Sweden and Finland Joining NATO Would Escalate Tensions, Says Swedish Activist

Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian President, warns Russia that it may use nuclear weapons in the Baltic region if Sweden or Finland join. NATO. His comments come one day after the prime ministers of Sweden and Finland spoke together about possibly joining the military alliance — a move many thought was unthinkable before Russia invaded Ukraine. Agnes Hellström, president of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society, calls the NATO debate in Sweden “narrow,” saying “it’s been the only option presented to us by the media,” and calls the proposed solution a “reflex” built up from a “big amount of fear after the invasion of Ukraine.”


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AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian President, warns Russia that it may use nuclear weapons in the Baltic Region if Sweden or Finland join. NATO. Medvedev said, quote, “There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic — the balance must be restored.” His comments come one day after the prime ministers of Sweden and Finland spoke together about the nations possibly joining NATOThis was a move that many thought impossible before Russia invaded Ukraine. Finland shares an 830 mile border with Russia. This is Sanna Marin, the Finnish Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER SANNA MARIN:We have enriched our NATOSince Russia illegally annexed Crimea, Sweden and partnership have been working hand in hand since then. The distinction between being a part of NATO and being a member is very obvious and will stay so. There is no other way to have security guarantees than under NATO’s deterrence and common defense as guaranteed by NATO’s Article 5.

AMY GOODMAN:Wednesday’s speech was also given by Magdalena Andersson, the Swedish Prime Minister. She is Sweden’s first female prime minister.

PRIME MINISTER MAGDALENA ANDERSSON: We have to analyze the situation to see what is best for Sweden’s security, for the Swedish people, in this new situation. And you shouldn’t rush into that; you should make it very seriously.

AMY GOODMAN:This is the first time that both a Swedish and Finnish prime Minister are women. We go now to Sälen in western Sweden, where we’re joined Agnes Hellström, president of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society, the country’s oldest peace group. Some say it’s the oldest in the world, founded in 1883.

Agnes, we are glad to Democracy Now!What is your response?


AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is an incredible — even seeing these two women, which is historic, they are standing there, though, saying they want to join this military alliance, NATO. If you can answer?

AGNES HELLSTRÖM:We, the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society, are against the Swedish membership NATO, and that, therefore, I’m, as a feminist, extra sad at the steps we are taking so quickly now towards the membership. And the main reason that we don’t — we don’t think it would make us safer or the world more secure. It would make it part of a nuclear doctrine. Our ability to be a voice for democracy prevention and disarmament would decrease.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Agnes, could your talk be about whether the popular support for joining has changed since the Russian invasion in Ukraine? NATOIt has increased in Sweden as well as Finland, where recent polls indicate that almost 70% of Finns support joining. NATO?

AGNES HELLSTRÖM: Yeah, yeah. The debate in Sweden was narrowly pro-Sweden.NATOI would agree. But the polls, they have still — that’s been made, they still don’t show support from a majority of the people of Sweden. So, I think that it has been growing, the support, but at the same time, it’s been the only option presented to us by the media, more or less. And I think it’s really important, this kind of big decision, that it has to be a wide debate, and it has to be — the people must be included in this kind of really big change in our policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Agnes Hellström, for people who aren’t familiar with Sweden’s history, if you can talk about the history of neutrality and why it is so central to Sweden’s identity?

AGNES HELLSTRÖM: Yes. I don’t remember the exact year when we decided on the neutrality policy. And it’s also been abandoned for a more nonaligned policy, military. But it’s been — well, it’s been a country that had peace for more than 200 years. And a lot to thank has been our choice to be more of a voice for democracy — diplomacy and for disarmament and to, in the international forum, represent those issues more than to take side or to choose an ally in that kind of way as NATO is.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Agnes, as members of — both Finland and Sweden are, of course, members of the EU, which does grant some kind of protection to both states in the event of any kind of military assault. In other words, they already have security guarantees. Hence, why is there so much discussion about NATO? What would it look like? NATO membership enable?

AGNES HELLSTRÖM: Well, I think, in Sweden, as in many countries right now, it’s been a big amount of fear after the invasion of Ukraine. And therefore, it’s like the easiest — it’s the easiest solution to join a military alliance that would protect you in case of war. However, war is always destructive. We must do all we can to prevent it from spreading or starting in other areas of our environment. So, I think it’s a reflex that you choose that because it’s the easiest way. We have to use this wide range of options or solutions right now to try and get a ceasefire. And that’s why I think this analysis that Sweden is going to make, it has to take a lot of time. It’s been being discussed for years in Sweden. And it’s been a majority of the parties of the government — the parliament have been opposed to NATO membership — well, until recently.

AMY GOODMAN:Agnes, it would take minimumly one year for Sweden or Finland admission to be accepted to. NATO, if things go as they have in the past, which certainly isn’t happening these days. What do you fear might occur in the interim? What kind of organizing is taking place in Sweden right now to support the peace movement? People should also understand that Sweden is a peaceful nation. However, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in Sweden. It is also one of the largest weapons exporters per capita in the world.

AGNES HELLSTRÖM: Yeah, that’s true. My greatest fear right now isn’t what would happen if I joined, but that we would join. I believe it would be a bad decision, and it shouldn’t be made right now in this extremely stressful time. It would be better for Sweden to not join. And also, as you said, we are a big arms producer, and we’re also supplying the parties of the war in Yemen with a lot of arms at the moment. You might not be able to see Sweden the way you imagined.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Agnes Hellström, we want to thank you for being with us — we’ll certainly continue to follow this story — president of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society, speaking to us from Sweden.

Next up, we go to Lviv, Ukraine, to look at how Russia’s invasion has displaced more than 11 million people, including two-thirds of Ukraine’s children. Stay with us.