As Sweden gets ready for NATO, will its approach to nuclear weapons change?

Jens Petersson, Senior advisor on peace and disarmament issues at the United Nations Association of Sweden

With Sweden and Finland on a fast track to become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the consequences for Sweden’s traditional stance on disarmament issues are now becoming more obvious. Many voices asked for a debate on these issues before Sweden applied for membership, but it is not until now that signs of such public discussion have been broadly seen. Sweden’s new alignment raises several questions also on the international level.

In a letter of intent dated July 5, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde wrote to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that “Sweden accepts NATO’s approach to security and defense, including the essential role of nuclear weapons, intends to participate fully in NATO’s military structure and collective defence planning processes and is willing to commit forces and capabilities for the full range of Alliance missions.” […]

Swedish disarmament proponents have harshly criticized this new step. The Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society, the Swedish Physicians against Nuclear Weapons, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, headed by Swedish-born Beatrice Fihn, made a joint statement on July 12, when the Swedish letter of intent was made public by Swedish Television (SVT). “Sweden is … willing to offer capacity to the ‘full range of the alliance missions.’ This includes use of nuclear weapons, which would be a violation of international law,” the three organizations wrote and then continued: “In addition, Sweden is opening up to accept and receive nuclear weapons on Swedish territory. We cannot interpret it in any other way.”

There is an alternate interpretation of the letter of intent, however: Sweden is still likely to adopt policies similar to those of Norway and Denmark, which feature declarations on not allowing the stationing of nuclear weapons on the countries’ territories (at least not in times of peace). Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson made such a promise in parliament on May 16, echoing a decision by the Social Democratic Party the day before. […]

Following Swedish public television’s disclosure of the letter of intent sent to NATO, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to SVT via email.

“As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance,” the ministry wrote, echoing well known NATO language, and continued: “NATO members are covered by the organization’s nuclear doctrine, where nuclear weapons are the last and ultimate part of the Alliance’s deterrence capability. … NATO is a defense alliance. A membership in NATO does not mean that Sweden must place nuclear weapons on its territory.” Läs artikel