Foreign Policy as State Identity and the Case of Sweden

Swedish flag and woman pumping fist

Foreign policy. A concept you’re familiar with, but could you define it?

Let’s ask some international relations scholars what they think foreign policy is.

  1. what it is not

Why We Have Foreign Policy Analysis

Foreign policy analysis allows us to understand the motivations for state behavior by studying and scrutinizing the policy decisions they make concerning their relations with the rest of the world. These motivations are closely linked to preferences and interests. Interests are the drivers behind state identity.

Grounding Feminist Foreign Policy in the “Real World”

A foreign policy approach that has caught that’s emerged in the last several years is feminist foreign policy. We can take this version of foreign policy and ask: What does feminist foreign policy actually mean in practice? What kind of state identity contributes to the pursuit of a feminist foreign policy? How does such an approach shape state identity in turn (because identity is a two-way street when it comes to foreign policy)?

Foreign Policy as National Identity

The key to identity is interest and preference formation. How do states generate these interests? Are they developed through exposure to external factors?

What is Feminist Foreign Policy?

What is feminist foreign policy? Debates still emerge as to what exactly it means, and which actions it entails. However, the Center for Feminist Foreign Policy, a Germany- and UK-based think tank, says this:

Women, Peace and Security and Gender Mainstreaming

There are two important things to note here. First, feminist foreign policy is very closely related to the Women, Peace and Security agenda which was launched by UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000. This policy framework promotes gender equality in international peacekeeping efforts, and combats violence against women in conflict.

Sweden’s Radical Approach to Foreign Policy

Some critics claim that Sweden’s declaration of a feminist foreign policy is just an expansion of the Women, Peace and Security agenda on which it already worked extensively. However, by going beyond the traditional gender mainstreaming approach to policymaking — explicitly by using the word “feminist”, Sweden has done something radical.

Former Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom
Former Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom
Margot Wallstöm was the Swedish Foreign Minister who inaugurated the country’s Feminist Foreign Policy in 2015. Attribution: photo by Socialdemokraterna shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license via Flickr.

Sweden’s Identity is Tied to Feminist Foreign Policy

Feminist foreign policy is a critical take on policymaking — there are undoubtedly normative dimensions. Sweden’s take is framing gender equality as an ethical responsibility to promote human rights. This perspective is instrumental to Sweden’s national identity, both inwardly and outwardly.

Sweden’s domestic norms

Domestically, Sweden has a history of egalitarian norms that support a gender-equal society. Traditionally, the country leaned more toward liberal feminism, valuing women’s economic independence as the base of gender equality — this is associated with the “Nordic model.” Within the last few decades, however, a more radical feminist stance on women’s rights reform took hold as a result of political advocacy and mobilization. The feminist foreign policy of 2015 and the feminist government announcement preceding it in 2014 were situated in this political climate.

The role of international norms

Sweden wasn’t the first country to conceive of a gendered perspective in foreign policymaking — just the first to call it feminist. Hillary Clinton fought for women’s rights promotion as a security issue while she was US Secretary of State; Julie Bishop did the same as Foreign Minister of Australia; and William Hague called attention to sexual violence in conflict as the British Foreign Secretary.


Arguing that Sweden displays a normative commitment to women’s rights promotion both domestically and internationally, Annika Bergman Rosamond says there is a link between the two policy spheres. This perspective sees feminist foreign policy as an expression of Sweden’s national identity and interests. Domestically, its preferences toward women’s roles are shaped by its norms.

Writer and Blogger. International Relations, Travel, Culture. Find me at or