Throughout the 20th century Sweden has imported more than half of its energy needs, except for a few years during the WWI and WWII. In the 1970s imports reached a level of almost 80 % and today we still import almost 2/3 of our energy needs. There has been much historical research focusing on the development of domestic energy sources like hydro power, nuclear power, biofuels, wind power and about the conflicts surrounding these, not least concerning environmental impacts. But very little about the predominance of energy imports and what these have meant.
This dependency on energy imports from many parts of the world has implied a major vulnerability that became manifest a number of times. Both World War I and II implied huge obstacles for coal imports. Other critical periods were in 1956, when the Suez crisis cut off oil supplies from the Middle East, and in 1973 and 1979, when oil prices sky rocketed due to the Yom Kippur War and the Iranian revolution, respectively.
Sweden has of course not been alone in its dependence on imported fuels. The world’s energy resources are very unevenly distributed, and since the mid-19th century the pursuit of coal, oil, gas and uranium has been an important constituent of international politics and economics. The strongest nations have used economic, political and if necessary military means to control energy sources in far-away territories in order to secure their energy supplies at home. This is often referred to as the geopolitics of energy, and there has been quite some research about it. There has been much less research on how small nations have tried to handle their dependencies on far away countries using “soft” means rather than “hard” ones.
This paper will discuss the geopolitics of a small nation by looking at the strategies that Swedish actors of different kinds have pursued to try to reduce the vulnerability of energy imports: by increasing the number of export countries and by developing trustful relations with exporting countries and companies; by cooperating with other importing countries to get a stronger bargaining position vis-à-vis exporters; by participating in prospecting and exploration of energy abroad; by storing energy fuels to be used in case of interruptions in energy imports; and by building flexible heat and power plants that can use different kinds of energy carriers.
It will also reflect on the environmental implications of this energy import. How can we assess the magnitude of these environmental effects? And how come that this aspect of Swedish energy supply has been so little discussed in comparison to the environmental effects of domestic energy production?