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Published: 2023-10-24 Updated: 2023-11-02, 11:26

Witnessing to the House of Lords

PROFILE May 17th, 2023 - A Day at work for Niklas Eklund, Professor in Political Science

Image: Mostphotos.com

Why did you meet with the house of Lords?

Well, I gave witness electronically to the International Relations and Defence Committee in the House of Lords. I would have loved to visit the House, venerable political institution that it is, but I was contacted by email and later interviewed, answering questions from the committee electronically, on-screen. Mind you, I did put my best suit on for the occasion! But the real reason for the invitation was that the Committee had noted some of my previous publications on security and the Arctic.   

What was the aim of the meeting?

The aim was to clarify issues concerning the positions of Sweden and Finland in current geo-political change, particularly with a view to change in the Arctic. I witnessed for Sweden and Minna Ålander, who is a Research fellow at the Finnish Institute for International Affairs in Helsinki, participated in parallel for Finland. Interestingly, although we had not met or discussed issues before hand, Minna and I did similar analyses on how important a good understanding of political and economic stakes in the Arctic are, not only for our respective countries but for Europe at large.  

What where the main questions that where raised?

In our session, most questions concerned security in the Arctic and total defence issues for Sweden and Finland. I had to stay on my toes, because the questions jumped quickly from wide-ranging topics such as the significance of Finland and Sweden joining NATO on the one hand, and on the other hand concrete rapid-fire questions, such as is the military Joint Expeditionary Force a good idea, yes or no and why?  As an academic, you must be careful in these situations because questions from politicians sometimes range into areas of expertise that are not your own. Alternatively, questions demand that you study up on the finer detail of certain fields of knowledge. Sometimes it is better to simply pass. Keeping track of those boundaries in an ongoing discussion, however, involves a lot of pressure, particularly when questions are asked live while being recorded.

Is it usual for you to lend your expertise in such matters?

I would say increasingly so over the past few years. So much is happening so quickly that decision makers feel a need to reconsider their ideas about effective governance. The world is running ever faster into flux, with climate change, globalization, and strategic partnering for future world and space dominance. With the House of Lords, however, I tried to keep in mind that the perspective from London, particularly after Brexit, is that the Nordic countries are important to the construction of a new European security order. Even as future members of NATO, I mean both Finland and Sweden, we will have to figure out how to balance central and Atlantic European security needs with those of the Nordic countries and the Arctic. This is not a popular thing to say, but it is one that I keep coming back to when called upon to witness to political and administrative institutions. I like to stress that the Nordic countries are in a peculiar geopolitical situation given how climate change interacts with overall changes in European security.      

Why is it important for you to participate in such activities?

Throughout my academic career, I have been a staunch believer in the value of third-stream activities, of exchanging ideas, questions and insights between academics and practitioners. Better understanding grows from communication. I am happy to say that I felt my witnessing to the House of Lords and our ensuing discussion was just that, aimed at better understanding. Currently, I also think it important to note how the House of Lords make a serious effort at transparency and how their many witness sessions are made electronically available to national as well as international audiences.    

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