In many ways, the Armed Forces act as if Sweden is already in NATO. Here, Swedish troops are training with NATO units in Norway during the Cold Response exercise in early 2022. NATO is also training in Sweden. Photo: Anna Noren/Forvarsmakten

Sweden: Social Democrats ignore their voters and turn to NATO

The democratically voted congress decision of the Social Democrats to reject NATO, taken in November 2021, is no longer valid. This is stated by the party in a press release. It will now hold member meetings across the country on security policy to anchor the new line – but the party board reserves the right to decide and completely embrace the issue of NATO membership, against the will of its members.

Published: April 19, 2022, 10:40 am

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    The Social Democrats have long been opposed to Swedish membership of the NATO military alliance, as was evident at the party’s congress in November, where a majority voted to maintain the Swedish policy of neutrality. According to Swedish daily Aftonbladet, which has long had a good insight into the inner workings of the Social Democrats, a decision was taken on April 8 during a meeting of the party’s executive committee to change its policy direction.

    “The rapid developments in Finland will of course affect Sweden’s position, and this may go faster than one would perhaps like in order to keep up. As we see it, this could happen very quickly,” a high-level source in the Social Democrats told Aftonbladet.

    Everything now indicates that the decision has in fact already been made. In a press release on April 11, the Social Democrats announced that they woud hold membership meetings across the country to discuss security policy – implicitly on the issue of NATO membership. But regardless of what the members come up with, the party leadership has given itself the sole right to decide the party’s – and thus Sweden’s – position on NATO.

    Going against its voters

    On democratic grounds, the party congress in November decided that Sweden should not join NATO. Opposition from the party’s own voters and members was considerable, and has long been so within the party, which has held firm to the principle of neutrality in Swedish foreign policy for decades. But now the party leadership believes that conditions have changed following the Russian operation in Ukraine.

    “The analyses underlying the Social Democratic Congress’ security policy positions are based on a reality that does not exist after Russia’s illegal war. There is a clear before and after 24 February 2022,” the press release stated.

    As part of this, it will completely disregard the decision taken during the party congress by a broad majority of delegates.

    “In our party, NATO can be a red flag, especially if you belong to the older generation. But we must not forget that even in our party there are new generations who have grown up with EU membership and then NATO is not as frightening,” said a senior source to Aftonbladet about the generational change that prevails within the party.

    The solution for the Social Democrats’ party leadership is simple: If party members do not follow the party line, they can simply be ignored and the decision made without their support.

    “If, in the course of the dialogue, a need arises to make a change in the security policy path, it is up to the party board as the party’s highest decision-making body between congress sessions to take such a decision,” it further noted.

    NATO membership increasingly likely

    There are already several signs that Sweden is preparing to apply for membership of NATO, an application that will be approved with all haste, according to all experts. The adaptation of the army to NATO standards in technology and communications has been going on for many years, changing even basic things like command structure and even the Swedish alphabet.

    Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and party secretary Tobias Baudin want to override the members and the Congress decision on the NATO issue. Photo: Felix Berglund/Social Democrats

    The Swedish Armed Forces announced in a proposal to the government on April 11 that they could upgrade Sweden’s defence to the equivalent of two percent of GDP, which is the official but rarely followed requirement for NATO membership. Following Russia’s operation in Ukraine, there is now broad support in the Swedish parliament for the defence budget to grow to two percent of GDP and a major upgrade of the Swedish total defence is thus to be expected.

    However, it has not been decided when the goal will be achieved. According to the Swedish Armed Forces, it is estimated that it will be possible to achieve the set rearmament targets by 2028. At 2022 prices, this means a defence budget of SEK 127 billion in 2028, compared to the SEK 90,3 billion planned for the same year, before the war in Ukraine broke out. In current prices, this means a defence budget of SEK 143 billion in 2028.

    In addition, there is already a majority in the Riksdag in favour of a NATO option, i.e. the possibility of potential membership if necessary. An application to join NATO can be submitted by the government without the support of the Riksdag, but a three-quarters majority in the Riksdag is required for membership to be approved. This requires that in addition to the pro-NATO parties, the conservative parties such as the Sweden Democrats also accept NATO membership.

    Both the Social Democrats and the Sweden Democrats are apparently changing their views on Swedish membership of NATO, and only one of the parties needs to change its position for membership to become a reality.

    In an interview with Svenska Dagbladet on 9 April, Sweden Democrats party leader Jimmie Åkesson said that his personal ambition is to change the party’s approach to NATO membership. If Finland joins NATO, he will try to influence the SD’s party board to allow Sweden to join as well.

    “I have that view. Then my ambition is to go to the party board with a request that we change our minds.”

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