Sweden’s ruling party launches debate on NATO membership

The Social Democrat Party says it will review its long-standing policy of military non-alignment in light of the Ukraine war.

Magdalena Andersson, Sweden's prime minister, speaks to members of the media
Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and party leadership could still decide to apply to join NATO without the backing of the party membership, the Social Democrats said [Valeria Mongelli/Bloomberg]

Sweden’s ruling Social Democrat party, which has until now rejected membership in NATO, has said it is reviewing its international security policy in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Comprising the biggest party in parliament and forming a single-party, minority government, the Social Democratic party has consistently rejected calls to join NATO, arguing that military non-alignment has served the country well.

But an increasingly belligerent Russia has forced a rethink across the political spectrum in both Sweden and neighbouring Finland, which is also outside the 30-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance.

“When Russia invaded Ukraine, Sweden’s security position changed fundamentally,” the Social Democrats said in a statement on Monday.

Daily DN quoted Social Democrat Secretary-General Tobias Baudin saying the review would be complete before the summer.

Finland is expected to outline its path regarding NATO in the coming weeks.

Earlier, the Kremlin said the possibility of Sweden and Finland joining the NATO military alliance would not bring stability to Europe.

“We have repeatedly said that the alliance remains a tool geared towards confrontation and its further expansion will not bring stability to the European continent,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call when asked about the possibility of Sweden and Finland joining NATO.

A senior United States Department of State official said last week that the prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO was part of the discussion between foreign ministers from the military alliance in Brussels.

Support surges for NATO membership

The Social Democrats reaffirmed their policy of military non-alliance in November last year, and their stance is widely seen as the biggest hurdle to an application for NATO membership.

“The Social Democrats are the key [to membership],” Peter Esaiasson, political science professor at Gothenburg University, said.

Four centre-right opposition parties back a NATO application, with the leader of a fifth saying he wanted his party to support joining if Finland goes ahead as well.

The Left and Green Parties are against membership.

The Social Democrats said the review was more than a discussion about whether or not to join NATO and aimed at providing members the opportunity to give their views on all aspects of security policy.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and party leadership could still decide to apply to join NATO without the backing of the membership “if the need for a different security policy arises during the [review] process”, the Social Democrats said.

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.

The issue is expected to be central to parliamentary elections scheduled for September 11.

Support for NATO membership has almost doubled since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, jumping to around 50 percent in Sweden and 60 percent in Finland, according to opinion polls.

Conservative Ulf Kristersson, leader of Sweden’s right-wing opposition, has already announced his intention to file a membership application if he were to command a parliamentary majority after September’s elections.

The far-right Sweden Democrats, the third-largest party in the 2018 elections, has also touted the idea of membership, after previously being opposed.

Source: News Agencies