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INTERVIEW: Just how likely is it that Sweden joins Nato?

The Local spoke to former MP and defence spokesperson for the Green Party, Anders Schröder, on how close he thinks Sweden is to joining Nato, and whether Sweden is nearing the end of two hundred years of formal non-alliance.

INTERVIEW: Just how likely is it that Sweden joins Nato?
File photo of Swedish and Nato flags outside the Swedish foreign ministry in 1996. Photo: Ingvar Karmhed/SCANPIX/TT

The Local: Finland began debating Nato membership in their parliament on Tuesday. What do you think Sweden might do if Finland join?

Anders Schröder: I would expect that, first of all, the Finnish debate is the first step in a long process, so them debating the issue does not mean that they are automatically very close to joining, but obviously it’s still an important step. That said, if Finland did consider joining, I assume and count on them reaching out to their Swedish counterparts and their colleagues in the Swedish government to try and ensure that any application for joining Nato would be sent in by both countries at the same time.

TL: Do you feel Sweden’s political parties are changing their positions on Nato membership?

AS: None have declared a change as of today [March 1st], but if you follow the debate certainly you can notice that a lot of important actors in several parties that are currently against Nato membership are reconsidering their decisions, so I think that’s a clear sign that things are starting to shift. If that is going to lead to an official shift in positions very soon is hard to tell, but I do think that a shift will be coming at some point in the future, whether that’s going to take months or years is harder to say, however.

TL: You were previously a member of parliament for the Green Party. Have you noticed a change in views in the Green Party, either among individuals in the party or in the party as a whole?

AS: Yes, it might happen in the Greens, it might happen in the Social Democrats as well. Obviously the Social Democratic party is the most important in this regard, as Swedish tradition is that any such big change would have to be made with the support of both the Moderates and the Social Democrats, as they are the biggest parties. But yes, we are seeing a change amongst several Social Democratic thinkers as well. I’ve seen a number of them on Twitter and also in articles over the last week now declaring an interest in either a Nato option like Finland has today, or in Nato membership. So it’s definitely a debate that’s coming up right now.

TL: Do you think there is a real threat from Russia if Sweden did decide to join Nato, or is it just empty words?

AS: I think it would be wrong of me to speculate on a Russian response to Nato membership as I’m not an expert, but if Finland and Sweden consider joining, I think it would be wise to make sure the time between the declared intent of joining and the actual signing of the papers is as short as possible.

Sometimes when you talk to foreign diplomats they say that if Sweden handed in their application on a Wednesday they could sign it by Friday. They are aware of the need to make sure that this time window is short, because once we’ve joined, obviously we’re covered by the security guarantees. That’s the window you have to reduce as much as possible, and that can be done through various diplomatic means, such as backchannelling.

TL: What is your personal opinion on Sweden joining and why?

AS: I think it would be a wise move for Sweden to join Nato, as I have declared in a number of places. I think Sweden’s current doctrine of staying free of alliances made some sense in a previous security climate where the European security order was respected.

This meant that in Europe, borders weren’t changed by force, so there was no need for Sweden to be part of Nato. We could stand outside. But as Russia have very clearly shown in the last week, that order doesn’t apply anymore. And so Sweden, and probably Finland as well, have to adapt to these new facts on the ground. I think a Nato membership makes sense in that light.

TL: So this could be the end of Swedish neutrality?

Yes. Of course, you can debate how neutral we were during the Cold War, but yes, we haven’t been part of a formal alliance for two hundred years, and I think it would be a wise move to reconsider that at the moment.

Member comments

  1. The lesson of Ukraine for Sweden is that if you are not a member of NATO, it is unlikely NATO will defend you.

    The reason is quite obvious; leaders must be able to explain to their own people that entering a war was a moral obligation mutually incurred. If you are not a member, you are obligated to no one, and no one to you.

    Should Sweden be scared? Absolutely! Knowing that NATO probably will not respond, any Russian attack will most likely be on Sweden first, thereby isolating Finland and exposing Denmark and Norway, and the Baltic states.

    We sit alone at our peril.

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Swedish PM and opposition leader announce decision to join Nato

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has announced her government's decision to take Sweden into Nato, ending two centuries of military non-alignment.

Swedish PM and opposition leader announce decision to join Nato

In a joint press conference held with Ulf Kristersson, leader of the opposition Moderate Party, Andersson said joining the alliance would act as a deterrent against Russian aggression. 

“The government has decided to inform Nato that Sweden wants to become a member of the alliance,” Andersson told reporters a day after neighbouring Finland made a similar announcement.

“We are leaving one era and beginning another,” she said, adding that Sweden’s Nato ambassador would “shortly” inform Nato.

Ulf Kristersson, whose party has long supported membership of the alliance, said that he wanted to put party political differences aside to support the government in its decision.  

“There are many major issues where we think differently, but we are going to take a joint responsibility for the process of taking Sweden into Nato,” he said. 

Sweden and Finland have both expressed a desire to act in lockstep on Nati membership and submit their applications jointly.

“We expect it shouldn’t take more than a year” for the alliance’s 30 members to unanimously ratify Sweden’s membership application, Andersson said.

The announcement was expected after her Social Democratic party on Sunday backed membership, in a dramatic turnaround after having opposed the idea since the birth of the Western military alliance.

It came after a debate in parliament in which all parties apart from the Green Party and Left Party spoke in favour of Sweden joining the alliance.  

“It is now clear that there is a broad majority in Sweden’s parliament for Sweden joining Nato,” she said. 

After Sweden’s announcement, Denmark, Norway and Iceland published a joint statement in which they promised to Sweden “by all means necessary” if the country is attacked in the gap between application and admission to the alliance. 

“Should Finland or Sweden be victim of aggression on their territory before obtaining Nato membership, we will assist Finland and Sweden by all means necessary,” the three countries said. “We immediately initiate preparations in order to effectuate these security assurances.”

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Sweden and Finland joining Nato did not represent a direct threat to Russia’s interests, but he said that if Nato began to site equipment on their territories, Russia would have to respond. 

“Russia has no problems with these states (Finland, Sweden). There is no immediate threat to Russia,” he said at a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which groups Russia with Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

“But the expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response.” he said.  

Sweden’s defence minister Peter Hultqvist is flying to Washington on Monday, where he will meet his counterpart Lloyd Austin.