Neutrality backed by informal cooperation with NATO long served Sweden’s security interests well. But Russia’s war against Ukraine has upended old assumptions, and the resulting shift in Swedish public opinion, together with pro-NATO developments in neighboring Finland, points to an imminent application to join the Alliance.
STOCKHOLM – Throughout the Cold War, “non-aligned in peace, neutral in wartime” was not only Sweden’s security doctrine, but also helped shape the national identity and self-understanding of the Swedes. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may soon upend the country’s traditional non-aligned stance, by likely triggering both countries to apply for NATO membership.
As recently as March 8, two weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his war on Ukraine, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of the Social Democrats said that applying to join NATO “in the current situation […] would further destabilize this area of Europe and increase tensions. ” Many center-right commentators immediately accused her of accepting Putin’s view that a sovereign state’s choice to join NATO could be considered a provocation against Russia.
But strong signals from within the Social Democrats now indicate that Sweden may apply for NATO membership as early as the Alliance’s Madrid summit in June. The country’s security stance has already changed radically. The government has sent weapons to Ukraine, and the Swedish public has begun googling about bomb shelters and iodine tablets.
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