The professor estimates that if Sweden ever applies for NATO membership, it will take place after the referendum and together with Finland.
Swedish A surprise with Finnish roots appeared in the political debate over Christmas. The name of the surprise is the NATO option.
The NATO debate kicked off in mid-December, when the Swedish Democrats, the opposition party, turned their sledges and said they supported the so-called NATO option. With the decision of the Swedish Democrats, a majority of MPs in favor of the NATO option emerged in the Swedish parliament, who eventually voted for the option to be registered as part of Sweden’s security policy.
The Prime Minister’s Social Democrats were outraged.
The NATO option means that the country maintains the possibility of applying for membership of the Western Military Alliance in NATO and also says it out loud. In the past, the NATO option was only a special feature of Finnish politics, but now it is a reality in Sweden as well. In Finland, the policy has existed since 1995.
The Swedish Democrats support the NATO option, but not membership. Instead, the party is pursuing a defense alliance with Finland.
In parliament, opposition parties in favor of joining NATO are the moderate coalition, the Christian Democrats, the Liberals and the Center Party. The ruling parties, the Social Democrats and the Environmental Party, oppose.
If the Swedish Democrats turn to NATO membership, there would be a parliamentary majority in Sweden in favor of membership.
Is Sweden on its way to NATO? And if so, does Sweden remember to tell Finland about it?
Swedish is unlikely to apply for NATO membership in the near future, says a professor of modern history Magnus Petersson, which has been following the Nordic NATO debate for years.
Petersson works as an analyst at the Swedish National Defense Research Institute (FOI) and holds a professorship at the Norwegian Department of Defense Studies (IFS).
“I don’t think Sweden will join NATO in my lifetime,” Petersson says.
“It’s just not realistic,” he continues.
There are several obstacles on Sweden’s NATO road, the biggest of which is the Social Democratic Party. The Prime Minister’s Party opposes both NATO membership and the NATO option, and Sweden will not apply for membership without the support of the Social Democrats, Petersson says. No, even if the party faces opposition in the next election. A moderate coalition that can rise to government responsibility after the next election is in favor of membership, but that alone is not enough.
“The Social Democrats are key. Even if a moderate coalition gets into government, they will not do such things without the Social Democrats. That would be unwise and would create a lot of excitement in domestic politics. We want a stable majority behind such a big thing, ”says Petersson.
According to Petersson, the change in the Swedish Democrats’ position on NATO is more a matter of domestic political twisting than of major national policy changes.
Discourse NATO has continued in Sweden this week.
Foreign Minister, Social Democrat Ann Linde at the Sälen Security Conference on Monday, strongly criticized the parliamentary parties that voted in favor of the Swedish NATO option.
The traditional security conference was held this year virtually from Stockholm due to the corona epidemic.
According to Foreign Minister Linde, the NATO option weakens Sweden’s security, not improves it.
“Sweden has so far made its security policy decisions by broad consensus,” Linde said at the conference.
“Changing the line of security policy without negotiation and preparation may create speculation about new changes. That is not in Sweden’s interest, ”he continued.
According to Linde, articles on “Sweden’s changed security policy and rapprochement with NATO” have already appeared in the international media. According to Linde, the governments of other countries have not reacted.
Minister of Defense of Finland Antti Kaikkonen (kesk) commented on the matter to Ilta-Sanomat and did not consider it a dramatic change.
“In my opinion, Sweden has already had the opportunity to apply for NATO membership in the past, even though it has not been registered anywhere before,” he said.
On Sunday The Swedish power magazine Dagens Nyheter published the traditional one NATO opinion poll, according to which the number of opponents of NATO membership had fallen again, for the third consecutive year.
Opponents of NATO membership had fallen three percentage points to 35 percent. The share of those in favor of NATO membership, on the other hand, had risen by three percentage points to 33 per cent.
The changes are not significant, says Professor Petersson. Attitudes towards NATO have been broadly the same for years: one-third are in favor, one-third against and one-third unable to say their position.
However, the results of the surveys vary. Monday afternoon newspaper In a survey published by Aftonbladet As many as 46 per cent of Swedes were in favor of joining NATO, the highest figure ever. In the same poll, 34 per cent opposed membership and 20 per cent could not say their position.
In Finland, opposition to NATO is stronger than in Sweden. The National Defense Information Planning Board has monitored the climate of opinion in its annual survey, and according to a survey published at the end of last year, more than half of Finns, 53 per cent, do not want Finland to aspire to NATO. However, opposition has decreased, as a year earlier membership was as high as 64%.
According to Petersson, if Sweden ever applies for NATO membership, it will be done with the support of the Social Democrats, after the referendum and together with Finland.
However, holding a referendum is a difficult issue.
“Not even conservative and liberal parties want a referendum in this situation because it can also get an‘ no ’answer. Holding a second referendum could go a long way in the future, ”says Petersson.
NATO issue is clearly seen in Sweden as a common issue with neighboring countries, which also highlights historical wounds.
Finland still remembers how Sweden applied for membership of the European Community (now the EU) in 1990 without officially notifying Finland. However, historical research has shown that in 1990 there were clear signs that Sweden was applying for membership. The leading politicians of the countries had still agreed to keep each other on the map of the membership application, but in the end Sweden made its decision without telling Finland.
“I don’t think Sweden would make that mistake again,” Petersson says.
“We haven’t been this close since the interwar period.”
Finland and Sweden are cooperating more than ever before. Both also have close links with the United States and NATO, and both countries have confidence that the doors of the military alliance will be open if it is decided to apply for membership.
Sweden’s closest defense partner is Finland.
Commander of the Swedish Defense Forces Micael Bydén estimates for HS already in 2018that Swedish – Finnish defense co – operation has progressed deeper in recent years than any previous Swedish partnership in modern times.
Swedish NATO membership also seems distant from the eyes of a Finnish researcher. Senior Research Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute Matti Pesu nor does he believe that Sweden would do anything about NATO without first notifying Finland.
“Finland would not be left out of this. We have such close ties with Sweden. Officials and politicians are in constant debate, ”says Pesu.
“There has been a certain amount of mistrust of the events of the 1990s in the historical collective memory, but it is obvious that the Swedish decision then came only as a flash from a clear sky. The trend pointed in that direction. ”
According to Matti Pesu, Sweden’s NATO line depends on three factors: public opinion and party positions, the condition and financing of the Defense Forces, and the security policy environment.
The security policy environment in the Nordic countries has changed since Russia took over Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, but public opinion and Sweden’s recent efforts to increase its defense forces speak against NATO enthusiasm.
“At least the majority of the Swedish people do not yet have a well-established view of NATO membership, although in some measurements the majority is in favor of membership,” says Pesu.
Sweden has already had time to abolish universal conscription, but now it is rebuilding its defense forces vigorously. Sweden plans to increase the total annual defense budget to SEK 90 billion (EUR 8.9 billion) by 2025. The increase compared to the previous financial period is SEK 27.5 billion (EUR 2.7 billion).
Social Democratic Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvistin according to Sweden has not invested as heavily in the armed forces since the 1950s. However, rebuilding the Defense Forces is a huge job and badly underway. Time will tell how well Sweden will succeed.
■ NATO is a political and military alliance founded in 1949.
■ NATO members undertake that “an attack on any member, whether in Europe or in North America, shall be construed as an attack on all members.”
■ NATO has 30 member countries.
■ In 2014, Finland signed a host country agreement with NATO, under which forces of NATO member countries can establish bases and bring troops to the host country’s territory during both peace and crisis.