Sweden’s Governing Party Says It Will Vote to Join NATO

The Government of Sweden Social Democratic Party announced on Sunday that it would vote to join NATO, all but guaranteeing that the Nordic nation would end 200 years of neutrality and join the mighty Western military alliance.

“We Social Democrats believe it is best for Sweden and the security of the Swedish people to join NATO,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said at a news conference in Stockholm on Sunday evening.

“Military non-alignment has served Sweden well, but our conclusion is that it will not serve us equally well in the future,” she added. “This is not a decision to be taken lightly.”

The Social Democratic Party, Sweden’s largest party and head of a minority coalition, has supported Swedish neutrality since before the collapse of the Soviet Union and promoted Swedish military non-alignment even after Stockholm joined the European Union.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has significantly changed public opinion, in part because neighboring Finland — long a strategic partner of Sweden — has also been quick to drop non-alignment and favor joining NATO.

Both countries have been shocked by the Russian invasion and have ruled that close cooperation with NATO, without membership, did not include the guarantee of collective security offered by the alliance.

As late as March 8, two weeks after the invasion began, Ms Andersson, Sweden’s Social Democratic leader, said her party was against joining NATO. But lawmakers were carried away by Finland and shifting public opinion, along with a measure of fear and discussions with party members in all 26 districts of the country.

Its announcement should ensure a broad majority in the Swedish parliament, as much of the political opposition is already in favor of applying for NATO membership.

Sweden will hold a parliamentary debate on Monday, the same day as Finland.

Some Swedish parties continue to oppose joining NATO, arguing that membership carries heavy obligations and guarantees, and would limit or even exclude Sweden’s ability to choose when and how to act in the world.

There is also concern that Sweden, which has long championed nuclear disarmament, is joining a nuclear alliance, although some member states, including Norway, have refrained from hosting nuclear weapons or foreign bases.

Both the Swedish Left Party and the Greens will vote against membership while condemning the Russian invasion, arguing that Sweden must improve its own defenses and maintain military non-alignment, which has kept the country out of the war since 1814.

Ali Esbati, a lawmaker for the Left Party, said joining NATO poses new risks to Sweden’s security. “We want to keep our freedom to decide which conflicts we want to get involved in,” he said, “and it’s not clear that being part of a military alliance with a nuclear doctrine makes Sweden safer.”

Putting aside a 200-year-old doctrine now seems wrong, Mr Esbati added. “The whole process is bizarrely forced”, with no parliamentary debate.

“It would be reasonable to put this to an electoral test, if not an election, then a referendum,” he said.

Marta Stenevi of the Greens said she was concerned about the authoritarian nature of some current NATO members, such as Turkey and Hungary.

“We want to actively participate in the crises we choose,” said Ms Stenevi. “Keeping a strong voice for peace and democracy is easier outside the alliance.” But if Sweden joins, she added, “we need a much broader discussion about how we continue to work for our values.”

In the meantime, both Sweden and Finland have been promised bilateral security assistance from the United States and Britain for full membership, a process that could take six months to a year.

SOURCE – www.nytimes.com

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