Non-aligned Sweden seems to be gradually losing its former trademark neutrality, as the red-green coalition government is poised to accept an invitation to join the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), which is composed of seven NATO countries.
During a meeting with the nation’s Defense Committee, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist made it clear that Stockholm intends to accept the British invitation to the JEF, despite having previously rejected this idea. With traditionally non-aligned Sweden’s increasing participation in various NATO-affiliated structures being a polarizing issue, the prospect of relinquishing still more neutral ground has rekindled the debate.
“Basically, it’s a good decision. It sends a clear signal that Sweden is joining the Western countries. Also, it is important that it is a rapid response force,” Conservative defense spokesman Hans Wallmark told the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.
However, Left defense spokesman Stig Henriksson was unamused by the perspective of joining the UK-led JEF.
“I am against the fact that we inconsiderately jump on all balls and enter agreements will all countries available at the same time,” Stig Henriksson told Svenska Dagbladet.
The first time joining the JEF surfaced on Sweden’s agenda was in 2015. Remarkably, though, Sweden’s participation was flatly rejected by the very same Peter Hultqvist at the time.
“You are trying to paint up a picture that what we say does not matter, implying that we are [secretly] doing something different. I want to emphatically refute this. We shall not discuss anything based on disinformation,” Hultqvist was quoted as saying in 2015.
Since then, however, Sweden’s rhetoric about being threatened by persistent “Russian aggression” has sharpened, which is often used as a pretext for increased military collaboration with NATO. In April 2017, the Swedish Armed Forces re-assessed the situation and came to the conclusion that Sweden’s participation in the JEF actually had “positive effects to it.”
Now, Hultqvist and the Swedish government are poised to accept the British government’s invitation to submit a formal application to the JEF for membership. However, there are still unresolved issues surrounding this matter.
During yesterday’s meeting, Defense Committee chairman Allan Widman asked Hultqvist about the implications of the prerequisite that the JEF can be put in “at all conflict levels” and whether or not Sweden’s participation was excluded in the event of an “Article 5 situation” under the NATO Convention on Collective Self-Defense.
“The only substantive part of the answer was that the defense minister did not want to engage in speculation,” Widman told Svenska Dagbladet.
In recent years, Sweden’s trusted policy of non-alignment has been faltering, with many politicians, journalists and opinion-makers openly promoting NATO accession. Most recently, former Swedish Supreme Commander Sverker Göransson (in office 2009-2015) advocated Sweden joining the alliance.
“It will be difficult to stay out of a possible conflict, regardless of whether we are in NATO or not,” Sverker Göransson said, as quoted by the Swedish newspaper Expressen, citing “a Russia that is getting more provocative and aggressive,” which has allegedly led to “a much greater risk of something happening in our immediate surroundings.”
In line with the recent trend, Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist will participate in the next NATO meeting in late June, Svenska Dagbladet reported.
The UK Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) was launched as a NATO initiative at the 2014 Wales Summit and consists of Denmark, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands. While the JEF is formally independent from NATO (and distinct from NATO’s own rapid response force, the NRF), it is nevertheless closely linked to the organization, operating “under NATO’s doctrines and standards.”