The two weeks following Wikileaks’ release of secret US embassy cables have been intensive ones for Sweden. Day after day, the cables have provided the news media with sensational stories, ranging from the US Embassy’s description of the foreign minister Carl Bildt (a medium-sized dog with big dog attitude) to the unbrotherly behind-the-scenes game played by Norway a few years ago, when it chose to buy American fighter planes instead of Swedish ones. But arguably the biggest debate has concerned a very controversial subject: Sweden’s neutrality.
For decades, neutrality in armed conflicts defined Sweden’s security politics. The cables have, however, uncovered an intimate security cooperation between Sweden and the US, and revealed that the US sees Sweden as a “strong and pragmatic partner”. The embassy cables described Sweden’s official policy as alliance freedom in peacetime and neutrality at war, and continued to call this policy a lie. As the days have passed, more and more voices have joined the choir to confirm that Sweden’s neutrality has gradually been replaced by strong alliances with NATO and other actors.
To most Swedes, this doesn’t really come as a surprise. Sweden is already a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme. The country has soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. It has also signed EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which states that the member countries shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if another member state is the target of a terrorist attack.
To call Sweden’s official policy a lie is, however, not exactly correct. In fact, Sweden’s security politics has been gradually altered over the past two decades, from “alliance-free in peace time and neutral at time of war” in the foreign declaration of 1992 to “militarily alliance-free, with a possibility of neutrality in the case of conflicts” in the declaration of 2002, when the significant change of heart was officially written down.
“Since 2002, Sweden cooperates with NATO, the EU or the UN, based on resolutions from the UN or the EU,” says Anders Christensson, researcher at the National Defence College in Stockholm.
The problem is that this shift has not been properly discussed and communicated. The lack of public debate is explained by the sensitivity of the issue. Most political parties avoid a public debate on NATO-membership because the majority of Swedes are against it, and have been for years.
“It’s a shame that we don’t dare to talk out loud about a membership, what it would mean and not mean, what it’s advantages and disadvantages would be,” says Christensson.
Now, it seems, a discussion has at least begun. Maybe the biggest impact of the Wikileaks documents will not be the so-called revelation of Sweden’s lost neutrality, but a push to an open debate.