever War in Afghanistan

February 18, 2021

After two decades of war, the pressure in the United States and elsewhere to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is understandable. But, to avoid a new spiral of violence, it is essential first to devise a clear plan for the country’s future.

STOCKHOLM – Speaking in Kabul on the 32nd anniversary of the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the country’s president, Ashraf Ghani, made an important distinction. The civil war that devastated Afghanistan after the withdrawal was caused not by the departure of Soviet troops, but by the failure to formulate a viable plan for Afghanistan’s future. As the United States considers its own exit from the country, it should heed this lesson.

No Time to

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Can America Be Trusted Again?

January 20, 2021

After the initial euphoria of Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 US presidential election, Europeans have since watched American politics descend into anti-democratic violence. A recent survey suggests that it might be a long time before their confidence in the transatlantic relationship can be restored.

STOCKHOLM – A sigh of relief swept across Europe when it became clear that Joe Biden would replace Donald Trump in the White House. New leadership in the United States would mean that after four years of disruption to the transatlantic relationship, an era of constructive cooperation on bilateral and global issues was at hand.


Joe Raedle/Getty

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Arab Hope Springs Eternal

December 30, 2020

A decade after the start of the Arab Spring, the hope of securing democracy and human rights in the Arab world seems as far away as ever. But the counter-revolution of the intervening years cannot last forever, and the sooner that governments recognize the need for reform, the better off they will be.

STOCKHOLM – The Arab Spring that began on December 17, 2010, is a somewhat uncomfortable subject a decade later. Seldom has such a vast outpouring of hope resulted in so much disappointment – and in such deep confusion about what lies ahead.

How Might COVID-19 Change the World?

PS OnPoint

STR/AFP via Getty Images

The Legacy of 2020

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War and Peace in Bosnia

November 23, 2020

In the 25 years since the Dayton Agreement, Bosnia has avoided a return to war, even as it has fallen short of the hoped-for political reconstruction and reconciliation. The task now is to support a new generation of leaders who are ready to move on, while never forgetting the two most important lessons of the past.

STOCKHOLM – At a US Air Force base in Ohio 25 years ago, the European continent’s most devastating war since 1945 came to an end with the Dayton Agreement. After three and a half years, the war in Bosnia had taken more than 100,000 lives, wrought immense destruction, and displaced millions from their homes. “It may not be a just peace, but it is more just than a continuation of war,” the Bosnian Muslim

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Europe’s Digital Emergency

September 23, 2020

Although the European Union already has a lot on its hands as it confronts a new wave of COVID-19 infections and seeks to position itself for a sustainable recovery, it must not ignore another crisis looming on the horizon. The bloc is rapidly and inexcusably falling behind China and America in the digital transition.

STOCKHOLM – EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen offered an upbeat assessment in her first annual policy report (“state of the union” address) to the European Parliament this month. Clearly, the agreement this summer on an unprecedented €750 billion ($879 billion) recovery fund and renewal package has given the European Union a new sense of strength.

The Economic Case

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The Armenian Model for Belarus

August 18, 2020

While many Western observers have seized on Ukraine’s 2004-05 and 2014 revolutions to understand the mass protests in Belarus, a much better analogy is to Armenia’s democratic transition in 2018. Armenians demanded a change in domestic governance, not in the country’s geopolitical orientation, and that made all the difference.

STOCKHOLM – With Belarusians taking to the streets in unprecedented numbers and refusing to be cowed by state violence, it is obvious that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has failed in his bid to steal another election and prolong his time in power. By all standards, his days in power are now numbered.

Deconstructing Donald

PS OnPoint

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Turkey’s Approaching Crossroads

July 21, 2020

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has resorted to public spectacles to distract attention from his slipping support and economic mismanagement. But one way or another, fundamental change has become inevitable.

STOCKHOLM – By reconverting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque and holding celebratory prayers there for the cameras, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems keen to divert attention from the fact that his country is entering a new phase of acute political and financial turmoil.

America’s Compromised State

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Toward a New Fiscal Constitution

PS OnPoint

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How Europe Can Live with China

June 17, 2020

With the United States abandoning one global commitment after another, Europe must develop its own strategy for managing China’s geopolitical rise. The best approach will be to strike a balance – underpinned by realism – between engagement and competition.

STOCKHOLM – In an age of escalating tension between the United States and China, will the European Union still have room to maneuver in pursuit of its own interests? That will be a key question for EU policymakers in the years ahead.

United States of Despair

Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

The Post-Pandemic Social Contract

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Why This Time Was Different

May 20, 2020

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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