The historic collapse that came with Sweden’s application for NATO membership

The historic collapse that came with Sweden’s application for NATO membership

By Tulin Uygur, Stockholm / Sweden

Sweden suddenly abandoned its 200-year-old foreign policy, that was theoretically described as “being non-aligned in peacetime, aiming to be neutral in wartime”, by deciding to apply for NATO membership.

On May 15th, the government party Social Democrats (S) and on May 16th, the majority of the Swedish Parliament voted “yes for NATO membership”. The government, which previously announced that they would not hold a “referendum” despite an increasing “favourable” trend in the public opinion polls, was strongly criticised by many experienced former politicians, journalists and academics for this decision in leaps and bounds and the preferred method.

And the result in the latest polls, conducted by the Novus research company, that is 68% in favour, encouraged both the government and the opposition in taking this decision. However, the results of the polls showed that, for example, 54% of women was “against NATO membership”, and that the proportion of those who were “in favour” in the northern and southern regions of Sweden was low, and that the “absent” votes, which was about 40%, show that this topic about NATO was not discussed thoroughly enough in the public. 

After the government announced that there would be no referendum, propaganda activities and speeches were carried out through the Swedish TV and the print media. While there were Q&A discussions with the party leaders on TV, discussion panels with experts and politicians were held all around. Interestingly, those who were “against” the decision were barely invited to any of these panels. And those that were “in favour” mainly used the war in Ukraine as propaganda tool and mostly triggered the public fear of war among the Swedish people. The argument that Russia could attack the Baltic region any moment was repeated over and over. And Finland’s pro-NATO, has been consistently emphasized as a fully confirmed, definite “yes”. It has been argued that if Sweden remains out of NATO, it would be all-alone in the entire Northern Europe.   

Of the 8 parties in the Swedish parliament, only the Left Party (V) and the Green Party (MP) stated that they are against the NATO membership under all circumstances, while the Moderate Party (M), Center Party (C), Liberal Party (L), and the Christian Democrats (KD) have all declared that they have a pro-NATO stance. The racist anti-immigrant and Islamophobic party Sweden Democrats (SD), after Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, have changed their stance against US and NATO stance dramatically, not to be seen as “pro-Russian”. By changing their attitude towards Russia and making a 180 degree turn towards NATO, they returned to the Euro-Atlantic line, just like all their other counterparts in Europe.[1]

And another party in the Swedish parliament that made a 180 degree turn on their stance toward NATO, was the Social Democrats government (S).

The resolution “Against NATO Membership” – approved at the Congress – was annulled

Important decisions were taken at the Social Democrats (S) party congress held in November 2021; There would be no further cooperation with NATO, as the conditions for Sweden being a non-aligned and a fully independent country would be at risk. Secondly, an atmosphere of neutrality and increasing cooperation would be emphasized in the Baltic region and will focus on building a mutual trust through diplomacy. It was also decided to reject with absolute certainty and determination the rapprochement with NATO. In short, the congress basically said no to the NATO membership.[2]

However, since the government party Social Democrats gotten so involved in the embargo actions, propaganda activities including culture and sports, and applied them in all fields, that were mainly imposed by the United States after the war in Ukraine, that there was no longer a trace of their former democratic and mutualist attitudes, which they have been proud of. This also led to a serious polarization among the party members, so much so that those who criticised Ukraine’s reliance on the US and the West, and NATO’s unending enlargement efforts, and those who drew attention to the American role in this crisis, were immediately accused of being pro-Russian. No one from the “pro” camp ever questioned why one of the two military formations, the Warsaw Pact and NATO, that were organised against each other during the Cold War, was dissolved in 1991, whereas the other persistently sought to expand further, not only in Europe but throughout the entire world.   

