The stronger Sweden, the better protection – with or without an alliance
This is a cultural article which is part of Then24’s opinion journalism.
The main reason to why Sweden should not join NATO is that it would mean a change. You know what you have, but not what you get. The argument is rarely given the appreciation it deserves.
In the second weighing scale should then be added things that speak for a Swedish membership. Then this with Turkey could have played a different role. When the country threatened a veto, a measure of the weight NATO gives us was offered. We should have answered: “We are looking for membership. You reject us if you are against, but we do not bargain over our internal affairs.”
If the guarantors of the alliance – the United States and the large European countries – see us as an important ally, it would have ended with Turkey accepting us. A deal with the US involving twenty fighter jets means more important negotiations for Turkey than flag-waving in Sergel’s square. Now we will never know, and so the scales for change lost a little weight, while we closed the door behind us.
That we are considered as a strategically significant and militarily capable member is namely important. The so-called Article 5 is a rubber paragraph. Few seem to have read further down than the headline. The alliance would obey it by placing half a million soldiers on Swedish soil, yes, but could also settle for diplomatic protests – or something in between.
What would then determine the strength of the response? Two considerations.
Firstly, if Sweden is attacked it would always be part of a much larger relationship of tension. In such a situation, the overall picture, the strategic dynamic, determines how NATO comes to Sweden’s support.
Whether we are a member matters less.
Second, does it work in reverse? Can Sweden be an important military asset for NATO? The majority of members have long since reduced NATO’s two percent goal to a low-priority hope. The degree to which Sweden equips itself is in practice independent of our membership, but the stronger Sweden, the lower the cost and the greater the profit for NATO to come to the rescue.
It is true if we are a member. It is true if we are not a member.
We’re in in other words, our own most important security policy guarantor. In reality, membership does not guarantee anything. Its value is a function of our own strength.
That change in itself is a counterargument is not always true. Sometimes sudden events require extensive, immediate and uncertain measures. Within days, our political establishment rallied around the view that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was such an event, and that the necessary, urgent action was to join NATO. Minister of Defence Peter Hultqvist’s fresh “not as long as I decide” immediately became a “now it’s a hurry”.
What could not actually wait was to rescue Ukraine and help the war end with a Russian loss. It is still urgent every day. Thinking about it was never an option.
We should assist Ukraine for security policy reasons, but also because it is right, which leads to the most important question. During World War II, Sweden was not neutral. In submission, we sided with the Nazis in a paradigmatic example of a battle between good and evil.
Now we see again a war between good and evil. Is it now our moral duty to make amends by joining NATO? So that soldiers of other countries do not once again die for our freedom while we sit at home and follow the news bulletins?
A strong Sweden outside NATO is more worth defending than a weak Sweden belonging to NATO
No. Our moral duty is to stand on the side of good. Alongside other countries, assisting Ukraine with what the country requests. Leaving no doubt that our words will be followed by action until the war ends on Ukraine’s terms.
But all this is independent of membership in NATO.
Perhaps Sweden’s sudden desire to become a member of NATO instead gave a bland aftertaste of the leave traffic. Was our immediate instinct to connect with others to fight the good fight? Or did we instinctively turn to NATO to assure us of help when danger threatens again?
There is no one conceivable conflict, where Sweden is relevant, which does not place us on the same side as NATO. This applies regardless of whether we are a member. If we have the military capacity to hold our positions, then we will be rescued. If we lack that capability, the alliance’s cost of helping us will be so high that only our strategic position justifies an intervention. It is independent of our membership.
To put it bluntly: A strong Sweden outside of NATO is more worth defending than a weak Sweden that belongs to NATO. That we arm ourselves as quickly as possible without being careless (weapons systems require people with competence, otherwise the steel machines will soon be rusty wrecks) means an informal membership with NATO as a real ally.
Thus the question becomes what are the advantages of being outside? We will have greater (but not complete) ownership of our foreign and security policy. Besides, it might not be so stupid for the whole world with a big and strong country that is non-aligned – though not neutral – also in a war between good and evil. Sweden could be both a military and diplomatic buffer in a major conflict.
So how does it weigh the bowls? For what it’s worth, I personally don’t have a strong opinion. The water is too deep. The same for almost all those who on Day 1 slapped their palms on the table and demanded immediate accession to the old Atlantic Pact. Rarely has one seen such an ill-considered and domestically tainted decision in an existential foreign and security policy issue.