Sweden approves controversial US defence deal

World Saturday 22/June/2024 16:05 PM
By: DW
Sweden approves controversial US defence deal

Stockholm: For two centuries, Sweden maintained a policy of military non-alignment, but it is now taking quick steps to move away from this historical position. In March, they became the newest member of NATO, and in December, they signed the Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with the United States. On Tuesday, this agreement got the final green light from the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag.

Although US forces have participated in exercises on Swedish territory before, the agreement will now give US armed forces access to 17 Swedish military bases and training grounds across the country.

In addition, the US will have the right to deploy units, store military equipment, and carry out defence exercises in Sweden. Much like in other European countries where US forces are deployed, US military personnel in Sweden may move freely and are obligated to obey US law.

Organising Baltic defence
Swedish Defence Minister Pal Jonson has said with the DCA, Sweden "can receive early, swift and effective military support from the United States in a deteriorating security situation."

"The agreement acts as a deterrent, and is stabilizing. It reduces the risk of war breaking out and makes Sweden safer," he added.

Jacob Westberg from the Swedish Defence University told DW that this agreement did not only help Sweden, but provided the entire Baltic Sea region with military support.

For example, it opened up a new route to move supplies to the Baltic Sea region through Finland and Sweden, without NATO having to rely on land routes near the Polish-Lithuanian border which Russia could easily cut off.

"Sweden could function as this sort of strategic hub. A staging area from which military resources could be transferred further east, and north as well," he said. The expert in war studies added that Sweden must be considered as a strategic asset in the wider context of NATO's regional defense planning.

"It increases the cost and risk for Russia to attack any state in the region," Westberg concluded.

Nuclear controversy
In Sweden's parliament, the defence agreement received the support of a large majority: 266 MPs voted in favor, 37 against, and 46 were absent.

The main opponents were the Left and Green parties, who criticized the agreement for potentially leaving the door open for US nuclear weapons to be stored on Swedish territory, thereby further escalating tensions in the region. These parties were also opposed to Sweden joining NATO in the first place.

Last month, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson indicated that he was open to hosting nuclear arms in wartime, despite a Swedish parliamentary ban on nuclear weapons during peacetime.

"In a war situation it's a completely different matter, [it] would depend entirely on what would happen," Kristersson told local media. "In the absoute worst-case scenario, the democratic countries in our part of the world must ultimately be able to defend themselves."

Those opposed to the DCA argued that similar US agreements with other Nordic countries like Finland, Norway, and Denmark contained clauses that prohibited the hosting of nuclear weapons on their territory.

However, Westberg explained, these clauses were added at a time when Denmark and Norway — founding members of NATO — were under the very real impression that a nuclear conflict could erupt at any moment. Finland at the time was afraid that the Soviet Union would be tempted to move missiles into their country as they had a cooperation pact with the Soviets.

Now, according to Westberg, the possibility of the US bringing nuclear weapons to Sweden seemed extremely unlikely. "It is very difficult to see why and how the US should have any interest in stationing nuclear weapons in Sweden in peacetime and in any case, they will have to do this in agreement with the Swedish government," the expert said.

Rocky road to NATO
Sweden and neighbouring Finland are the latest countries to join NATO, after jointly applying for membership shortly after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.  NATO membership was intended to increase the sense of security in the region against potential Russian aggression. It has also had the effect of expanding NATO-aligned territory to most of the coast of the Baltic Sea. Russia still has two points of  access to the sea.

But Sweden's road to NATO membership was rocky. Hungary and Türkiye dragged their heels and sought to block Sweden's bid for accession to the alliance, citing Swedish "hostile" attitudes. After long negotiations and bargaining with Türkiye and Hungary, Sweden was free to join NATO in March, a year later than their Finnish counterparts.

Sweden is expected to fulfill NATO’s minimal 2% of GDP defence spending target this year, with the Scandinavian country spending 2.14% of  their GDP or 12.5 billion euros (13.4 billion dollars) on defence this year according to NATO statistics.