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Swedish defence minister says NATO membership 'natural'

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Swedish defence minister says NATO membership 'natural'
12:57 CET+01:00
Membership in NATO is a "natural" step for Sweden in the long term, Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors wrote in a newspaper article on Saturday.

Sweden has a long tradition of military non-alignment and opposition to the Western alliance is strong in the Scandinavian country's public and political sphere.

Tolgfors' conservative Moderate party, the biggest member of Sweden's four-party, centre-right government coalition, is however among those in favour of joining NATO.

"NATO membership is, for the Moderates, a natural step in the long-term. But the coalition's agreement that the issue is not on the political agenda during our mandate still stands," Tolgfors wrote in conservative daily Svenska Dagbladet.

Military non-alignment means Sweden has no fixed military alliance and chooses who to side with in a conflict on a case-by-case basis.

It is a member of the NATO's Partnership for Peace programme, and participates in the alliance's ISAF force in Afghanistan.

Tolgfors said Sweden was also mulling participation in the NATO Response Force (NRF), a rapid reaction force.

"Sweden is considering participating in NRF in a positive spirit ... We intend to make a decision before the (NATO) summit in Bucharest in April," he said.

The opposition Social Democrats, which have dominated the Swedish political scene for the better part of 70 years, are vehemently opposed to such a move.

A poll published in May 2006 showed that 46 percent of Swedes were against NATO membership, partly because of scepticism towards US foreign policy, while 22 percent were in favour.

The remainder were undecided, according to the survey of 3,000 people conducted by the Gothenburg University SOM institute in October and November 2005.

Sweden's eastern neighbour, Finland, is also considering membership in NATO, and any decision there is expected to have a heavy influence on Sweden.

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