Sweden’s ruling party divided on NATO
Sweden’s ruling political party is reportedly divided on whether to join NATO, as the women’s wing of the Social Democrats has called for keeping the country militarily neutral.
Annika Strandhall, the country’s climate and environment minister, told Stockholm newspaper Svenska Dagbladet that the women’s faction of the party opposes joining NATO. The faction has “a long history and struggle in matters concerning peace, disarmament, détente and military freedom of alliance,” said Strandhall, who is federal board chair of the women’s wing.
We in the federal board have decided to remain in line with our congressional decisions that Sweden should be militarily non-aligned and stand outside NATO.
Strandhall’s comments mark the first major political pushback against a proposal for Sweden to apply for membership of NATO and they come shortly before an assessment on the country’s security policy that is due out by May 13. The coalition government is scheduled to decide on the issue by May 24, following issuance of a position paper by the foreign ministry.
Another key figure in the Riksdag, Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson, said last month that he will recommend that his right-wing opposition party advocate joining NATO if neighboring Finland applies for membership of the alliance. Akesson has long opposed giving up Sweden’s military independence, as have most Swedes, but public opinion began to shift sharply after Russia launched its military offensive against Ukraine in February.
A survey conducted last month by Novus showed that 51% of Swedes favored joining the Western military bloc, the first time the pollster found majority support for a NATO bid. Similarly, a poll by media outlet YLE found that a record-high 62% of Finns favored NATO membership, after past studies showed that most people opposed joining the bloc.
Sweden has a two-century history of military neutrality, having stayed out of wars since 1814. Finland has maintained its neutrality since the end of World War II.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has pledged to fast-track approval for Sweden and Finland if the two countries apply to join the alliance. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said last month that a public referendum on the issue won’t be necessary if the Riksdag approves the bid.
Some world leaders, such as Chinese officials and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, have suggested that NATO instigated the Ukraine crisis by breaking promises against expanding eastward after the Cold War ended in 1991. Pope Francis said on Tuesday that “the barking of NATO at Russia’s door” could have triggered Moscow’s decision to launch its offensive.