AMU Europe Homeland Security Intelligence Original

Why Sweden Has Remained Hesitant about Joining NATO

By William Tucker
Edge Contributor

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine still as ongoing and brutal as ever, it comes as little surprise that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member-states have shown a renewed interest in their territorial defense. Washington has long complained about the lack of investment in defense from continental European members, and Moscow’s latest European adventure has driven home just how important defense investment is.

Even Germany has pledged to spend 2% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense in a recent turnabout on policy. With European members of NATO and the European Union (EU) finally showing interest in defending their nations from Russia’s determined expansionism, it’s natural that the few European nations that exist outside of these international organizations will once again debate the possibility of NATO membership.

Sweden Fears That Joining NATO Would Lead to Problems with Russia

Two nations in particular, Sweden and its neighbor Finland, are perhaps the most capable candidates for inclusion in NATO, but both nations have long resisted the call to membership. For the first time since NATO’s founding, Swedish public opinion polls show a slight majority of the population leaning towards joining it.

Sweden and Finland have stayed outside of NATO due to Cold War tensions between the Soviet Union and the U.S. For its part, Finland is a special case, but Sweden’s life outside NATO is pragmatic in that its strategic independence has lowered Sweden’s tensions with Russia, yet also allows Sweden to have policy flexibility.

That way of thinking in Sweden hasn’t changed much. According to a statement made by Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, “If Sweden were to choose to send in an application to join NATO in the current situation, it would further destabilize this area of Europe and increase tensions. I have been clear during this whole time in saying that what is best for Sweden’s security and for the security of this region of Europe is that the government has a long-term, consistent and predictable policy and that is my continued belief.” In other words, the fear that Sweden would find itself in Russia’s expansionist sights continues.

Sweden Has a Modern Military and Defense Industry, So It’s in Better Shape Than Other European Nations

Despite Russia’s underwhelming military performance in Ukraine, historic concerns weigh heavily on those nations of Europe that have lived through many devastating wars. However, Sweden is in better shape than most other nations when it comes to military matters. Stockholm has a modern military and a modern defense industry to go with it.

In fact, Sweden may not be a member of NATO, but it operates in close coordination with that organization already. This strategy allows Sweden to work with a modern and friendly military force on its doorstep, but still allows Stockholm to have strategic flexibility where necessary.

In the event of an attack on Sweden, NATO members have the option of providing military support to a neighbor that is already plugged into NATO’s warfighting doctrine and some overlap of military technology. In essence, Sweden gets the best of both worlds when it comes to NATO. But although public opinion in Sweden has shifted on the matter of joining NATO, it would take something rather dramatic to shift the status quo. 

William Tucker serves as a senior security representative to a major government contractor where he acts as the Counterintelligence Officer, advises on counterterrorism issues, and prepares personnel for overseas travel. His additional duties include advising his superiors in matters concerning emergency management and business continuity planning.

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