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From Neutral to NATO: Sweden's Security Shift

Despite Sweden's longstanding tradition of avoiding involvement in wars since 1814 and maintaining a policy of non-alignment and wartime neutrality, recent geopolitical events have prompted a significant departure from these policies. In response to Russia's assault on Ukraine, Sweden, a nation historically uninvolved in conflicts, has taken an unprecedented step by joining NATO. Sweden’s military commander-in-chief, Gen Micael Bydén, acknowledging the evolving security landscape, has urged its citizens to mentally prepare for the possibility of war, marking a noteworthy shift in the country's approach to these situations.


Member nations (of NATO) assert that the likelihood of Russia launching attacks on NATO countries has escalated. Bydén has issued a warning, suggesting that Russia's recent incursion into Ukraine is “just a step, not an end game.” 


The Swedish foreign minister said, “Stockholm must be realistic and prepare for a drawn-out confrontation with Russia.” Sweden has further acted by turning Gotland, an idyllic island, into a military base controlling both air and sea routes in the Baltic Sea. At the same time, Prime Minister Olf Christon announced Sweden’s commitment to meet NATO’s 2% GDP spending target of military defence in 2024. 


Why The Change In Foreign Policy?


The Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014 and Ukraine in 2020 has drastically changed the security landscape of Europe. Any escalation of the attack could have a substantial impact on the Nordic countries, urging them to enhance their military strength and readiness. 


Apart from Russian Aggression, Sweden is experiencing a transformation in its domestic political landscape. The traditional backing for Sweden's longstanding neutrality is diminishing, replaced by an increasing endorsement of a more pragmatic foreign policy. This change was notably observed in the outcome of the 2022 Swedish Elections, leading to the establishment of a right-wing coalition that advocates for Sweden's participation in NATO. In fact, polls suggest that 60% of Swedes are inclined toward membership in NATO. 


Alignment with Allies also plays a crucial role in Sweden’s paradigm shift. The nation shares mutual security concerns, including but not limited to Russian aggression, cyberattacks, regional instability, terrorism, and extremism. Joining NATO becomes an essential strategy in fortifying alignment and improving collective defence capabilities. Additionally, it serves to strengthen Nordic security cooperation, presenting a unified front against potential threats.


Impact on the Civilians 


These statements were widely spread by news outlets and social media, sparking a widespread alarm among the Swedish population. They served as a resounding wake-up call, prompting Swedes to confront potential risk. In response, citizens have taken proactive measures, rehearsing to prepare for the worst.


One such notable initiative is the broad dissemination of the brochure titled "Om krisen eller kriget kommer," translating to "If Crisis or War Comes." This informational material has become a focal point for individuals seeking guidance on crisis management. Moreover, the populace has actively engaged in outdoor survival skill sessions, emphasizing preparedness for unforeseen challenges.


The surge in preparedness is further evident in the widespread stockpiling of essential supplies. Citizens are taking steps to ensure they have access to necessary resources in the event of a crisis or conflict. This includes the increase in sales of crisis-related equipment.


Comments By The Opposition 


The issuance of warnings prompted dissent from opposition figures, including former Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, who expressed concern that the warnings were alarmist and created unnecessary fear, particularly among children. They emphasized that while acknowledging security threats, such drastic language was counterproductive and divisive. Some questioned the effectiveness of such stark messages for public preparedness, arguing that clear and practical information would be more beneficial than fear-based rhetoric.


In contrast, anti-NATO activists raised concerns about the potential consequences of turning the Baltics into a NATO stronghold, suggesting it could attract heightened threats from Russia. Public sentiment appears divided, with some expressing support for the perceived urgency and others concerned about the language and impact.


Comments By Russia 


Russia expressed criticism in response to the warning. Its embassy in Sweden wrote on X, “Perhaps the Swedish leadership should stop driving its own people towards paranoia?” 


Alexey Pushkov, a member of Russia's upper house parliament, shared his perspective on Telegram, suggesting that "sometimes it seems like some Swedish military officers and journalists almost dream of war."


Furthermore, Vladimir Putin treated NATO’s expansion with studied indifference “In regards to Finland and Sweden, we don't have problems with Finland and Sweden; unfortunately, we do with Ukraine. We have no territorial disputes with them. Nothing might concern us in terms of Finland and Sweden becoming NATO members. If they want to, please go ahead.” But then he issued a threat: “However, if NATO troops and infrastructure are deployed, we will be compelled to respond in kind and create the same threat for territories from which threats towards us are created. It is obvious. Everything is fine between us, but now there will be tensions.”


Conclusion


Sweden currently holds the status of invitee country and is gradually being integrated into NATO’s political and military structures, officially ending 200 years of neutrality. While enhancing its defence capabilities and role in international politics, this decision also places Sweden in a position where it may face heightened scrutiny and potential challenges from Russia.


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