The speed with which Sweden and Finland have joined up with NATO is a clear sign of the rapid development of militarisation in northern Europe after the invasion of Ukraine in February. The process, initiated by Finland, led to a historic shift in policy for the Swedish government, abandoning a more than 200 years policy of non-alignment, dating from the end of the Napoleonic wars. This policy, as well as the official Swedish policy of “neutrality”, was in fact never more than a smokescreen to hide a long-lasting affiliation with the western bloc since the end of World War II.
The rapid unfolding of events after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a serious intensification of militarist propaganda in both countries, unprecedented in their modern history. The myth of the “peaceful” Nordic countries is clearly exposed, and NATO will profit from this, through a strengthening of its northern flank, which extends the encirclement of Russia and can only lead to a further aggravation of imperialist conflicts in Europe.
Finland, a forced “neutrality” controlled by Soviet Russia
Finland, with its long border with Russia (approximately the same distance as between Lübeck and Monaco) has quite another history of “neutrality” than Sweden. After Sweden’s loss of Finland to Russia, Finland became a Grand Duchy and a part of Tsarist Russia in 1809, and this lasted until 1917. The revolutionary struggles in Finland in 1917-18, which took the form of a civil war between the Reds and Whites, were crushed with the help of the German army. With the invasion of Russia in 1939 and the “winter war” of 1939-40, as well as the war against Russia on the German side until the defeat in 1944, meant that Finland had to submit to harsh war reparations from 1944 onwards. This meant that Finland was forced, after WWII, into a “special relationship” with Soviet Russia and a policy of forced “neutrality” which lasted for almost fifty years, until after the fall of the former eastern bloc. Finland was a country where the USSR had a strong control without using military power, as was the case in the Baltic countries. The policy of “Finlandisation” meant that the USSR had the last word when governments and presidents were elected, although Finland officially had a western style democracy.
Sweden: Two hundred years of “neutrality” and non-alignment?
The loss of Finland to Russia in 1809 – regarded as “the eastern half of the Kingdom of Sweden” since the early Middle Ages - dealt the final blow to the ambitions of Sweden to maintain its former position as a local great power. During the 18th century, Sweden gradually lost its former possessions around the Baltic Sea, and the newly installed king, the French general Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, declared in 1818 that Sweden, in order to keep the peace with Russia, should be “neutral” and avoid alliances with other European powers.
This policy of “neutrality” was painstakingly maintained during the two world wars, although the majority of the bourgeoisie quite clearly had their sympathies on the German side. It allowed the transport of German troops through the country to the north of Norway and to the north of Finland during the first years of the Second World War. When the war in Finland started it supported its neighbouring country by sending food, ammunition, weapons and medicine. It was not until the midst of the war, after Stalingrad, that the Swedish bourgeoisie made an “opportunistic” turn and began supporting the Allied camp.
Whereas the traditional sectors of the bourgeoisie in Sweden had strong ties to Germany, the progressively influential Social Democrats, with their hegemony in power between 1933 and 1976, developed strong links with the US and UK after WWII. The policy of “neutrality” now meant that Sweden – without acknowledging it officially – helped NATO and the western bloc with intelligence operations against the Soviet Union through the 1950s and 60s. It was not until the beginning of the 2000s that this “official secret” was exposed, well after the fall of the eastern bloc.
The role of Sweden in the 1960s and 70s, during the height of the Cold War, can be illustrated by the role of Olof Palme, and his eloquent critique of US policy in Vietnam. Being a “critical ally” to the US was an important asset for the western bloc, since the allegedly “neutral” Sweden could be used to influence former colonies that risked falling into the orbit of the eastern bloc.
After the fall of the eastern bloc, Sweden restructured its military forces, and abolished military conscription for more than two decades, only to re-establish it in 2017. With the increasing threat from Russia during the last decade, Sweden and Finland developed a military affiliation with NATO countries, labeled the “Partnership for Peace”, and there were discussions about a possible military collaboration between Finland and Sweden, but the question of directly joining NATO was not politically on the agenda in both countries until the invasion of Ukraine.
In less than two months’ time, the Swedish Social Democrats abandoned the policy of “neutrality” and non-alignment despite strong criticisms from inside the party. While the question of alignment to NATO has not been on the political agenda, and was defended openly only by a minority among the parties in parliament, namely the Liberal Party, after the invasion of Ukraine a strong majority in the Swedish parliament declared its support for the “NATO process”. The question of NATO was not even an issue in the Swedish election campaigns of this year. After the elections, the situation has not changed. The Social Democrats have been replaced by a right-wing coalition, in which the far right Sweden Democrats will have a significant role. But although this party has a record of pro-Russian statements and connections, they changed their position on NATO during the spring. The only party openly opposed to joining NATO is the Left Party, the former Communist Party.
Likewise, when the Finnish PM Sanna Marin declared that Finland should join NATO, this was also a total break with the policy of “neutrality” and former submission to its Russian neighbour during the Cold War.
Joining NATO will not mean “peace and protection” but increased military chaos
Today, this strengthening of NATO on its northern flank contains the risk of an escalation of open military conflict in northern Europe. It is another example of the USA’s long-term policy to impose its world order by encircling its main imperialist rivals - a policy that in reality is creating further chaos, as the experience in Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine shows. The main argument for the alignment with NATO has been to “maintain peace and security” and whip up a centuries-long fear of Russia, the historic arch-enemy of the Scandinavian countries. The statement of Swedish Foreign Secretary Ann Linde that joining NATO will be an act of “conflict avoidance” that will bring a more relaxed and peaceful situation in Europe, is obviously false. The strengthening of NATO on its northern flank will primarily mean a strengthening of the US, by building a gigantic shield against Russia in the Nordic and Baltic states. The alignment with NATO, with its obligatory rise in military budgets to 2% of the GNP (which means raised profits for the Swedish military industry, Bofors and SAAB) will mean a more volatile and insecure situation for the working class as well as the whole population. With its hypocritical tactic of appearing as “defender of peace” while at the same time fanning the flames of war and chaos, this strategic turn-around by the Swedish and Finnish ruling classes is a clear sign of the escalation of the situation in just a matter of months.
The increased militarisation of society in Scandinavia– illustrated this spring by the former Swedish PM Magdalena Andersson posing with a helmet in a tank during a joint NATO-led operation in the north – will only lead to further destabilisation and destruction.
19th of October, 2022