To a great 2012!

As the new U.S. Ambassador in Sweden, I can’t tell you how enthusiastic I am about the coming year.  I want to share with you some of the events the Embassy is organizing, but first an anecdote.

 
After I was confirmed by the Senate to be Ambassador to Sweden, I had the opportunity to ask former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for her advice on what makes a good Ambassador.  Her wise response was illuminating:

First, good ambassadors “don’t take themselves too seriously” [Good advice, and not just for Ambassadors!]

Second, she said, the way America is viewed around the world is changing and can be shaped positively by a dynamic embassy team that listens and learns and engages in a humble and inclusive way with the people and government of the country in which they are posted.

As Ambassador, I take that advice to heart, and as I plan our agenda for 2012 I am working with my embassy team to engage with the government and people of Sweden in way that helpfully interprets American priorities, policies and perspectives.  And a great agenda is beginning to materialize.
In 2012, Sweden will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, a diplomat whose efforts to save Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust clearly demonstrate the importance of not being indifferent.  He paid with his life for that commitment.  It will be our mission at U.S. Embassy Sweden to advance the American – Swedish relationship in a way that honors that legacy.

 

At the U.S. Embassy, we have formed an internal cluster to think how best to celebrate the basic values Raoul Wallenberg stood for.  One excellent recommendation that emerged from our team – and that we will implement in 2012 at an appropriate time for planting – is to plant a horse chestnut tree in honor of Raoul Wallenberg.  That strain of tree is famous from the legacy of Anne Frank, as it was a horse chestnut in the center of Amsterdam which she mentioned in her diary.  The tree will be endowed with a Raoul Wallenberg plaque.  It will serve as a living symbol of Wallenberg’s legacy that we hope will inspire future generations of both Americans and Swedes to protect basic values as a universal imperative.

 
Sweden now holds the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council.  Since the United States is a member of that Council, we at U.S. Embassy Sweden are enthusiastically working with Sweden to advance our common goals of protecting the environment and conserving the Arctic’s biological resources while promoting economic cooperation.  At the end of January I will travel to Jokkmokk in the northern Norbotten province of Sweden to attend and speak at the Jokkmokk Winter Conference.  It will be my goal to convey at the conference my deep personal passion for protecting the environment and biodiversity, and to listen and learn from other attendees on how we can work together to address climate change and its effects in the Arctic that are threatening the future of the North.

 
In 2012, we will be working hard to tactically implement Secretary of State Clinton’s vision of Economic Statecraft.  The Secretary has been eloquent in articulating the overlay between the commercial context and the strategic context.  Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides also crystallized it when he said “We are living at a moment when economics is at the heart of what it means to lead in this world.”  I and the Embassy team will focus on a multi-pronged strategy when it comes to Economic Statecraft:  promoting public-private partnerships especially when it comes to socially responsible causes, and bringing in U.S. trade missions to promote business to business relationships.  In the coming year, our embassy will also work on a variety of initiatives designed to partner with Sweden to promote anti-bribery and anti-corruption overseas.  With the Arab spring, the timing has never been more ripe for engaging young people and women in entrepreneurship, sharing best practices and transferring American and Swedish values of openness and transparency.

 
Also on our agenda early in 2012 we are focusing on military ties as a top priority, because Sweden is a role model for what it is to be a helpful NATO partner.  The United States salutes the valuable contributions of Sweden in Afghanistan (where Sweden has over 500 troops) and in Libya, where as part of the coalition the Swedes deployed eight aircraft for reconnaissance purposes.  I am very pleased to say that in January we will welcome former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn to Stockholm.  Our embassy is partnering with the Swedish think tank “Folk och Försvar” to host a lecture series, and Mr. Lynn will be presenting a lecture discussing cybersecurity and defense restructuring.  As Mr. Lynn wrote in a 2011 article in Foreign Affairs, “cyber technologies now exist that are capable of destroying critical networks, causing physical damage, or altering the performance of key systems. In the twenty-first century, bits and bytes are as threatening as bullets and bombs.”  It promises to be a fascinating discussion.

 
So we are just thrilled with the beginning of 2012 – and hope you are too — as they say here in Sweden “Gott Nytt År!” – Happy New Year!