Non-State Actress Special Additions #3: Scenes from the Swedes

A little ABBA from our friends!

Review: The last Special Addition gave an update on Non-State Actress the book. The next ‘regular’ issue of Non-State Actress comes out early next week and returns to our Cake, Crafts, and Crimes: Antiquities Trafficking, Terrorism, and Transnational Criminal Networks series!


I spent an evening at House of Sweden (the Swedish Embassy in Washington, D.C.) this week. An embassy is a building in one country owned by another country that houses officials and other official spaces. It’s the official representation of one country to another and is the main hub for citizens outside of their home country. House of Sweden is one of my favorite embassies both because of the physical space AND the people inside it. Since NSA is about national security but NOT boring, I thought I’d share some pictures and videos from the event. This way, people could get a quick peek at what one embassy looks like and learn a little about a (hopefully) future NATO member.

Share Non-State Actress

The Royal Swedish Army Concert Band (or a portion of it) prepares to play the retreat, indicating the formal end to the event.


Press Play

If the video isn’t enough, there is honestly only one answer…

What’s an Embassy Event?

There are lots of different kinds of events at embassies. Some are public and some are private. There are holiday parties and lecture series and important meetings, dinners, art exhibitions, book talks… SO many things.

Monday’s event was one half panel discussion and one half concert in celebration of the Royal Swedish Army’s 500th birthday and the impending change of command of the Army. The panel came first and featured the current Commander of the Swedish Army, who is set to retire June 8, 2023 (one week before the *actual* Army birthday) and he formally introduced his successor at the concert.

Part One: The Panel

The panel, cohosted with the Atlantic Council’s Transatlantic Security Initiative

, focused on how Sweden is supporting Ukraine as it continues to defend itself against Russia’s violent, illegal and invasion and its preparation for joining NATO. Sweden’s Army may be 500 years old, and its former queen may have defeated Napoleon, but it had a strict policy of not engaging in conflicts outside its borders until 2009. A lot of stuff has to (and has already!) happened in order for Sweden to be able to support Ukraine and join NATO, and so we talked about what those things are and how they are going.

Supporting Ukraine

From training Ukrainian military members at facilities in the UK to sending weapons and ammunition, Sweden is *really* showing up for territorial sovereignty and the global rules based order. There was a lot of emphasis rightly put on how much MORE needs to be done to defend Ukraine and the rest of the world. Considering how many people Russia is willing to sacrifice in this war and the sheer number of (not super accurate but still semi-functional) munitions it has, Ukraine needs to not only be more capable than Russia’s army, but also last longer. And so do other countries, otherwise Russia may try to invade them too.

Joining NATO

Sweden is doing pretty well on the people part (we’ll get to that later) and is making progress on the materials part. Sweden has a lot of defense manufacturing, so the panel talked about how various private companies are working together alongside government, and how important it is for MORE of this to happen, so that Sweden and NATO members can meet basic production goals.

What gets produced is just as important as how much. All bullets and mortars and other things that go boom are not the same, and you cannot fit a literal square boom-maker into a round boom-shooter. Since production lines are not infinite, you cannot make a billion units of a million different things in a reasonable amount of time with a reasonable amount of accuracy for a reasonable cost.

Part of being in NATO means working together, and militaries have a hard time with that sometimes for very silly reasons…like not being able to look up each other’s email addresses without having to find each other’s phone numbers first to call and ask, or every one needing. It would be a huge bummer for Sweden to make a bunch of stuff that only a tiny percentage of its military can use, or that is unusable by the rest of NATO. Making sure this does not happen is an important part of it joining NATO.

Thank you for reading Non-State Actress. This post is public so feel free to share it.


Part Two: Vibe Check

I find joy (and meaningful information) in the details. Here are three small-seeming details I learned on Monday about the Royal Swedish Army and why I find them interesting.

  1. The Royal Swedish Army does not have a standard required shoe that must be worn with the uniform. There is a specific shoe that is issued with the uniform, and there are some general specifications if you are going to wear another shoe, but within those rules the world is your oyster! I cannot imagine this in the US military, and I couldn’t help but notice. It was wild.

  2. There is a super strong regimental tradition in Sweden, meaning people tend to strongly identify with the group of soldiers they were a part of from the very beginning of their career. The Concert Band played the Regimental Songs of the current and the future Commanders, and it was obvious it was deeply meaningful for both. This made me smile.

  3. Sweden has partial conscription for its military, but has more volunteers than it needs. This means all Swedes of a certain age (in 2017 it was all Swedes born in 1999) must screen for eligibility, and then a percentage of those (about 13% or 13,000) take a series of further tests before a small percentage of THOSE are brought into active service for 9-12 months and then reserve (or active if they choose) service. The system results in higher turn over than in the US military but also a higher rate of the population with military experience, strengthen ties between civilian and military structures. It *also* makes Sweden uniquely qualified to support Ukrainian forces as they mobilize massive numbers of civilian volunteers and train them into a professionalized military at rapid speed. There are so many interesting tidbits to glean from this, and it raises a ton of interesting questions about the value of mandatory national service.

Bonus Content: Bring Your Own Disco Ball

The infamous Disco Ball Bag. Picture credit to the brilliant Leah S.

I mentioned House of Sweden is one of my favorite places because I like the building and the people. One of those people is Deputy Chief of Mission is Ingrid Ask. We sat next to one another at a dinner once, and she has become one of the people I most admire and enjoy spending time with. It takes a whole lot to get me to do anything that starts after 5pm except yoga these days, but for her I will make any exceptions required. I brought my disco ball because it made me happy. I knew I *could* bring my disco ball because to House of Sweden, there is no reason not to.

Wrap Up

I hope this quick, behind-the-scenes look at a random embassy event sheds a bit of light into what happens in these places, how enriching it can be to visit an embassy or consulate, and how ABBA real is the glue that holds all together. House of Sweden is open to the public each day, and if you’re not in DC I encourage you to check out what consulates (mini-embassies) are near you, too! Each country with an embassy in the United States has a website for that embassy, and a quick look at the page will show you all sorts of outreach programs across America.


Gimme More Information

More about Sweden’s Army

Sweden’s Journey to NATO

Frontline Reporting on the War in Ukraine from An American


Shout out to the TSI Team. TSI is part of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Security and Strategy, and I’m one of its non-resident senior fellows.