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EXPLAINED: What are the arguments for and against Sweden joining Nato?

Swedish public opinion is shifting rapidly in favour of joining the Nato security alliance, with some recent polls showing a majority in favour. What are the arguments being made for and against membership?

Swedish armoured vehicles patrol the island of Gotland in January.
Swedish armoured vehicles patrol the island of Gotland in January. Photo: Karl Melander/AP

What are the arguments against Sweden joining Nato? 

  • Joining Nato might be taken as a provocation by Russia, the Social Democrat MP Kenneth Forslund argued in February. If it retaliated militarily before Sweden formally gained Nato membership, Nato might not come to help. If it retaliated after Sweden had formerly joined, on the other hand, the accession might then trigger a major conflict. DN’s pro-Nato comment editor Niklas Ekdal has made a similar argument against joining now.
  • Sweden would be locked into a military alliance with countries, most notably Turkey but also the United States, which have different foreign policy goals and which might undertake military operations of which Sweden disapproves. Nato, for instance, in 2003 assumed control of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which occupied Afghanistan. 
  • Nato is a “nuclear weapons alliance” and joining it would mean accepting the nuclear weapons doctrine, argues Pierre Schori, a former Social Democrat aid minister. 
  • If Sweden was bound by Nato’s mutual defence clause, it might be drawn into a wider war in Europe if, for instance, Russia were to invade one of the Baltic countries or Poland. 
  • Even if Nato is not bound to defend Sweden by treaty, it is in its interest to do so. 
  • Consistency and predictability of security policy is a virtue in itself, particularly in a crisis. This is the main argument currently being used by Magdalena Andersson, who argues that while Sweden should be open to future membership of Nato, the argument and decision should only take place during a period of relative calm. 
  • Sweden could instead rely on the mutual defence clause embodied in the EU’s Lisbon treaty, and push for European strategic autonomy, argue, among others, Sweden’s former foreign minister Margot Wallström
  • Those to the left of the Social Democrats, such as Göran Greider, also argue that the broader international peace movement is strengthened by the sheer existence of non-aligned countries, which can be so-called “humanitarian superpowers”. 

READ ALSO: Why isn’t Sweden already part of Nato 

What are the arguments in favour of joining? 

  • While Sweden’s cooperation with Nato is as deep as it is possible to be without actually being a member, Sweden is still not covered by the crucial Article 5 mutual defence guarantee. The reluctance of Nato to respond militarily to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a warning about what might happen in the event of an attack on Sweden. Although a Russian attack on Sweden is unlikely, if Sweden was covered by Nato’s mutual defence clause, it would be even less likely. 
  • Russia has already destroyed the international post-war security settlement on which Swedish non-alignment was based, argues Fredrik Johansson.
  • Sweden’s wartime neutrality was backed by a powerful military and civilian defence set-up, which was dismantled after the fall of the union. It is impossible to rebuild this rapidly enough to counter the immediate threat from Russia. 
  • Sweden gave up its non-aligned status when it entered into a mutual self-defence treaty with the EU, as part of the Lisbon treaty, in 2009. As such, it has already committed to defend the Baltic States and Poland in the event of a Russian attack. 
  • Sweden is so closely connected militarily to Norway, Denmark, the UK, US, and Nato, that it would anyway be unable to stay out of a war with Russia, argues the former state secretary for defence Gunnar Petri
  • Sweden’s neutrality has anyway always been a myth, argues Claes Arvidsson in SvD, with the country only staying out of the Second World War by striving to keep Nazi Germany happy, and bolstering its defences with secret cooperation with Nato in the Cold War. 
  • By sending weapons directly to Ukraine and joining in with economic sanctions, Sweden has already provoked Russia. 
  • Joining Nato would in itself be a non-military way of retaliating against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the Swedish thriller writer Thomas Engström argues
  • Swedish and Finnish membership of Nato would make the entire region safer from Russian aggression, given the strategic position of Sweden, and especially Gotland. 
  • As a member of Nato, Sweden would have a much greater influence over Nato policy and a better ability to coordinate defence with other Nato members in Europe. 

You can listen to James Savage describe Sweden’s Nato dilemma in the latest edition of our weekly podcast

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NATO

Turkey drops objections to Sweden joining Nato

Turkey has dropped its objections to Sweden and Finland joining Nato, paving the way for the two Nordic nations to join the North Atlantic defence alliance.

Turkey drops objections to Sweden joining Nato

“We have reached an agreement between Sweden, Turkey and Finland which means that Turkey now accepts that we will be granted invitee status in Nato. That’s important, as it will improve Sweden’s security,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said after a meeting in Madrid with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“It was a very long meeting and Sauli Niinistö and I could describe all the measures we in Sweden have taken regarding terrorism legislation in recent years, and now on July 1st we are tightening that legislation significantly,” Andersson added.

The process of joining Nato requires the approval of all 30 existing members. Turkey had set out a string of demands, including the extradition of what it claims are Kurdish terrorists living in Sweden and a relaxation of Sweden’s ban on selling arms to Turkey. 

In a press release, Nato said that the foreign ministers of Turkey, Sweden and Finland had all signed a trilateral memorandum (find copy here) which addressed “Türkiye’s legitimate security concerns”. 

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Nato leaders would as a result now be able to issue a formal invitation to Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. 

“I’m pleased to announce that we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join Nato. Turkey, Finland and Sweden have signed a memorandum that addresses Turkey’s concerns, including around arms exports,
and the fight against terrorism,” he said. 

As aspiring Nato members, he added, Finland and Sweden would not give support to the PYD, the Democratic Union Party of Syria, which runs the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, and would not support the Gülen movement. 

The agreement commits Sweden and Finland to not supporting the PYD, but only classes the PKK as a terrorist organisation. Turkey has previously insisted on describing the PKK/PYD as a single entity. 

The deal also covers the export of Swedish weapons to Turkey. Sweden has not exported weapons to Turkey in recent years, a decision Turkey interprets as an arms embargo. 

“Turkey, Finland and Sweden confirm that there are no national arms embargoes between them. Sweden is changing its national regulatory framework for arms exports in relation to Nato allies,” the document reads. “In future, defence exports from Finland and Sweden will be conducted in accordance with Alliance solidarity and the letter and spirit of Article 3 of the Washington Treaty.”

“If we become Nato members, of course this will have repercussions on how we interpret Swedish weapons exports legislation,” Andersson conceded at the press conference.  

According to Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter newspaper, Säpo, Sweden’s security police, has drawn up a list of “at least ten” people living in Sweden with links to the Kurdish PKK terror organisation, who can be extradited to Turkey. 

According to the newspaper’s government source, two people with PKK links have already been extradited to Turkey this year, and more could follow.

However, Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö stressed to reporters at the press conference that the trilateral deal does not name any individuals who Turkey wants extradited. Instead the agreement commits Sweden and Finland to handling extradition requests “expeditiously and thoroughly”. 

Sweden’s foreign minister, Ann Linde, sent out a celebratory tweet shortly after the announcement. 

She said that the two countries would then start formal accession talks in Brussels next week after which Sweden would officially become a Nato invitee. 

READ ALSO: The next five steps to a Swedish Nato membership

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