Sweden joins NATO: a revolutionary response

“Blinken was so impatient that he almost snatched the binder out of Kristersson's hands”, is how Swedish bourgeois newspaper Aftonbladet reported on the Prime Minister of Sweden handing over the final NATO signatures to the US Secretary of State. Along with the new Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA), the war hawks in Washington have got all they could ever have hoped for – and more.

[Originally published in Swedish at marxist.se]

Kristersson, the Swedish government and the Social Democrats were visibly relieved by the country’s entry into NATO. “At last,” the prime minister cried, at last this circus of an application process was over. Apparently, it takes a lot of energy to speak with a forked tongue, spread lies and act as an apologist for the defenders of dictatorships and nuclear weapons. More handshakes, hugs and a luxurious dinner party followed, before Kristersson took his place as guest of honour at President Joe Biden's annual address to Congress. “Welcome!” Biden shouted, breaking into applause for Kristersson, “These people know how to fight!”

In a symbolic gesture, American B-52s flew over Stockholm, side by side with Swedish JAS-Gripen. “A few decades ago this was unthinkable,” tweeted a delighted former Prime Minister Carl Bildt with a clip of the planes. The same sight probably didn't elicit as much joy in Iraq and Afghanistan, or for that matter in Cambodia and Vietnam, where Bildt's close friend Henry Kissinger ordered the same aircraft to bomb “anything that moves”. 

Imperialism in crisis

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson during the NATO ratification ceremony at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., as Sweden formally joins the North Atlantic alliance, on March 7, 2024. (Official State Department Photo by Chuck Kennedy)Kristersson, the Swedish government and the Social Democrats were visibly relieved by the country’s entry into NATO / Image: public domain

During periods of capitalist boom, the imperialists can more easily administer over and manage their spheres of interest amongst themselves, thus avoiding direct confrontation and war. But in the current crisis, competition between the bourgeoisie in different countries is becoming more and more intense. Economic nationalism and protectionism are everywhere on the agenda, as well as their military counterparts: rearmament, militarism and war.

Swedish imperialism, which has major interests in the Baltic Sea, is likewise arming itself. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, several large Swedish companies have moved their production to the Baltic countries, where wages are lower and large profits can be made. Today, Swedish banks control more than half of the banking sector in the Baltic countries. The ruling class wishes to secure this economic power militarily.

Sweden’s role

The US interest in reducing the political and economic influence of its rivals around the world coincides nicely with the interests of the Swedish bourgeoisie in the region. Sweden is joining the alliance to strengthen NATO's position against Russia. Defence Minister Pål Jonsson has promised to work to ensure that NATO “remains aware of the threat posed by Russia.” In the usual political parlance, this means encouraging NATO to send more weapons and resources to Russia's border areas and to act more aggressively. 

Biden Image public domainWith Sweden, the alliance now controls virtually the entire Baltic Sea region / Image: public domain

With Sweden, the alliance now controls virtually the entire Baltic Sea region, earning it the nickname 'NATO lake'. While Finland and the Baltics are NATO's front line, Sweden will play a key role as NATO's base for equipment and reinforcements.

“Sweden's geographical area will be partly a staging ground, which you can use to reinforce the defence of the Baltic countries and also Finland,” Jonsson said in an interview with Svenska Dagbladet.

Military assets can be transported to Finland through Norrbotten and the Gulf of Bothnia in the north of Sweden, and to the Baltics through Gotland. In this way, NATO can rely less on the short Suwałki Corridor – the border between Lithuania and Poland – which is surrounded by Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. It is not for nothing that Gotland has been likened to a 'huge aircraft carrier' in the middle of the Baltic Sea. 

But Sweden will have not only an indirect, but also a direct role in the defence of the Baltics. Sweden is not simply seeking to support other countries in a possible war against Russia. On the contrary, it seeks to become an active part of NATO's front line. 

“The ability to provide military support beyond our borders [is] crucial for our future role in NATO,” says Major General Jonny Lindfors.

Sweden's relatively well-developed defence industry – built up in the post-war period to withstand minor attacks – is a welcome addition to the alliance. Swedish JAS-Gripen aircraft already monitor Baltic airspace and practice landing on Finnish motorways. Next year, a battalion of about 600 people will also be sent to Latvia. The fact that more young people are being forced into conscription and military service is an important part of the armament against Russia. 

Similarly, rhetoric about an “increasing willingness to defend the nation” is aimed at strengthening public opinion for future military adventures. It should come as no surprise that the Swedish government has cynically weaponised the question of national self-defence to attack migrants, who they baselessly claim lack the "willingness to defend the nation".

The DCA 

Finnish Marines, assigned to the Nyland Brigade, load gear into a Swedish CB90-class fast assault craft from the stern gate of the Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), during small boat operations in support of Steadfast Defender 24, March 6, 2024. Steadfast Defender 2024, NATO’s largest exercise in decades, will demonstrate NATO’s ability to deploy forces rapidly from across the Alliance to reinforce the defense of Europe. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Danielle Serocki)NATO membership requires Sweden to make major concessions to the US war machine / Image: public domain

NATO membership requires Sweden to make major concessions to the US war machine. In December, Jonsson signed a bilateral Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA), in which the government prostrated the country before the US military in every possible way. 

The agreement gives the US “unrestricted access” to all 17 of Sweden's air wings and major army bases. On some of these bases, areas will be established that “only US forces will have access to and use of” and where US law applies. The bases may also be freely expanded for weapons storage. There are no exceptions, even for nuclear weapons, which merely require “consultation”.

