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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Sweden’s Green Party demands nuclear weapons ban

Sweden’s Green Party has called on the parliament to bring in a law outlawing nuclear weapons from Sweden’s territory in both peace and wartime. 

Sweden’s Green Party demands nuclear weapons ban

“We need to keep working towards nuclear disarmament,” the party’s joint leader, Märta Stenevi, said. 

The ban would cover all use of nuclear weapons on Swedish territory, even on visiting ships and when allies use Swedish waters or airspace. 

“We want the parliament to state its position on this demand,” Stenevi said. 

It is not enough, she said to state, as Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said she would, that Sweden does not want nuclear weapons or Nato bases on its territory, a similar situation as Denmark and Norway have had

“When you look at Denmark and Norway, those exceptions are verbal agreements,” Stenevi said.  

If Nato were to require member states to accept nuclear weapons at a later date, national law would be required for Sweden to be able to opt out, Stenevi said.

“That legislation would trump Nato’s statutes”.

Stenevi highlighted the fact that similar legislation already exists in Finland and has done for some time.

The Greens also want Sweden to remain outside Nato’s special committee for nuclear weapons.

“We think Sweden should continue to work towards nuclear disarmament,” she said. “To then sit and take part in a group pointing nuclear weapons towards specific targets is closer to legitimising their use”.

The Green Party also want Sweden to promote the “no first use” principle within Nato, which would mean that nuclear weapons can never be used unless a nuclear power had already been attacked with nuclear weapons first.

Finally, they write in their motion that they want Sweden to promote the respect for democratic values within Nato, as well as the introduction of a “democracy requirement” within the alliance.

“You just need to look at the last 24 hours to see clear evidence of Turkey making requirements and expecting Sweden to adapt their foreign policy to what fits the Turkish regime and not what Sweden decide is independently correct and right.” Stenevi said.