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NATO

Sweden’s Social Democrat party launches members debate on security policy

Sweden's ruling Social Democrats on Monday launched an internal party debate on the country's security politics, potentially laying the ground for a decision on Nato membership as early as this summer.

Sweden's Social Democrat party launches members debate on security policy
Thomas Baudin after being elected as the Social Democrat's party secretary at the Congress in November. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Tobias Baudin, the Social Democrats’ party secretary, told the TT newswire that all party members, MPs and politicians in local and regional government would be asked to take part in the debate, which would take place “with haste”, with the process completed “by the summer”. 

“This is partly intended for elected officials, partly for members who are interested in security issues, so that that we can get a broad understanding on what has happened in our region and get up to date on the pros and cons of our current position on security politics,” he said.   

In a press release announcing the process, the party said the aim was to have a “proper discussion” over the party’s position on Sweden’s security, allowing party members to “increase their knowledge” on the issues. 

Baudin said the dialogue would be “a broader discussion than the question of a yes or no to NATO membership”. 

Although the party’s ruling committee will take the final decision on whether to change the party’s policy on Nato membership, elected officials will be asked to hold their own meetings, the results of which will then feed into the committee’s final decision. 

“If during the process a need emerges to change course in security policy, it will be up to the party’s board… to make such a decision,” the party said in the press release. 

The Social Democrats’ announcement came as the populist Sweden Democrats called an emergency meeting of its governing committee. The committee is likely to empower the party’s leader Jimmie Åkesson to support a Nato application if Finland decides to join in the coming weeks.  

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The Social Democrats, led by Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, has historically opposed Nato membership but the more than six-week conflict has reignited debate in the Scandinavian kingdom.

A policy reversal for the party, which ruled for an uninterrupted 40 years between the 1930s and 1970s, would be historic and could pave the way for Sweden to apply to join Nato. Neighbouring Finland, which shares a border with Russia, is gearing up for a similar policy decision by early summer.

At the Social Democrats’ last party congress in November, members voted to keep the party’s historical position on Nato. 

“Military non-alignment is the foundation of Sweden’s security politics,” the congress resolved. “It gives us the freedom to act in whatever way best leads to reduced tension and peace, and which best secures our independence in foreign policy. That is why Sweden should not join Nato.” 

Sweden’s Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson, has shifted both her position and her rhetoric in the month and a half since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Sweden is officially non-aligned militarily, although it is a Nato partner and abandoned its position of strict neutrality after the end of the Cold War.

Having initially stressed that non-alignment had “served Sweden’s interests well,” and that a Nato application would “further destabilise” the security situation in Northern Europe, Andersson conceded that she was ready to discuss the policy and in late March said she “did not rule out” a bid to join Nato.

Finland will on Wednesday publish the results of a new assessment of the country’s security options, which some predict will lead Sanna Marin, the country’s Social Democrat prime minister, to announce a decision to back a Nato application. 

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NATO

Hopes fade for Sweden’s swift Nato accession

Finland and Sweden are to discuss their stalled Nato bids with Turkey in Brussels on Monday, but hopes are fading they will be able resolve their dispute before an alliance summit next week, experts say.

Hopes fade for Sweden's swift Nato accession

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was to meet with representatives from the three countries to try to make progress on the Nordic nations’ membership applications, which have been blocked by Turkey.

“I think it is possible but it would be very difficult,” Paul Levin, director of the Institute for Turkey Studies at Stockholm University, told AFP, adding it would require both parties to compromise.

Nato and the two Nordic countries had expected the application process to be quick. But Turkey’s objections caught them all off-guard, at a time when Nato is keen to display a unified front against Russia.

Turkey has accused Finland and Sweden of providing a safe haven for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a “terrorist” group by Turkey and its Western allies.

Turkey has also demanded they lift their weapons freezes on Turkey. Any Nato membership deal must be unanimously approved by all 30 members of the alliance, and fears are now mounting that Turkey could delay the Nordic countries’ bids indefinitely.

Kurdish quandary

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin recently expressed fears that unless the issues are resolved “before Madrid, there is a risk that the situation will freeze”.

On Monday, Germany dampened hopes of a deal being reached that quickly.

“I think this is about expectations management and to place this in its historical context,” said a high-ranking German government source, while stressing a solution was still in sight.

“It would not be a catastrophe if we need a few more weeks,” the source said. “What is crucial is that in our view there are no insurmountable difficulties” between Sweden, Finland and Turkey.

Turkey’s anger has primarily been directed at Sweden.

“Sweden does view the PKK as a terrorist organisation and has done so since 1984”, Levin said, adding that it was “arguably the first country apart from Turkey” to do so.

“So in that sense Sweden does not really stand out” from other European countries.

However, Sweden has expressed support for the YPG, a US-backed Syrian Kurdish group, and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Turkey views the YPG, which fought against the Islamic State group in Syria with Western support, as the PKK’s Syria offshoot.

In a bid to ease Turkey’s concerns, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has stressed that Sweden has been beefing up its anti-terror laws in recent years, with new stricter legislation coming into force on July 1.

Sweden has also said that its independent weapons export agency would be prepared to review its policy once the country was a Nato member. Levin noted that one area where Sweden does stand out in Europe is that it is “generally more sympathetic to the broader Kurdish cause”.

The Scandinavian country is home to around 100,000 Kurds, which Levin described as “influential” and “successful in mobilising”.

“In that sense, maybe Turkey is right to put the spotlight on Sweden”, Levin said.

Sweden’s hands tied

Sweden’s government is also being squeezed on the home front, with its hands tied by an independent MP with Kurdish roots.

Amineh Kakabaveh is a former Left Party member of Iranian-Kurdish origin sitting in parliament as an independent since 2019.

In November, she provided the deciding vote to bring the Social Democrats into power — in exchange for deeper cooperation with the PYD.

Kakabaveh has threatened to vote against the government’s budget proposal this week if Sweden agrees to sell arms to Turkey.

The Swedish government’s two sets of negotiations with Kakabaveh and Turkey “are very difficult to reconcile”, Levin noted. If not resolved before then, Sweden’s parliamentary elections in September could end the deadlock with Turkey.

Kakabaveh is not expected to be re-elected to parliament, which would enable the government to negotiate more freely with Turkey.

“It really looks like the Swedish government is trying to step away from this agreement with Kakabaveh in order to be able to have this discussion with Turkey,” Levin said.

At the same time, an early election in Turkey has also sailed up as a possibility, which could “change things up and make it possible to come to some kind of solution”, he noted.

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