Sweden & Finland: No to NATO!

Policy coup for capitalist and imperialist interests

Per Olsson, Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna (ISA in Sweden)

(This article was first published on 19 May 2022)

In an undemocratic, coup-like manner and with the help of a cynical “shock doctrine”, Sweden is to join NATO, a military alliance formed and led by US imperialism. This weekend it became formally clear that the leadership of Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats backed the country joining.

“The party has at its NC-meeting on May 15, 2022 decided that the party will work toward Sweden applying for membership in NATO,” said the Social Democrats in a statement and the following day, the government decided to apply for NATO membership.

The decision by the Social Democrats and the government was taken in full agreement with all the right-wing parties, including the racist Sweden Democrats, the capitalists and the armed forces, which have long campaigned for NATO membership.

The Social Democratic pawns also overrode weak internal resistance in their own parties. Perhaps more than anything else, this NATO coup has revealed that the Social Democrats have become a thoroughly bourgeois party. In an effort to hide that decisions had already been taken a so-called “security policy dialogue” was held in the party, but the supposed dialogue was a travesty of democracy. In the meetings that were held, only the party leaders were allowed to speak.

“The so-called ‘dialogue’ in the Social Democratic Party on NATO tonight showed with all clarity that it has already been decided by the party leadership,” wrote a critical member after attending one of the only three meetings held.

And when the Social Democratic party NC met on Sunday, there was only one proposal for a decision — yes to NATO membership.

Those who want to resist joining NATO must not be discouraged. It is now a matter of responding quickly to the “coup d’état” by the ruling elite and the rise of militarism with protests, action and counter arguments, while also realising that this will be a long struggle and that our position must be: neither NATO nor Putin! We oppose every imperialist power and all capitalist governments and fight for an immediate military disarmament, a ban on nuclear weapons and an alliance of workers and oppressed from below as opposed to the alliances and blocs of different elites and powers.

There is a crying need for a strong socialist left opposition, and in the struggle against NATO the seeds of the socialist rebirth of the workers’ movement — a new workers’ party and democratic, fighting trade unions — can be sown.

The struggle for peace — against war and militarism — runs like a red thread through the history of the workers’ movement. “Struggle against militarism, in other words, to clarify the principled basis of this struggle: the economic connection of militarism with capitalist development and its political connection with the class domination of capital, is the main task of socialists”, wrote the authors of ”The Fortified Poor House — Antimilitarist Handbook” published by the Social Democratic Youth League, the backbone of the socialist left of the time, in 1913. The socialist Left has repeatedly argued that militarism could never be overcome if its basic cause, capitalism and class society, was not replaced by a socialist society

Still in March of this year, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson argued that Swedish membership of NATO would further destabilize Europe, and other ministers argued that there was no reason to apply. But it didn’t take long before the Social Democratic leadership and the government joined their “masters”, the ruling Swedish billionaire class and the rest of the bourgeois establishment, in their attempt to use the war in Ukraine as a pretext to abandon the old so-called neutral and “alliance-free” policy. A policy that was never really non-aligned but has for a long time enjoyed the support of an overwhelming majority of the population and has been regarded as a means of maintaining peace. (Officially Sweden has not actively taken part in a war since 1814).

It also soon became clear that the ruling class in Sweden and all the main parties preferred Finland, a country neighboring Russia and ruled by a coalition led by Social Democrats, to become somewhat of a door-opener to NATO, and that the Finnish government should be the first of the two to announce its intention to join NATO without any delay.

As the Swedish daily Expressen reported on 11 April: “Swedish Finance Minister, Mikael Damberg, and a number of Swedish business leaders, including Jacob Wallenberg, attended a high-level meeting in Helsinki last week on NATO, with the Finnish President and Finnish business leaders. The message to the Swedish government, which has not released any information about the meeting, was clear: Sweden should back Finland, and the ability to attract foreign investment could be negatively affected if we do not join NATO.”

Dramatic shifts in public mood

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finnish support for NATO membership surged to a record high. An immediate effect of the war was that a majority of Finns began to support NATO membership. A week after the war started, an opinion poll showed that for the first time, a majority (53%, almost double the rate of a month ago) of Finns were in favour and after three weeks of war, support for joining NATO had increased to 62%, while 16% were opposed. In Sweden the mood also changed, but at a much slower pace. It took two months of war before, in late April, polls showed a majority supported Sweden becoming a member of NATO, but if Finland were to join the alliance, 64% of Swedes questioned said they were in favour of joining.