The Social Democrats government developed the rhetoric that the Ukrainian War was a turning point in their foreign policy and tried to content themselves with declaring that they were convinced the developments in the Baltic and around the world, could not be answered with the former 200-years of Swedish foreign policy on neutrality.  After the government’s attitude became clear, all former Social Democrat politicians began to appear on TV, with the same “turning point” rhetoric. Apparently, the government tried to make sure of itself, before the EGM of the Central Committee of the party on May 15th. Former ministers and prime ministers such as Margot Wahlström, Mona Sahlin and Göran Persson, giving the impression they have been thinking about it for a very long time, stated that they had decided on the NATO question, with a dramatic tone and almost in tears. And they announced that they had given a positive decision on NATO. In short, they announced to millions that they could not provide security in the Baltic region alone, that they saw the same thing could easily happen to them in the Baltic, after seeing Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and that they would be all alone especially when Finland becomes a NATO member. Of course, they cleverly referred to the historical Russian rivalry and fear that existed in Sweden for centuries.   

One issue that was almost never brought up was the meeting in Helsinki in April 2022. It was a NATO meeting and it was attended by the Finance Minister Mikael Damberg, the Swedish businessman and the notorious banker Jacob Wallenberg, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Finnish Defence Chief Timo Kivinen[3] and Swedish Chief of General Staff Micael Bydén.[4]

The Swedish newspaper Expressen published this meeting under the title of “a classified meeting”. It was stated that the purpose of the meeting was to encourage Finland to apply to NATO and to give the Swedish business world an accelerating role on the NATO question. According to the some people at the meeting, there is no doubt that if Finland chose to join NATO, Sweden would follow Finland “as not to be left alone”. It was also interesting that a prominent member of the Wallenberg Family, who are closely tied to the Rothschild Family, came along with the government officials.     

Criticism within the party

Some former Social Democrat ministers and politicians, that could not find the chance to appear on TV as they were all opposed NATO membership, have warned the government through the print press.

Rolf Ekéus, a former diplomat who headed the UN disarmament observer program in Iraq from 1991 to 1997, published an article in the daily Dagens Nyheter newspaper on May 10th with the headline “NATO membership could be a historic tragedy (for Sweden)”. In his article, Ekéus pointed out that Sweden, which has been working on the limitation and reduction of global nuclear armament, will eventually lose its credibility if it becomes a member of NATO, and that Sweden will face a serious and deep problem in terms of nuclear weapons.  Ekéus stated that it is necessary to be aware that NATO is a nuclear power organization, and that NATO members have to participate in NATO planning on use of nuclear weapons against Russia, and these meetings are held regularly at NATO headquarters under the name of “Nuclear Planning Group”. He also noted that the group’s mission is basically to identify the primary targets and major cities in Russia, which are the centers where the population is densely packed, the production facilities or the nature itself, to later on eliminate with nuclear weapons. Ekéus stated that it should be accepted from the beginning that the United States is the sole decision-maker when it comes to the determination of these targets, and that each member state has an obligation to protect NATO as a nuclear power organisation and even support the use of nuclear weapons when necessary. Ekéus also drew attention that all the decision mechanisms within NATO, in all NATO military operations, there will always be an American general in the highest position (which makes the US president the superior decision maker in this case), and that all priority targets, their determinations and the operations are all decided by the American general at the NATO headquarters (and not by the Chief of Staff of Sweden, who will then be a part of NATO command structure). He emphasized that the greatest threat to Sweden’s security comes from power conflicts in Europe and that NATO membership would mean taking sides in Sweden’s immediate vicinity, whereas Sweden should intensify its foreign policy and diplomatic efforts to reduce current tensions in Europe. He said that the former policy of non-alignment should not be abandoned and thanks to this policy, which has been maintained for nearly 200 years, the Swedish people never had to enter into wars that would be adversely, affect them. [5]

