By Kristin Weis
Sweden ranks second out of 154 countries in the most recent State Resilience Index (SRI), tying with Finland and Switzerland (8.3), above Denmark (8.2) and just below Norway (8.4). Sweden and its Nordic neighbors—Finland to the east, Norway to the west, and Denmark to the south—hold the top three overall highest SRI scores. Clearly, the region exhibits high measures of resilience. Yet with seemingly similar challenges—such as increased environmental change and international interest in the Arctic and sub-Arctic region—Sweden’s SRI report indicates unique areas of emerging or future vulnerability. Understanding such outliers can help identify how to increase Sweden’s overall resilience.
Sweden’s lowest scoring sub-dimension of Inclusion is the inclusion of youth (7.3) and its two lowest scoring sub-dimensions of Social Cohesion are its confidence in national institutions (6.8) and social capital (7.2). Despite its high measure of social relations (9.4), informal and formal support systems measurements indicate a potentially limited capacity in times of need. The inclusion of youth is essential to increase such capacity over time. New perspectives can inform more effective responses to persistent challenges, and more diverse social capital may enable an increase in adaptive capacity. This is particularly essential given Sweden’s aging general population and challenges faced by marginalized groups, such as the Sami and refugee and immigrant communities.
Sweden’s Surprising Mix of State Capacity
Sweden’s State Capacity (8.4) ranks slightly below Norway (8.9), Finland (8.7), and Denmark (8.5). Yet it reflects the highest measure of resilience for its education system (8.0); second highest for its government debt & credit (9.2), freedom from corruption (9.7), and rule of law (9.3); and third for government effectiveness (9.2). While Sweden’s public health (7.6) measured in the top 20%, it again ranked below Norway (8.5), Finland (8.3), and Denmark (7.9). With such strong indicators of state capacity, why is Sweden’s public health comparably lower than its neighbors who have similar public health systems? Past explanations related to cost, government effectiveness, long waits, and inefficient bureaucracy were cited as barriers to care in 2017. However, a more recent explanation relates to diverging policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to its Nordic neighbors, Sweden imposed fewer restrictions and experienced a higher death rate during the first wave: public health needs were balanced with other social and economic priorities.
Along with State Capacity, Sweden ranks highest for Civic Space (9.5) and specific measures of accountability, democratic structures, and human rights. Economic resilience reflects a similar trend: higher measures of resilience are found in formal economic structures, such as physical infrastructure and economic management, but lower measures, such as capital flows (4.4) and diversification (6.4) reflect outcome-related vulnerabilities that can hinder responses to sudden threats (e.g., natural disasters, geopolitical events).
A Vulnerable Disaster Risk Reduction Capacity
Despite measuring the highest levels of resilience in education—a key component for reducing risk and increasing adaptive capacity—Sweden ranks in the bottom third of all countries for disaster risk reduction (5.8), only slightly above Denmark (5.7) and significantly lower than Norway (8.9) and Finland (8.3). For Nordic nations, the capacity to respond to disasters or unexpected shocks is essential to address the increasingly complex impacts of climate change, international development interest, and recent geopolitical tensions related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
So why does Sweden exhibit such a low disaster risk reduction capacity, particularly when Norway and Finland rank roughly a third higher? One explanation could be that the data is specifically linked to its early COVID-19 response, given comparably lower measures of resilience for public health and individual health. Agricultural dependency is a particular area of vulnerability, given Sweden’s low measure of agricultural productivity (2.2)—about a third lower than Finland, who faces comparable Russian threats and related impacts.
National Scores Can Hide Regional Differences
On a final note, since SRI scores are on a national level, they may not fully reflect different vulnerabilities and capacities among different geographic regions and groups. The consequences of one measure of resilience may alter another. For example, Sweden’s clean energy resilience relies on its use of wind farms. Yet Swedish wind farms compete with military airspace, impact place attachment, and may increase diplomatic vulnerability and economic leakage. When understood in this context, SRI scores can also serve as a contextual framework when analyzing measures of resilience on a smaller scale.
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