Within a few weeks, all parties in Finland came out in support of joining Nato. The Left Alliance, who is in the government and traditionally has opposed Finland’s membership in military alliances, pretended to still be in opposition but the Party leadership was in favour. When joining the government in 2019 the Left Alliance said that they will leave if a membership application is submitted but in early May the party decided it will not leave government over Nato and the parliament voted on application a majority of the party’s MP:s voted in favour.

The government, the right-wing opposition and the capitalists took full advantage of this temporary shift in the mood and launched an unprecedented propaganda campaign, claiming that after Ukraine, Finland and Sweden could be next and that there was no alternative to joining NATO if a Russian attack was going to be avoided. Meanwhile the leaders of Western Imperialism promised that applications ( to join NATO) would be “fast-tracked”. The reasons for embracing Finland and Sweden’s move to join NATO were mainly political, but there is of course also a military dimension. Russia currently shares a land border of 1,215 kilometers with NATO members. Once Finland joins, that will increase to 2,600 kilometers.

But as Harry Nedelcu, NATO expert and director of policy at Rasmussen Global, an international political consultancy, said to the German Deutsche Welle: “The first message of these nations joining NATO is political and targeted towards Russia. Secondly, for NATO it’s all about the genuine capabilities that Finland and Sweden are bringing to the table. While everybody else in Europe has been sort of winding down their military capabilities after the Cold War, Finland and Sweden have been building their military capabilities, that can bring quite a bit to the alliance”.

Sweden and Finland were already NATO’s main partners. But membership is not just the culmination of close cooperation, it is a qualitative change that completes a systemic shift in bourgeois foreign and security policy. Sweden, and Finland, are joining a military alliance that from the outset rests on the strategic nuclear weapons of US imperialism. It is also the US ruling class that, according to NATO, should have “absolute control” over nuclear weapons. This marks a historic change.

All claims that membership of NATO is “conflict averting” (as the Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said) and could be combined with disarmament and opposition to nuclear weapons are false. It is just the opposite; in preparation for NATO membership, the Swedish and Finnish governments made common cause with the governments of NATO countries and refused to endorse The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which the governments of 60 countries have endorsed. That Treaty doesn’t stop the arms race and nuclear arms, but the reason the Swedish Social Democratic government has refused to sign is to please NATO and US imperialism. Already in 2017 it was reported that the then US secretary of defense, James Mattis, warned Sweden that, if the country signs a UN treaty banning nuclear weapons, it risks reduced military cooperation with the US and a lower chance of US assistance in the event of an attack.

Military spending skyrockets

“Sweden can continue to be a strong voice in the world for disarmament,” claims the Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. But it was a long time ago that military disarmament was something the Social Democrats stood up for. Together with the right, they have instead raised their voices for military rearmament, given full support to and participated in NATO’s war efforts. Swedish arms exports have more than quintupled since the beginning of the 2000s. The largest buyer is the United Arab Emirates, one of the countries which is part of the Saudi-led war coalition in Yemen. It is a well documented fact that Swedish weapons have been used in this Saudi-led war, backed by the US imperialism.

The more positive the government has become about NATO membership, the more it has invested in the military. As part of their shock doctrine, the government decided in March, with the support of all parliamentary parties, including the Left Party, to increase military spending to 2% of GDP, which is NATO’s minimum target. But even before that, the government had embarked on the biggest military build-up in modern times, increasing defense spending by a total of 85% between 2014–2025.

As Dagens Nyheter wrote on 10 March: “Prior to today’s announcement, the Riksdag (the parliament) decided that defense spending would increase gradually until 2025. In that plan, defense spending would go from SEK 71 billion in 2021 to SEK 94 billion in 2025. The share of spending would then be equivalent to 1.5% of GDP.

Raising spending to 2% of GDP would mean a budget of SEK 127 billion in 2028 compared to the SEK 90.3 billion planned for the same year.”

This gigantic rearmament will mean new cuts in welfare and an excuse to delay action to tackle climate change as well as tax increases for ordinary people. Moreover, even more young people will be forced to do military service and join NATO’s military arrangements and war operations.

The lie that today’s armament for war secures tomorrow’s peace is not true, no matter how often it’s repeated. Global military build-up is making the world more dangerous and increasing the risks of war. The Ukraine war had been preceded by a military build-up and rearmament in both Russia and NATO countries, and in the wake of the war, Eastern Europe and the Baltic Sea region have become more militarized than ever. Europe is less secure than at any time since 1945.

