Sweden’s Centre Party now favors the Scandinavian country joining NATO, it said for the first time Tuesday, according to a report in the Local, an English-language website based in Sweden. The party, which has 22 seats in the Riksdag, Sweden's parliament, is part of a four-party government opposition group that traditionally has leaned against becoming a part of NATO.
But now three of those four political parties apparently have had a change of heart and are in favor of joining the 28-country alliance.
While the current Social Democratic-Green coalition government is still against joining, it currently has a minority government that relies on opposition votes to pass bills in parliament, meaning that its role in government is always at risk. A change in government between now and the next election in 2018 could result in the country joining NATO.
“We lack the ability to defend ourselves for a longer period of time. At the same time, NATO is very clear about the fact that Sweden cannot expect military support if we are not full members of the organization,” wrote Centre Party leader Annie Lööf together with foreign policy and defense spokesmen Kerstin Lundberg and Daniel Bäckström in an opinion piece for the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper. “We can no longer close our eyes to that.”
Sweden has enjoyed good relations with NATO in recent years, including participating in a large number of the alliance's drills. It also has built strong ties with its neighbors Finland and Denmark as an alternative to giving up its famous neutrality, but according to the opposition party, this is not enough.
“We fear that false non-alliance risks becoming a security risk rather than offering safety,” Lööf, Lundberg and Bäckström added in the opinion article, referring to Sweden's increased military cooperation with its neighbors despite officially maintaining a semi-neutral position.
The Christian Democrats, the remaining political party in the four-party group that is against NATO membership, said it will discuss the possibility of joining NATO at its party conference in early October.
“We are a relatively small country with a strategically important location in the Baltic Sea region. Our assessment is that we can't go it alone but need to cooperate with others to manage our defense capability and we need to do that as part of NATO,” Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch Thor told the TT news wire Tuesday, suggesting the party could decide to change its stance.
Sweden traditionally has shied away from being part of NATO, but recent hostility from Russia that has seen Kremlin ships and aircraft enter its sovereign territorial airspace and waters has changed many people’s minds. An October 2014 poll showed 37 percent of Swedes were in favor of joining NATO, with 36 percent against, marking the first time that more Swedes have favored joining the alliance than not.