Another criticism on the government’s positive attitude on NATO membership came from Pierre Schori, the former Foreign Minister and the president of the Olof Palme Foundation and a UN ambassador. Schori, who previously published an article in the Goteborgs-Posten newspaper on May 12th with the headline “Is the Afghanistan fiasco not enough to doubt NATO?”, said “becoming a full member of NATO dramatically changes our position, abandons the previous atmosphere of peace and international solidarity that we have successfully maintained for generations, and make us an organic part of a nuclear weapons alliance, becoming the target of the Russian nuclear weapons.” Criticizing the government’s incapability to question the failure in the Afghan War, Schori said that even President Biden in the United States considered the Afghanistan war an unprecedented mistake and launched an investigation on it. Criticizing the irresponsible and reckless attitude of the Swedish politicians, Schori said that these politicians who decided to keep up with the war in Afghanistan under the NATO flag, will today determine the direction of Swedish security policies.[6]

Pierre Schori, who published another article titled “Ask the MPs that you voted for, to justify their NATO decision” in Dagens Nyheter newspaper on May 12th, claimed that NATO membership was advocated by a classified report prepared behind closed doors and that it was brought up without any solid analysis or evaluations by the politicians who have been demanding Sweden’s NATO membership for many years, and said that this was highly disrespectful for Social Democrat supporters. Noting that the process did not proceed fast enough, Schori emphasized that some details were not taken into account at all, comprehensive discussions were not made with sufficient clarity, and the public participation in the discussions was not realized at all. Stating that, they saw many sub-organizations and regional party offices which are saying ‘No’ to NATO, Schori called on the Social Democrats to reach the MPs they voted for on this issue and about the future of their children, and to ask about their decisions and their justifications.[7]

However, after the reaction of an experienced politician like Pierre Schori, who carries weight within the party, the old known methods came into play and smearing articles were published among the press, claiming that Schori was a KGB agent.[8]

Where does Turkey position itself in the ongoing NATO discussions in Sweden?

With the acceleration of the NATO discussions in Sweden, the issue of “Turkey and Kurds” was brought up. Despite the fact that Turkey has always recalled  “we never had a Kurdish problem, our problem was always with the terrorist group PKK”, by making simple generalisations, the issue was still discussed as a Kurdish problem. So that, the question “if Sweden becomes a member of NATO, will we be involved in Turkey’s bombing of the Kurds?” has been raised in every debate, and it continues to be so. The generalisations of “Turkey bombing the Kurds, dictator-authoritarian Erdogan, and a non-democratic Turkey that does not respect human rights” are repeated over and over in Sweden’s NATO discussions.

As you may recall, the Andersson government was formed in November 2021, with only one vote of Amineh Kakabaveh, author of the book “From Peshmerga to the Parliament”, who broke away from the Left Party (V). Aware of the power of her vote, Amineh did not miss this opportunity, and presented a list of demands for the Kurds, including a regional autonomy, and presented a speech in the parliament that even move Andersson and some of his deputies to tears.[9]

So, Andersson has not hesitated to make expenses for the YPG/SDF forces in Northern Syria and with the heavy influence of the lobby activities of these separatist terrorist organisations for many years, even hosted some representatives in Stockholm, in order to form a Social Democrat government without a coalition and to keep her promise in return for a single vote.[10]   

The NATO decision now became a pain on Sweden’s back

While many party sub-organisations such as the Social Democratic Women in Sweden, Swedish Social Democratic Youth League, Social Democratic Students of Sweden, and the Social Democrat Branch in Skåne region declared that they will say “no to NATO”, the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Party’s decision to vote in favour of NATO membership, on May 15th, was considered as “a betrayal”, “a disappointment”, and “a defeat” among the party members, and resignations from the party came one after another.[11]

Then, on May 16th, the resolution for NATO application got through the parliament by the Social Democrats government, despite the opposition of the Left Party and the Green Party, and the application document was signed in a hurry in front of the cameras. However, with Turkey’s reactions, this issue got a whole new scale and frankly, things really got into a mess.

Turkey’s reaction first sparked a debate on why a distinction should be made between the terrorist organisation PKK and the Kurds. In many discussions, it began to be emphasized that Turkey is an important country and a power for NATO, that cannot be simply ignored by Sweden.

