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16th Jun 2019

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Sweden tightens Nato ties

  • The parliament endorsed the deal despite divisions on Sweden's relations with Nato. (Photo: Melker Dahlstrand)

Swedish MPs voted for closer ties with Nato on Wednesday (25 May), making it easier to base Nato troops on Swedish territory.

The Host Nation Support agreement also prepares the Nordic country for receiving assistance from alliance troops in case of emergency situations.

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A similar agreement is already in place in Finland.

Both countries have traditionally remained outside military alliances.

But Sweden’s defence minister Peter Hultqvist told MPs that security policy must reflect the times.

”The Russian aggression against Ukraine breaches international law and challenges the European security order,” he said.

He spoke of increased spying in the Baltic region, "nuclear rhetoric" and breaches of Sweden’s airspace by Russian jets.

The situation means Sweden should rebuild its military capacities and strengthen cooperation with potential allies.

”Host nation support is just one element of a broader strategy,” Hultqvist said. He referred to foreign and trade policy and civil society contacts as other parts of Sweden's security policy.

Russian aggression against Sweden is unlikely, but could be discouraged further by sending signals about Sweden's resources and networks, Hultqvist said.

"The goal is to prevent such a situation," he explained.

Nuclear fears

Some 291 MPs backed the agreement and 29 voted against, but those figures mask bitter divisions.

Until Tuesday, it looked like the agreement could be delayed.

The Left Party filed a motion to postpone the deal, saying it would allow Nato to place nuclear weapons on Swedish territory.

"Nato's doctrine on nuclear weapons is clear," Left MP Stig Helmersson wrote in the motion.

He referred to a Nato document stating that nuclear weapons are core to the alliance's deterrence and defence.

"Nuclear weapons, let alone Sweden's position on the issue, are not mentioned in the agreement itself and we must assume that nuclear weapons can be placed on land, travel through Swedish territorial waters, enter Swedish ports with nuclear submarines and fly over Swedish soil on board of warplanes," the MP feared.

The far-right Sweden Democratic Party's security spokesman Mikael Jansson backed the motion to adjourn.

”Host nation support risks to undermine international confidence in Swedish neutrality. We will vote to postpone the case,” Jansson told news agency TT on Sunday.

If both parties had backed the motion, it would have reached the threshold of 58 MPs needed to put off the deal.

But Jansson was reprimanded by party leader Jimmie Akesson. The Swedish Democrats opposed the agreement but would not act to stop it, Akesson said.

”There’s a broad backing for host nation support in the Riksdag [parliament]. We could postpone it for a couple of weeks only. That wouldn’t be serious,” Akesson explained to TT.

Both governing parties - the Social Democrats and Greens - were internally split on the issue for similar reasons as the left and far-right.

In the end, only the Left and four Green members voted against the agreement.

The defence minister said the debate had been rife with errors.

"I have sometimes wondered if there has been deliberate disinformation," Hultqvist said.

He said the agreement changed nothing about Sweden’s neutrality and did not allow for nuclear weapons.

Finland had agreed a host country support deal and none of these problems had materialised, he said.

'Psychological defence'

Sweden is also likely to join the Nato strategic communications centre of excellence, Stratcom, in an effort to strengthen the country's counter propaganda efforts.

In April, the government sent a letter to Latvia state secretary Janis Garisons, stating its wish to cooperate and requesting a director position at the centre.

The government had also invited Janis Sarts, director of the centre of excellence, to meet with ministers already two weeks ago. But the date was cancelled and delayed by the prime minister's office.

It has now reappeared on the government's meeting agenda for Thursday (26 May).

Earlier this year Swedish security police warned that Russian agents were working in Sweden to rally opinion against the Nato deal.

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