Sweden says no to NATO membership
Despite the fact that the Swedish government earlier this year decided to sign the Host Nation Support Agreement with NATO, they have come out and made it clear that NATO membership will not be pursued.
This decision was reached a short time after the release of a report, ordered by the Swedish government, aimed at presenting the potential benefits and disadvantages of becoming a member of NATO. The report states that the scenario of Russia attacking Sweden alone is close to non-existing, and that any military conflict in Northern Europe would most likely erupt in the Baltic states - again with Russia portrayed as the possible aggressor - but that this is also highly unlikely.
Margot Wallström, Sweden's Foreign Minister, has commented that she favors "more political dialogue and broad bilateral and international partnerships, rather than joining NATO" (The Local SE: September 9, 2016). She further added that freedom from military alliances is serving Sweden well and helps create security and stability in Northern Europe.
The report concludes that NATO membership would not help bring about any significant solution to Sweden's currently insufficient military capabilities. In fact, It would most likely be costly for the Swedish taxpayer. The Swedish government has already decided that between 2016 and 2020 military spending should rise by $1.2 billion (Billner 2016), thus reaching the total amount of $27 billion. Moreover, it would also create an unnecessary political crisis with Russia. The only "benefit" presented by the report is the question of how Sweden would react in the case of "Russian aggression" in the Baltic region, and a further strengthening of the West's "deterrent capability" (Radio Sweden: September 9, 2016) - which is a polite way of saying "increasing our power to box Russia in".
Interestingly, the mood among the Swedish population on the question of NATO membership has changed since last year. In a survey conducted in June 2016, 49 percent of the participants said that they were against Sweden joining NATO (last year it was 39), 33 percent were positive towards membership (last year it was 41), and 18 were undecided (last year 20) (The Local SE, July 7, 2016). For this reason, the decision by the Swedish government to stay neutral on this issue is in line with the wishes of the people of Sweden.
In Sweden, discussions are still being conducted on whether to further cooperate with or join NATO's Strategic Communications Centre, StratCom, which is a NATO organ created to influence public opinion by presenting the narrative most favorable to the Alliances' aims and goals, such as "countering Russian propaganda". In fact, StratCom has met and is in contact with various military, educational, and government branches inside Sweden (stratcomcoe 2016).
With Sweden recently becoming a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, their influence and position in the international system is growing for the time being. Hopefully, the Swedish government will opt for a neutral stance between the West and Russia, despite their more pro-U.S. and NATO attitudes. Regional stability and non-confrontation, both in Europe proper and more specifically in the Baltic Sea area, should be among the highest of priorities, and Sweden has the potential to function as a diplomatic mediator in this respect. Unfortunately, the Host Nation Support Agreement and connections with StratCom could sabotage this position for Sweden, but the choice not to seek NATO membership could mean that there is still hope.
Billner, Amanda. "Sweden Says No to NATO Even as Study Shows Advantages of Joining". Bloomberg September 9, 2016. Web. Sep 13, 2016. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-09/sweden-says-no-to-nato-even-as-study-shows-advantages-of-joining
NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence Riga, Latvia (stratcomcoe). Search results for "Sweden". Web. Sep 14, 2016. http://www.stratcomcoe.org/search/node/sweden
Radio Sweden. "NATO membership not for Sweden: Minister". Radio Canada International, September 9, 2016. Web. Sep 13, 2016. http://www.rcinet.ca/eye-on-the-arctic/2016/09/09/nato-membership-not-for-sweden-ministers/
"Swedes have a change of heart on Nato once more". The Local SE, July 7, 2016. Web. Sep 13, 2016. http://www.thelocal.se/20160707/more-swedes-now-against-nato-membership
"What would happen if Sweden joined NATO?". The Local SE, September 2, 2016. Web. Sep 13, 2016. http://www.thelocal.se/20160902/what-would-happen-if-sweden-joined-nato