The views of P.M. Nilsson, who wrote an article in Dagens Industri titled “The deal with Amineh Kakabaveh must be broken”, received massive criticism. He wrote: ” …The main problem with Turkey’s reaction is that they have a point in it. The government’s agreement last autumn with the independent member of the parliament Amineh Kakabaveh, was a prerequisite for Andersson to be elected prime minister. The agreement is as strange and unconstitutional as it is unique, and means that an individual member of the parliament dictates the policy in a specific foreign policy issue: Social Democrats undertakes to work for Kurdish autonomy in northeastern Syria and to deepen cooperation with the PYD, widely regarded as the Syrian branch of the PKK. Turkey, the EU and the USA have branded the PKK as terrorists. Everyone understands that this agreement is untenable and not a “misunderstanding” on the part of Turkey, as Ann Linde has indicated, but a known and published[12] fact. The Foreign Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have realised the explosive power of the issue and eliminated it much earlier. But now it is as it is. The settlement with Kakabaveh should be broken. It was wrong then and it is wrong now, no matter what Turkey thinks.”[13]

Meanwhile, Kakabaveh had widespread media coverage that she would no longer support the Andersson government, and that she might even vote to overthrow the government in the spring budget voting. Magdalena Andersson, on the other hand, signaled that they would not bow down, by answering the question posed on her about this subject as “new alliances will be formed in new periods”.

Now the hope of those who say no to NATO is that Turkey persists on the decision! I do not know if it sounds familiar to you but, back in 2004, the Turks who said “No” to the Annan plan, could only hope that the Greek Cypriots would say “no” at that point, and it did happen in the end!  

[1] https://sverigesradio.se/artikel/sd-svanger-oppnar-for-medlemskap-i-nato

[2] Pg.4 https://www.socialdemokraterna.se/download/18.58f114e917c0725de62eab/1632306237591/E%20Vi%20bygger%20gemensam%20sa%CC%88kerhet%20tillsammans%202021.pdf

[3] Finnnish President Niinistöö is officially the Commander-in-Chief however this position is currently being appointed to the Commander of the Army Kivinen.

[4] https://www.di.se/nyheter/uppgifter-wallenberg-och-damberg-pa-nato-mote-i-finland/

[5] May 10 2022 https://www.dn.se/kultur/rolf-ekeus-ett-natomedlemskap-kan-bli-en-historisk-tragedi-for-sverige/?fbclid=IwAR0KtLMx33FxvCgf03XnyZBkrMWWnWHi8dZ4l1hbG9cVGlU6BQgXe7m3Gfs

[6] https://www.gp.se/debatt/borde-inte-fiaskot-i-afghanistan-avskr%C3%A4cka-oss-fr%C3%A5n-nato-1.72422661?fbclid=IwAR3ZbYekVRs6HOrwAqYedXXuHc7gL2eJLqj5h5pXkW4vvnVMNJQcwvE-FGY

[7] https://www.dn.se/insandare/krav-att-din-riksdagsledamot-motiverar-sitt-beslut-om-nato/

[8] https://www.varldenidag.se/kulturserie/schori-utpekades-som-kgbs-viktigaste-informationskalla/repvei!BsokUgnDkQK2pg0@3Rfag/

[9] https://www.ulusal.com.tr/makale/8861163/tulin-uygur/isvecin-ilk-kadin-basbakani-magdalena-andersson

[10] https://www.ulusalkanal.com.tr/dunya/isvecli-bakan-ann-linde-pkkypg-heyetiyle-gorustu-h295778.html

[11] https://www.dn.se/insandare/jag-lamnar-socialdemokraterna-efter-beslutet-om-nato/

[12] https://www.socialdemokraterna.se/download/18.f50969e17cdf8deec0ea9a/1637740782503/SC3-19-MPC21112408290.pdf

[13] https://www.di.se/ledare/uppgorelsen-med-kakabaveh-bor-rivas-upp/

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February 2024