The issue of joining NATO has in recent years been a bone of contention for Swedish politicians. Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, who has so far bravely resisted demands for Swedish NATO membership, has come under fire for not giving way to the widespread “fear of Russians.”
Notwithstanding the mounting pressure from Swedish hawks and NATO lobbyists, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and her fellow party colleague Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist remain faithful to the Social Democrats’ time-tested idea of non-alignment, despite scathing criticism from their opponents.
Recently, Wallström was accused during a parliamentary debate on security policy of “lying flat for Russia” by saying no to NATO. Members of the center-right alliance (comprised of the so-called “bourgeois parties,” such as the Conservatives, the Christian Democrats, the Liberals and the Center Party) went on to accuse Wallström of “sticking her head into the sand,” “being nostalgic of neutrality” and even “hating America.”
“She says exactly what the Kremlin wants,” Liberals leader Jan Björklund said, as quoted by Swedish Radio. “Her main argument is that joining NATO would provoke Russia,” he added.
According to the center-right alliance, currently in opposition to the red-green coalition government which includes the Social Democrats and the Greens, Sweden’s NATO membership would greatly reduce the risk of conflict in the Baltic region.
However, Wallström has continuously warned her opponents that NATO membership would lead to an arms race in the region. According to her, the government’s goal is to prevent conflicts.
“In the end, it’s about choosing between deterrence and détente, I advocate détente,” Wallström was quoted as saying by Swedish Radio.
According to Wallström, demands to join NATO are mainly driven by fear of Russia.
“I do not think that the fear of the Russians should resolve which security policy stance we should have,” Wallström said. “Russia must not force us to change our foreign policy. We have had a defense doctrine for 200 years that has helped us steer clear of wars. If we were to approach NATO, it would be seen as a sign that we are afraid of Russia,” Margot Wallström said, as quoted by Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.
The recent investigation into the NATO issue was by many Swedish politicians interpreted as an argument for joining the bloc. According to Wallström, however, NATO membership would forfeit Sweden’s control over its own defense budget. Furthermore, Sweden would also be unable to pursue an independent nuclear policy.
“We have close cooperation with NATO, but we still have the opportunity to make decisions independently,” Wallström pointed out.
Former EU commissioner Margot Wallström is renowned for being Sweden’s first Foreign Minister with an overtly feminist stance. By her own admission, Wallström would like to resume contacts with Russia at a top political level. The Foreign Minister seeks to mends fences with the Russian leadership before Sweden assumes its responsibilities in the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member. At the same time, Wallström would like to see Western sanctions against Russia widened to encompass more individuals.