Membership means that Sweden will contribute even more to NATO’s military build-up in Eastern Europe and the Baltic Sea region, which will lead to increased tensions and a growing risk of war, but also, as the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter wrote on 14 May, to a role in war preparations that the Swedish military is immediately expected to play within NATO in the event of membership:

“In addition to the geostrategic situation, elements of Sweden are also attracting the interest of other NATO members. In particular, the Swedish air force is being highlighted as a positive reinforcement in northern Europe. The Swedish Armed Forces have more than 90 Jas 39 Gripen aircraft, making it the largest air force in the Nordic region.”

“The Baltic States, which in principle have no air force of their own, are also looking positively at how the Swedish Air Force can strengthen air power in the region. This also applies to the navy and the role of special naval units. Swedish submarines are regarded as some of the best in the world and could strengthen where the Baltics are relatively weak.”

“With the Baltic island of Gotland as a base, it can dominate the Baltic Sea and control communications by sea and air, the Swedish Armed Forces also note. But Swedish units could also play an important role in the north in the context of future NATO membership.”

In exchange for supporting Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership, Turkey’s Erdoğan wants weapons, money and even more backing in his war against Kurds and oppositionists, and comments from the Swedish government show that it is prepared to go some way to accommodate him. Or as the well known Kurdish activist Kurdo Baksi rightly warns in Expressen on 16 May that “the Kurds risk paying the bloody bill for Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO”.

Among Erdoğan and the power-hungry Turkish regime’s conditions for supporting Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO are that Kurds and other opposition members be extradited and that, for example, Kurdish premises be closed. This once again crushes the myth that NATO is a champion of democracy.

False assurances

A common argument for NATO membership is that “then we won’t be alone if the Russians come”. It is also this so-called argument that permeates the “security analysis” commissioned by the government and the right-wing opposition in order to say yes to NATO membership.

But it is almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which some foreign power would attack a non-aligned Sweden. On the other hand, membership of NATO implies an obligation to train for, equip and participate in wars that any other NATO country would be drawn into. The closer Sweden has come to NATO, the more military operations Sweden has been involved in, such as NATO’s 20-year war in Afghanistan and the bombing war against Libya.

How would peace benefit if Sweden were also to come under NATO’s nuclear umbrella?

As Rolf Ekéus, former ambassador and head of the UN weapons inspection programme for Iraq, summed it up: ‘The only real threat to Sweden’s security is a great power conflict in Europe and in our neighbourhood. Membership of NATO would mean that we would then become a direct party to the conflict.”

The Social Democrats argue with their ‘yes’ vote that they will push for “unilateral reservations against the deployment of nuclear weapons and permanent bases on Swedish territory”, referring to the fact that both Denmark and Norway have allegedly received guarantees against nuclear weapons on their territory and an exemption from foreign bases.

“But that has been eroded. Two years ago, the Norwegian government agreed that areas in northern Norway, among other places, could be used as bases and that US regulations would apply there. The Danish government has decided to allow foreign bases on Bornholm” (Dagens Arena, 11 May).

Even NATO advocates argue that even if Sweden were to receive guarantees against the installation of nuclear weapons in peacetime, this would not apply in crisis and war situations and that as a NATO member “we must expect that, for example, American ships armed with nuclear weapons can call at Swedish ports”, as one NATO friend put it.

Capitalist and imperialist interests

US imperialism, in particular, welcomes Finland and Sweden joining NATO because, among other things, “it would also expand NATO’s influence in northern Europe all the way up to the Arctic, an area that is becoming increasingly important geopolitically due to its natural resources, strategic location and numerous territorial claims.” (CNN, 10 May).

Swedish capitalism and especially the country’s war industry see new profits to be made when Sweden joins NATO. The Ukraine war and the government’s yes to NATO have caused the value of the war company Saab’s shares to rise by 80%. NATO is good for business, concluded a joint statement issued by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and its Finnish counterpart.

NATO is an imperialist military alliance that was formed primarily to serve the interests of American capitalism and to unite the West in an alliance against its rivals on the world stage, and since the main rival of US imperialism is China, NATO is also preparing a turn against the Indo-Pacific region and China.

This means an escalation, with the active participation of the Swedish Government, of the imperialist power struggle and military build-up which caused the Ukrainian war and which threatens to set the world on fire.

We say:

  • No to Swedish and Finnish NATO membership.
  • Neither Putin nor NATO — fight against all imperialism.
  • Welfare, not more arms expenditure.
  • Stop arms exports. Nationalize the armaments industry under workers’ democratic control and governance. Convert the war industry to civilian production.
  • Global struggle against the plunder and militarism of imperialism. Immediate military disarmament and a ban on nuclear weapons. Build a mass movement against war, terror and violence — for a socialist world.