STOCKHOLM—Sweden, well known for its neutrality, is strengthening its ties with NATO, as it is set to sign a “host nation agreement” with the organization. This means, among other things, that NATO will be able to conduct military exercises in Sweden. Critics argue that this will lead to environmental problems, as well as increased Russian presence in the Baltic Sea.
Russian fighter jets have been in the Swedish headlines lately, after an apparent violation of Swedish airspace and provocative behavior towards a Swedish signals intelligence aircraft. The Baltic Sea is a place where Russia meets both the EU and NATO, none of which it has a very good relationship with at the moment.
As of this year, Sweden has enjoyed peace for an impressive 200 years, but despite this, Sweden was a serious military power only a few decades ago. As the cold war ended, conscription was scrapped, the military was seriously downsized, and issues of defense and national security no longer pervade Swedish society.
But Sweden’s increasingly close relationship with NATO, and the planned host nation agreement, means that 28,000 NATO soldiers will conduct exercises on Swedish soil, something that has raised objections, for different reasons.
Feministiskt Initiativ (FI) is a radical feminist party that narrowly missed getting into the Swedish government in the recent parliamentary election, getting a little over 3 percent of the votes. FI spokesperson Veronica Svärd, who participated in a panel discussion about Sweden’s host country agreement at the Swedish Book Fair recently, said that Russia’s interest in Sweden is likely to grow if the agreement is signed.
“We will see an increased Russian military activity in the Baltic Sea and adjoining regions”, she said.
Ingela Mårtensson of the Swedish section of “Women´s International League for Peace and Freedom” (WILPF) criticized the lack of debate, and parliamentary involvement so far. The issue has been handled very rapidly by the former center-right government, she says.
“This has happened very quickly, and the public hasn’t heard about this host nation support,” she said at the Book Fair panel. “The fact that we were not told about these things, is a democratic issue.”
Furthermore, there are environmental concerns. Mårtensson lives in the southern Gothenburg archipelago of the Swedish west coast, where the Swedish military is already firing some 100,000 rounds during their 25 shooting exercise days yearly. With the host nation agreement, the number of shooting days will increase fivefold, and the number of rounds fired will increase tenfold, in this extremely popular and scenic area.
Swedish Member of Parliament, Hans Linde, from socialist party Vänsterpartiet (V), expressed his concern over the resultant pollution in a recent parliamentary debate.
“The agreement also allows for – and I hope you’re sitting down for this – up to 2,000 kilos of lead, 1,000 kilos of copper, 100 kilos of zinc and 60 kilos of antimony,” he said.
Sweden’s second largest lake, Vättern, is also at risk for becoming a shooting range, despite the fact that it is a major source of freshwater, and is likely to become even more important in the future. Mårtenson called this “extremely infuriating”.
“Lake Vättern has very clean water, which is a scarce commodity in the world today,” she said.
The Swedish parliament is going to vote on the host nation agreement in October or November 2014.