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Why Sweden’s youth is against joining NATO | Europe and Europeans: news and analysis | DW

“The best solution for the security of Sweden and the Swedes is joining NATO“, Prime Minister of the Kingdom Magdalena Andersson said in mid-May, officially confirming the country’s intention to become a member of the world’s largest defense alliance.

The announcement marked the end of Sweden’s 200-year military neutrality, a security policy that the Scandinavian nation had followed since the 19th century. Although most Swedes in the background Russia’s wars with Ukraine and are in favor of joining NATO, there are those in the country who doubt the need for such a step. Especially a lot of them among the younger generation.

Some of its representatives took to the streets of Stockholm over the weekend to protest against the abandonment of military neutrality and indicate that, in their opinion, such a move would lead to more violence in the world. “Joining NATO will shed even more blood, because NATO “It’s a military alliance, not an organization working for peace,” Eva Rudberg, 22, chairman of the Young Left Party of Sweden, who took part in the protest, explained in an interview with DW. “It’s a military alliance that creates more war, and we want to keep Sweden at peace.”

“A Hasty Decision Based on Fear”

In turn, Linda Akerström from the Swedish Society for Peace and Arbitration (Svenska Freds- och Skiljedomsföreningen) told DW that many people are outraged by the actions of the authorities, because neutrality in military conflicts is closely related to Swedish identity.

Prime Minister of Sweden Magdalena Andersson at a press conference in Stockholm, May 16, 2022

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson considers NATO membership the best choice for the kingdom

“For many people, this decision is a radical change, because throughout all these years, many Swedes considered themselves champions of world peace. Now, I think, many people believe that decision to join NATO was hasty and based on fear,” she emphasizes.

“Basically, making such an important decision in a very stressful situation and largely driven by fear is like going to the grocery store when you are hungry. We all know that this is not a situation where you make a good choice. we didn’t have enough debates with supporters of both opinions to ensure the legitimacy of such an important decision,” adds Ackerström.

Arguments for abandoning and maintaining neutrality

According to NATO, Sweden officially declared neutrality in military conflicts during the reign of King Charles XIV Johan in 1834. Although the country allowed German troops to pass through its territory during World War II, even then Stockholm continued to maintain a neutral position.

Swedish fourth-generation multirole fighter Saab JAS 39 Gripen

Swedish fourth-generation multirole fighter Saab JAS 39 Gripen

Sweden played its part in Afghanistan by deploying troops there as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission, which lasted until the end of May 2021. Since the 1990s, Sweden has been increasing its military interoperability with NATO, Alina Engström, a security policy expert at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, told DW.

This means that the country is already adhering to NATO standards. The announcement of joining the alliance is a small step at the military and operational level, the expert explains. “The upsides of abandoning military non-aligned status are that Sweden can now be part of NATO defense planning and enjoy security guarantees. The downsides are that Sweden will have to adjust its security policy more flexibly and lose some room for maneuver in this area, and also in foreign policy,” Engström clarifies.

“Fighting Your Own Reputation”

Lisa Nabo, 27, head of the youth branch of Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party, notes that despite previous cooperation with NATO, the official loss of neutrality is an issue that many young Swedes find problematic.

“My generation – and we are now under 30 years old – do not have memories of the war in Europe. Therefore, the situation in which we are now is new for us. We do not have memories associated with the war, like the inhabitants of many neighboring countries who were participants in World War II or the war in Yugoslavia,” Nabo shares in an interview with DW.

“As young social democrats, we are now struggling with our own image, because many of us started our political careers with the idea that we are a peaceful organization that stands for an end to militarization. It is difficult to combine this with NATO membership. But, of course , we respect the decision of our party, which was democratic and unanimous, and now our focus is on making sure that we continue to be champions of world peace,” she stressed.

Supporters of joining NATO

Not that all young Swedes were against joining NATO. Many believe that in the light of what is happening in Ukraine, this is the right decision, taken at the right time. “I am pleased with the government’s announcement,” says DW Martin Aberg, a young Swede from Stockholm. “After Finland joined the alliance, it would be strange if we were the only Scandinavian country not included in it. In this case, Russia could think about invading Sweden’s largest island of Gotland. Just look at what’s going on in Ukraine, which is not part of NATO.”

Lynn Soderlunds, 29, a senior policy adviser based in Brussels, shares this view. According to her, the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO serves to protect the Baltic region from Russian threats. “Membership in NATO in the current security situation is the right decision. We could have joined NATO back in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea,” Soderlunds said in an interview with DW.

Indigenous rights in Sweden

In turn, Sarah Andersson Ainnak, a young artist, ethnic Saami (a small Finno-Ugric people of Northern Europe. – Ed.), who lives in the north of the country, away from the bustling cities of Sweden, believes that the kingdom’s decision to join NATO could affect her rights.

Participants in a protest against Sweden's accession to NATO, May 2022

Participants in a protest against Sweden’s accession to NATO, May 16, 2022

“I find Sweden’s accession to NATO problematic, especially for me, as a representative of the indigenous people of the north. I have a feeling that there is already a fight for land in the country, and I think that NATO can consider the north of Sweden, which is home to indigenous peoples, as a vast region for their military exercises. So I see it as another form of colonization,” she told DW.

“Already today we are suffering from the activity of the air force, which affects the deer population. Now this activity will increase, and I am anxiously awaiting how this decision (on Sweden’s entry into NATO. – Ed.) will affect our rights and the environment Wednesday,” the artist shared her fears. Earlier, Prime Minister Andersson assured that joining the alliance will ensure Sweden’s security in the current situation in Europe, but the kingdom will refuse to deploy nuclear weapons and permanent NATO bases on its territory.

“A New Identity in the Military Sphere”

Even though the decision to join NATO and move away from neutrality has already been finalized, many Swedes want to have more discussions at the national level to understand what NATO is doing and what joining the alliance means for “Sweden’s new military identity,” she said. DW Ida Jansson, 30, is a Swedish civil servant currently based in Brussels.

Flags of Sweden, Finland and NATO

Many Swedes want more discussion to understand exactly what NATO is doing

“Personally, on a practical basis, I understand why, in the current circumstances, we need to join NATO. But history has taught us that collective security rarely stops conflicts. This is part of a longer discussion that we would need to have at the national level before joining to understand our obligations related to NATO membershipand its benefits,” says Jansson.

“Remembering that Sweden is now in an election year, it was politically impossible to leave room for rational political debate. I am afraid that without such discussions, it will be very difficult for Swedes to accept our new identity in the military sphere,” she concluded.

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