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NUKES AND SWEDES

06-12-2006

They gave us Abba, IKEA and Sven. But has Sweden got something else we could enjoy too - like a decent foreign policy? While Britain prepares to get tooled up for the next generation of Trident submarines, our Scandinavian friends seem to manage quite happily without writes Andy Goff.

Sweden is the world's most democratic nation, according to the annual democracy index published by The Economist magazine. Beating Iceland and the Netherlands into first place, Sweden had a “near-perfect democracy,” said the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The CIA Factbook website has some intriguing statistics about, it seems, every nation on Earth. For example did you know that Britain is slightly smaller than Oregon and Sweden is slightly larger than California?

While Britain has a population over 60 million Sweden's is slightly over 9 million. The average population age is similar in both countries - around 40. Birth and death rates are pretty similar too.

Infant mortality rates are very different, however. In Britain it is 5.08 deaths per 1000 births while in Sweden it's 2.76 per 1000.

Life expectancy in Britain is 78.54 years and in Sweden it's 80.51 years.

Interestingly the total fertility rate in BOTH countries is 1.66 children born per woman.

Of course, when it comes to figures regarding Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Britain is miles ahead of Sweden. We have a labour force of over 30 million and Sweden has less than 5 million. Population below the poverty line (admittedly in 2002) for Britain is 17% while Sweden has NA%! What? No poverty or no figures? I suspect it's the former. The GDP per capita in Britain is $30,100 and Sweden is just $300 less.

British external debt is over 7 trillion dollars while Sweden's is 516 billion

Sweden has not fought a war in nearly 200 years; Britain has fought rather a lot.

Now all this seems a little dry, but that's the problem with numbers. One last one and then I'll move on. Britain spends around 3% of GDP on the military and Sweden spends half that amount.

Does this mean that Swedes feels more secure than Brits? Don't forget, they spent much of the last century parked up near the Soviet Union. Although they have a nuclear power generation programme they don't feel the need to turn that into a weapons programme.

Sweden is a country that is pretty highly regarded round the world without having nuclear weapons. I can't remember the last terrorist attack in Sweden unless Olof Palme's killing in 1986 was terrorism and not just another nutter with a gun.

True, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite in Sweden but that was for the mining industry rather than suicide bombers.

So what stopped Sweden being invaded and why don't they quiver under the threats that so absorb us here?

Maybe they realised you could have a good life in the most democratic country in the world by showing respect for neighbours, not actively pursuing ideological goals in other countries and by looking after their own citizens.

I reckon the country that brought us ABBA, Raoul Wallenberg, Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Max Von Sydow, maintains an armed neutrality, hasn't fought a war in 200 years and doesn't waste money on nuclear weapons can't be doing many things wrong. OK, I won't mention Sven.

I wonder if Sweden shares Britain's honour of revelling in a special relationship with the United States - if not how the hell do they manage? It seems that we surely cannot get by without it.
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