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Sweden and Nato
'Non-alignment is part of Sweden's self-image'

'Non-alignment is part of Sweden's self-image'

Published: 15 Jan 2013 15:19 GMT+01:00
Updated: 15 Jan 2013 15:19 GMT+01:00

Swedes remain opposed to joining Nato because doing so would mean jettisoning an important element of Sweden's national identity, argues political scientist Ulf Bjereld.

When Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke on Monday at the conference in Sälen organized by think tank Society and Defence (Folk och försvar), the hearts of many in the audience were aflutter.

There are many who yearn for Swedish Nato membership. This desire stems to some extent from realpolitik considerations based on the assumption that Sweden's security would be enhanced if we became members of Nato.

But there is also a great deal of symbolism and identity tied up in the question of Nato membership. By not being a member of Nato, Sweden signals that we do not want to be a full part of the US-led security community.

There is a high probability that supporters of Nato membership in Sweden will be forced to live with their desires being unfulfilled.

Resistance to Nato membership in Swedish opinion is solid and very stable. The proportion of people who do not want Sweden to join Nato is two to three times greater than the proportion of people who want Sweden to become a member of the defence alliance.

According to the most recent survey conducted by the SOM Institute at Gothenburg University, only 19 percent of respondents felt that Sweden should apply for Nato membership.

By comparison, 44 percent of respondents said that Sweden should not join Nato.

Comparable studies by the Sifo opinion research firm and the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) show similar response patterns. No political party today seriously pushes the issue of Swedish Nato membership.

So why is Swedish people's opposition to Nato so massive?

It's not the result of indifference or a desire for isolationism. On the contrary, Nato opponents are as much in favour as Nato supporters are of Sweden's international engagement and security cooperation with other countries.

The difference is that Nato opponents want that cooperation to be carried out on a voluntary basis, outside the binding obligations of the Nato treaty.

There are three main explanations for Swedes' resistance to Nato.

The first explanation is based on Sweden's historical experience. Sweden is unique in Europe in that we have not been in a real war in 200 years. This long period of peace has for many come to be associated with Sweden's freedom from military alliances and the neutrality policy that characterized Swedish security policy, especially during the 1900s.

Neutrality and non-alignment have become part of the Swedish self-image and a valued expression of the country's independence and autonomy. These types of national self-images tend to stick and are difficult to change.

The second explanation is that Nato opponents don't believe Nato membership will increase Sweden's security.

Rather, the majority of Nato opponents believe membership in the military alliance would increase the risk that Sweden would be dragged unwillingly into military conflicts. Nato is an organization associated with war and acts of war, not with peace and security-building measures.

The third explanation is that Sweden, as a member, would become part of Nato's nuclear weapons doctrine.

Opposition to nuclear weapons has long been fierce in Sweden, and Sweden has also had a strong profile in international disarmament negotiations.

Nato has no nuclear weapons missions planned for the foreseeable future, but the Swedish people do not want to get involved in the handling of nuclear weapons. Nor do they want be associated with a nuclear weapons doctrine, regardless of whether or not weapons are presently ready for use.

Swedish public opinion about Nato will not change by itself.

If Nato supporters want to see a change, they must work to get political parties to actively push the issue with electorate.

So far, the ruling Moderate Party hasn't deemed the issue important enough to warrant taking such a step.

Ulf Bjereld is a professor in political science at Gothenburg University.

This article was originally published in Swedish on the Newsmill opinion website. English translation by The Local.

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Your comments about this article

19:27 January 15, 2013 by Pharazon
"The second explanation is that Nato opponents don't believe Nato membership will increase Sweden's security."

Scenario: Russia invades the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic.

Question: Will the whole of NATO go to war and risk a nuclear world war with Russia just to take back a tiny island that is totally unimportant to anyone but Sweden and Russia?

The answer is of course: Absolutely not.

NATO is thus useless for Swedish interests.
21:23 January 15, 2013 by EtoileBrilliant
"The first explanation is based on Sweden's historical experience. Sweden is unique in Europe in that we have not been in a real war in 200 years."

By real war, I take it that ignores Sweden's so called neutrality in WW2 to say nothing of the fact that per capita, Sweden is one of the largest exporters of weapons in the world.

Total hypocrisy
09:24 January 16, 2013 by godnatt
Of course since they already unofficially benefit from the protection of NATO who will protect Sweden simply due to it's geography...

God forbid they should choose a side. Even against the Nazis.
12:52 January 16, 2013 by Polish-Finnish Swede
@ Pharazon

