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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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BREAKING

Sweden to join Nato: ‘We are leaving one era and entering another”

Sweden on Monday officially announced it will apply for Nato membership as a deterrent against Russian aggression, entering a "new era" as it reverses two centuries of military non-alignment.

Sweden to join Nato: 'We are leaving one era and entering another''

In a joint press conference held with Ulf Kristersson, leader of the opposition Moderate Party, Prime Minister Magdalena 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 Nato 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 victims 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.

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