Swedish Society Polarized Over Joining NATO

by Lucas Leiroz, published on BRICS Information Portal, January 21, 2022

This is a kind of scary follow on to Bruce’s piece below. Apparently Western (U.S.) propaganda is succeeding in Sweden.  [jb]

Western anti-Russian propaganda is having effects. In Swedish society, fear is spreading about the “risks” of a Russian invasion. As a result, the possibility of the Scandinavian country joining NATO has been increasingly accepted in the Swedish public opinion. As membership of the alliance is not part of the country’s strategic interests, so far, the government has postponed this debate and guaranteed that the Swedish state will remain an external ally of NATO, but this position is likely to change in the near future.

A recent survey operated by the Novus agency revealed that 37% of Swedish citizens are in favor of the country’s entry into NATO, while only 35% take the opposite position and another 28% are undecided on the topic. The same survey had been carried out previously, in 2017. At the time, around 43% of Swedes were absolutely against the country joining NATO, while only 32% were in favor.

As we can see, the figures changed abruptly in a few years. Today, the Swedish people seems to be afraid of the Russia’s existence as a political and military power, having accepted the discourse about a Russian plan to invade and occupy Europa. What is most impressive, however, is to see that a large number of Swedes currently simply do not have a formed opinion on the matter, which leads us to believe that in fact Swedish society is in a moment of transition, moving from a position of majority contrary to a majority in favor of the entry. The change is current and public opinion is in the midst of a molding and transition process, which is why many people are still undecided on the issue.

Commenting on the case, Novus’ CEO Torbjörn Sjöström said during an interview to Swedish media:

“The yes side (those in favor of Swedish entry into NATO) has progressed strongly compared to 2017, so now there are about as many who are for NATO membership as against. But about a third cannot answer the question, that is really where this question is decided (…) If we go back a few years, about a third were afraid of Russia as a great power. Now it is a clear majority”.

The change can also be seen in the parliamentary sector. Currently, a large portion of Swedish political parties are in favor of the country’s entry into the western military alliance – and even those that are not in favor of the real membership are in favor of a solid, effective, and deep partnership, as the case of the current government’s position, for example. Magdalena Andersson, the Swedish prime minister, has repeatedly stated that Stockholm follows a sovereign policy in matters of security and that joining NATO is not in the country’s plans, but made it clear that there is a partnership that must be strengthened.

All these changes in Swedish society and this pro-NATO turn have a very clear explanation: the fear of Russia. Another survey was also carried out by Novus, asking the interviewees if they were afraid of the US or Russia. 59% of Swedes responded that they were afraid of Russia, while 29% were afraid of the US. As a result of strong Western propaganda and alarmism over the alleged existence of a Russian plan to invade Europe, citizens of militarily weaker European states feel threatened. To overcome this fear and the military weaknesses of their country, citizens point to a clear path: to join a military alliance that brings together militarily stronger nations and nuclear powers. It is a natural reaction of the Swedish people to an irrational fear implanted by American propaganda.

Indeed, there is only one way to change this type of situation and combat negative propaganda, and that is through the war of narratives and cultural interaction. The Russian Embassy in Sweden is taking some steps in this regard and trying to improve ties between the two countries by making the Swedish people aware of the inexistence of any Russian invasion plan. In recent social media posts, the Embassy has tried to reinforce that Russia and Sweden are not enemy nations and that there is no possibility of conflict: “We regard these fears as a direct result of an incomparable propaganda campaign that unfolded in the Swedish media at the initiative of local politicians to inflate an unfounded Russian terror (…) [Allegations of Russian invasion plan are aimed at] convincing ordinary taxpayers that they need to invest more money for military needs and obediently follow instructions from across the Atlantic”.

In the midst of this scenario, it remains to be seen how long the government will resist the pro-NATO pressure, which may increase more and more both in the streets and in Parliament. Stockholm has been concerned with improving its defense policy, investing in the military sector and in the sovereign production of weapons and equipment. So far, the government’s plan is to maintain this program of action and deal with NATO only as an external partner, but there will certainly be enormous pressure for steps to be taken towards real membership, albeit against the will of the prime minister.

Maintaining the government’s current position is an important strategic step, but it is insufficient to resolve the situation. The government does not want to take the risk of becoming a member of NATO, but insists on an ideologically pro-Western stance, supporting NATO’s attitudes as an external ally – which is certainly a serious problem that contributes to the current situation. This only pushes the Swedish people to increasingly see Russia as a dangerous and enemy nation. Stockholm needs to take a step forward in relation to the West to establish truly sovereign guidelines in foreign policy, assuming absolute neutrality on the NATO-Russia issue and establishing ties of cooperation with both West and Russia, according to what is convenient for the country.

As long as the Swedish government maintains a pro-Western stance, pressure to join NATO will continue to grow. The country must assert itself as an autonomous power defending its own interests.

Lucas Leiroz is a researcher in Social Sciences at the Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; geopolitical consultant.

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