If Sweden were a member of NATO Russia would not invade Gotland (unless part of a much larger conflict that Sweden would be part of anyway). NATO would go to war without the risk of nuclear war simply because Russia would not risk its own existence for an island like Gotland.
14:47 January 16, 2013 by snowtiger
Russia is not going to invade anybody, because russia has neither money nor men power nor the will nor the incentive nor the aspiration for any kind of large scale military invasion anymore. Russia has shifted its focus to the far east now, because that's where the money is and that's where the actions are going to be. The next big war is more like to happen between china and vietnam, japan and the philippines. Russia is too busy worrying about its vast unprotected borders in the far east, after all, it's very difficult to stop 1.4 billion hungry chinese with high tech and lot of nuks, right? Russia knows this too well, they afraid of a desperate china more than anything else, because if the chinese are hungy, they are not going to hold their nuks and die alone, right? Oh, by the way, sweden is already been invaded, by the illiterate clans and so to the rest of europe! I wouldn't be surprised that one day the chinese and russian soldiers will come and rescue europe from these illiterate people. America is also been invaded so don't count onthat they will come to rescue you anymore!
16:08 January 16, 2013 by Rishonim
Hypocrisy indeed but then again they are not fooling anyone but themselves. Sweden is amongst the top ten largest arms exporters. I guess their logic is that we can provide the world with the killing weapons and we will remain neutral as long as we don't pull the trigger. And what's up with that guy with the goat-t and the red shirt? You look hideous. I cannot think of any reason why one should wear a red shirt??
07:36 January 17, 2013 by robban70226
NATO has become another US popped to do their dirty work and hide behind their abuses. Glad Sweden is recognising the true face of today's NATO
13:42 January 17, 2013 by diegoveggie
non alignment means not taking any stands. not having a voice and not helping other powers to determine the future of the world geopolitically. in the end sweden misses out for standing aside. it happened during second world war, the cold war and so on. the world moves on. borders are re drawn. and sweden stands aside.
19:18 January 17, 2013 by sunnchilde
The only reason for Sweden to join NATO would be for security. To defend Sweden in the event of attack, presumably from Russia. Would NATO abandon Sweden were it to be attacked by Russia just because Sweden is not a member? No. Of course NATO would defend Sweden. Russia expanding in to Swedish territory would be unacceptable. The "allied" forces of The US, UK, France Denmark and (now) Germany would not allow it. Do you think that NATO would say "Well, ok, Sweden is fine but not Denmark." This is ridiculous. An act of aggression towards Sweden would be an act of war against NATO.

In addition, if there were another war, say, against Germany. If Russia moved against Germany, for example, Which side would Sweden choose to be on? Of course they would side with NATO, against Russia. This whole issue is ridiculous.
01:18 January 18, 2013 by jostein
If we join NATO the risk that NATO starts meddling in our affairs increases. The risk of outright dictatorship in sweden backed by NATO troops increases.

Thing with Russia is, they do not have an ideological machine anymore. But NATO does and frequently goes to war in accordance with that machine. They do not have a global propaganda machine anymore. But NATO does and uses it shamelessly to justify whatever war they decided on. Most blatant example being Libya.

And there really is no scenario where Russia would occupy Sweden. NATO is the greater threat.
09:39 January 18, 2013 by rise
Regardless of whether Sweden joins NATO or no, an attack against Sweden would likely be seen as an attack against the European union. Wouldn't the EU want to defend its territory?
14:18 January 18, 2013 by riose
@rise

Nope, if the NATO says no.

The only reason to remain out of NATO is to keep selling weapons and planes as a non-aligned country.
14:48 January 18, 2013 by tadchem
The sole purpose of NATO is to maintain an authority that pre-empts national soverignty. If NATO wants something (like an Army of 'Peace-Keepers') it wants to be able to obtain it simply by demanding it from it from the member states. Like the EU, it represents the next level of Empire-building. The new Empires are intended to be immortal bureaucracies, unaffected by the mortality of the individual participants. Formerly free nations are to become little more than administrative subdivisions of the New World. Orwell had it right in "1984".
02:29 January 19, 2013 by jvtx3232
Get Sweden out of the EU too.
12:09 January 19, 2013 by snowtiger
Let me put it simply so everyone can understand here, if a few thousands of Swedish nationalists willing to die for what they believe, then sweden will find itself in a hell of a mess. So forget about Russia or NATO, because soon or later, most european countries will face their own die hard nationalists one way or the other. European civil wars are in the making, but most are in denial or just simply don't know it.
16:37 January 19, 2013 by jostein
@snowtiger

Thats a big if. There are perhaps 200 nationalists in sweden that believe in violence as a political method and they are unarmed and securely under the tab of the security police.

What WILL happen is that central authority will crumble under the weight of hundereds of thousands of immigrants from the most violent and dysfunctional places on earth. And the loss of legitimacy suffered by le ancien regime as a result of this. What happens then? I dont know but my money would be on these immigrants (if id had a choice). They are used to failed states. We are not. They are also much harder people with stronger culture and an ideology that is designed for war and conquest.
09:15 January 22, 2013 by andreasbe
Oh Boy.... it is always interesting to see how deluded peoples reality is... Well I believe that it is ok to be independent of NATO, Sweden does contribute better by serving its UN alliance and contributing to the S-FOR engagements only, let NATO manage the I-FOR parts of the engagements...
08:25 January 23, 2013 by prince T
I do not understand sweden hypocricy

We sell arms to saudi

We were in afghan, libya etc

We were implicated in venezuala.

THAT IMAGE OF PEACEFUL SWEDEN IS FALSE. WHO ARE WE DECEIVING. WE MIGHT AS WELL JOIN. Russia dare not attack a nato nation
08:55 January 23, 2013 by Anny One again
@sunnchilde

Why do you say (now) Germany?

NATO was founded in 1949.Germany has been a member since 1955, right after the establishment of the Bundeswehr, the West German army in 1955.

Germany vs. Russia ? Too much PC Games & WW Movies perhaps ??
01:26 January 25, 2013 by sunnchilde
@Anny One again I said "Now Germany" because in the past Germany was seen more as a threat than as an ally. It was not an insult. Germany's belligerent days seem to be over and now they are closely allied with "Western" powers. In contrast, Russia has kept it's belligerent, hostile stance against the west. I was simply saying that were Russia or China to embark on a war against the "Western" interests, such as Russia expanding Westward or China expanding Eastward, Germany would likely side with "us". "Us" being defined as the United States, the UK, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Canada & Australia along with several smaller countries in the EU.
12:00 January 26, 2013 by Anny One again
@sunnchilde

Yes, I get that.But your "us" was not always so.

We can only hope that it stays that way. Have a look;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_1900%E2%80%931944

or the table 1800-1899,how often the Countries change their alliances.
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