The Liberal Party is established as the strongest advocate of full NATO membership for Sweden.
Last week the party’s foreign policy spokesperson Birgitta Ohlsson submitted a dissenting opinion to the parliamentary defence committee which presents the party’s strongest position yet in favour of Sweden joining the transatlantic military alliance since the last general election in 2006.
“Sweden has been a member of Partnership for Peace for some time. We have taken part in several operations and would gain from the greater influence and security a full membership would give,” Birgitta Ohlsson told The Local.
The Swedish security situation has changed since 2002, Ohlsson argues, and the ratification of the EU Lisbon Treaty and its new solidarity clause presents new challenges for Swedish security policy.
“Most of the EU members are also NATO members and they are in the process of building up a parallel system. It is unsustainable for Sweden to be outside if everyone else is in,” Ohlsson said.
She rejects as unrealistic the argument that a Scandinavian cooperation can provide an independent security policy alternative.
“This insight has been reached by our Scandinavian neighbours… Sooner or later we have to realize that for a small country like Sweden this (NATO) support will always be needed.”
Ohlsson argued that Sweden has not been “neutral” since the Second World War and in practice has allied itself with the western powers. She argues that there is a need for an open debate over the situation.
“Surveys show only 25 percent support for joining NATO. Much of this opposition has to do with blind hatred of the USA – particularly on the left. We have a new possibility now that the USA has another president in Barack Obama,” Ohlsson told The Local.
Birgitta Ohlsson claimed that there is some support for a formal membership of NATO among its Alliance government partners but that the Liberal Party is the only one to have developed a consistent position on the issue.
But Ohlsson’s view has gained little traction among the Liberal Party’s partners in the four-party Alliance government.
Political commentator Stig-Björn Ljunggren told The Local that while Birgitta Ohlsson was following the conviction of her principles, the notion that Sweden would sign up to NATO any time soon was unrealistic.
“If you ask the people what they want, they would say no. It’s about tradition. We managed quite well staying out of the two World Wars after we were almost divided between Russia and Denmark in the 1800s.
“Sweden was a kind of superpower in Europe 300 years ago, and then we were beaten, and almost eaten by the others. I think since then, we’ve had a tradition for 200 years of staying out of the action. We are big country in size, but few people. Instead of solving problems with violence, we take a cup of coffee and talk it through.”
Ljunggren’s hypothesis was conversation with foreign policy spokespersons from the Christian Democrats and the Moderate Party.
“The answer is very simple: Sweden is militarily non-aligned. That’s how it has been and that’s how it is today, and it is a policy that the Christian Democrats support.
“That’s not to say it can never change in the future but it’s not something being talked about at the moment,” says Holger Gustafsson of the Christian Democrats.
Gustaf Blix of the Moderate Party explained that the government’s largest party is in favour of NATO membership, just not yet.
“The Moderate Party is in favour of Sweden joining NATO. But we are saying that if and when Sweden joins NATO, it must have the wide support of the Swedish population.
“If this will happen, we need bipartisan support in Sweden joining NATO, and we will probably go hand-in-hand with Finland, which is also not a member right now.”
Kerstin Lundgren of the Centre Party was unavailable for comment but her party’s official policy is clear on the matter.
“The Centre Party wants Sweden to cooperate with organisations working for peace and security. These might include, for example, the UN, EU and NATO. We do not however think that Sweden should be a member of NATO”.
Peter Vinthagen Simpson
Additional reporting: Lydia Parafianowicz