The US Air Force and Navy can freely use Swedish airspace and territorial waters, and the army can use private infrastructure “on request”. Swedish authorities are given no say over when and where the US military flies planes or sails ships. US military personnel do not need passports and can drive cars with Swedish number plates, making them indistinguishable from civilians. They are immune from prosecution and exempt from taxes, including VAT on ordinary purchases. They are free to build tax-free areas for shopping, entertainment, alcohol sales (over which the Swedish state normally exercises strict control) and much more. And, of course, they are exempt from Swedish trade union laws.

The ambiguity that has characterised the entire NATO application process is also reflected in the DCA. Sweden refrains from “exercising criminal jurisdiction” if a US soldier commits a crime, but at the same time says that “if a member or relative of the US forces is prosecuted by Swedish authorities, jurisdiction shall be exercised by Swedish courts.” This wording is certainly welcomed by politicians who want to hide the fact that US military personnel in Sweden enjoy complete impunity. The rest of the agreement makes any other form of prosecution practically impossible. Among other things, American military personnel may not be “prosecuted in absentia” or removed from Swedish military facilities. If legal proceedings take more than a year, they will be cancelled. 

The same Kristersson who speaks in every other sentence about “Sweden”, “Swedish values”, “our way of life” and all other nationalistic nonsense, in practice lends the entire country to the world's strongest superpower. “It looks like Sweden has been at war with the US and lost”, Jan Guillou aptly observed in Aftonbladet.

A flood of money for the arms industry

Behind reinforced military lines, Swedish banks and corporations are hoping to expand their dominance, especially in the Baltics. As a result, arms capitalists like Marcus Wallenberg undoubtedly see dollar signs. The value of SAAB (Wallenberg’s aerospace and weapons company) has exploded on the stock market – so much so that former defence minister Peter Hultqvist is now in talks to increase state ownership of the company. 

Big contracts are looming, and the government is more than willing to pay. Between 2020 and 2024, the government doubled the defence budget, from SEK 60 to 119 billion, and more is expected. The ambition is to go beyond the NATO membership requirement of spending two percent of GDP on defence. “Up to 2.5 percent of GDP” is the target according to Jonsson, in practice an additional SEK 30 billion. Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Michael Bydén has also confirmed that NATO will make “considerably higher” demands of Sweden, and that the current money is not enough. 

The government is laughing in the face of all the workers in healthcare, social services, schools and so on, who continue to be fed lies about the lack of money. According to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR), it would have taken 20 billion to reverse the series of cuts that took place in 2022. Instead of increasing spending in these areas, the last four years have only seen further cuts, redundancies and various “efficiency improvements”. The government's priorities are clear: in capitalist Sweden, we take money from those who care for gunshot victims and give it to those who own the ammunition factories.

The bankruptcy of the reformists

Nej till NATO Image Alexandar Vujadinovic Wikimedia CommonsThe Left Party’s refusal to stand up to the warmongers has ultimately only served to divide and confuse the opposition to NATO / Image: Alexandar Vujadinovic, Wikimedia Commons

It should be easier than ever for the left to agitate against NATO, but most have totally exposed their bankruptcy. “The goal of socialists”, says ‘socialist’ newspaper Flamman’s editor-in-chief Leonidas Aretakis, should be “to develop their own foreign policy line within NATO”. He adds that these socialists should “meticulously read the articles of the treaty to see how they can be used to prevent idiotic military adventures.” Similar ramblings are now being heard from the Left Party's defence spokesperson Hanna Gunnarsson, who has gone all the way and said that there may actually be benefits to NATO!

“The Left Party would not say no to NATO giving us a better railway in northern or western Sweden. We must see that something good could perhaps come from membership.”

More accurately, the position of the Left Party can be explained as: “Isn't all the talk about war and nuclear weapons tiring? Maybe the USA will finish building the Norrbotten railway to transport troops and war equipment!” This is the logical conclusion of the Left Party's gradual adaptation to bourgeois defence policy. They voted to raise defence spending to NATO's minimum requirements, voted to send weapons to Ukraine, cancelled their participation in anti-NATO protests, and are now silent on the DCA. The Left Party’s refusal to stand up to the warmongers at any crucial moment since joining NATO has ultimately only served to divide and confuse the opposition to NATO. However, it has certainly scored points with the warmongering liberals and social democrats, with whom they hope to become ministerial colleagues after the next election.

The idea that the left could change NATO from within is almost more absurd than the idea that Sweden would somehow be “safer” or “more secure” by becoming an extension of US imperialism. Sweden's strategic role in the alliance is crystal clear, the notion that it can be combined with an independent (let alone socialist) foreign policy is absurd. NATO is a tool of US imperialism, and Sweden is in NATO because the interests of the Swedish bourgeoisie coincide with those of the US concerning Russia. 

For a revolutionary struggle against imperialism

We do not oppose NATO membership by proposing a return to some imaginary ‘neutrality’ that supports US imperialism behind a mask of ‘peace’ and ‘non-alignment’. Under capitalism, foreign policy is determined by the interests of the capitalists. 

Our answer is class struggle. The Swedish working class has the strength to shut down the arms industry, bring down Kristersson's warmongering government, take control of big business and the banks, and much more. 

But the fight against NATO cannot ultimately be undertaken by the working class in Sweden alone. Just as imperialism is international, so is the struggle against it. In opposition to the ruling class and its’ toadies’ chest-thumping about nationalism and patriotism, we communists call for revolutionary internationalism

That is why, hand in hand with comrades around the world in the Revolutionary Communist International, we are building the leadership the working class needs to unite and coordinate that struggle on a world scale. We are not just fighting for withdrawal from NATO – we are fighting for the destruction of NATO. There is no friendly imperialism – imperialism needs to be crushed. To the global ravages of imperialism, our answer is a revolutionary internationalist struggle. 

This is the only war we are arming ourselves for – class war on a global scale.

Down with NATO!

Down with imperialism!

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