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Sweden’s ruling party divided on NATO decision — Analysis

Women’s faction of Social Democrats reportedly calls for staying out of military bloc, keeping Sweden non-aligned

Sweden’s ruling political party is reportedly divided on whether to join NATO, as the women’s wing of the Socialist Democrats has called for keeping the country militarily independent, even as the Russia-Ukraine crisis heightens security concerns.

Annika Strandhall, the country’s climate and environment minister, told Stockholm newspaper Svenska Dagbalet that the women’s faction of the party opposes joining NATO. They have “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.

Federal board members have decided not to change their congressional determination that Sweden should stand out from NATO and be militarily nonaligned.

Strandhall’s comments mark the first major political pushback against a proposal for Sweden to apply for membership in NATO and come shortly before an assessment on the country’s security policy that is due out by May 13. Following the release of a position document by the foreign minister, the coalition government will make a decision on the matter by May 24.

Jimmie Akesson (Sweden Democrats leader) said that last month he would recommend his party to join NATO, if Finland is interested in joining 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.

Novus conducted a survey last month and found that 51% Swedes supported joining the Western military alliance. This was the first time Novus had seen majority support for NATO membership. YLE also conducted a poll and found 62% support for NATO membership. This is a record after previous studies had shown that the majority of people were against joining the bloc.

Sweden’s two century history of maintaining military neutrality has been largely a result of its avoiding wars ever since 1814. Finland’s neutrality has been maintained since World War II.

Sweden to dodge NATO referendum

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pledged to speed up approval for Sweden or Finland, if they apply to 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 international leaders such as the Chinese President Cyril Ramaphosa or the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa have suggested NATO caused the Ukraine crisis. They broke promises not to expand eastward following the Cold War, which ended in 1991. Pope Francis declared Tuesday that “the barking of NATO at Russia’s door” could have triggered Moscow’s decision to launch its offensive.

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