Sweden may be working with NATO elite forces

It’s the Fourth of July, the American national day. And news comes from Almedalen of a change in policy that may mean closer Swedish cooperation with the US in NATO and its rapid deployment forces.

With the exception of peacekeeping missions like Afghanistan and Libya, Sweden hasn’t fought in a war in two hundred years. The policies of neutrality and non-alliance were firmly entrenched during the Social Democrats’ virtual monopoly on power during the Twentieth Century.

So perhaps it’s appropriate that news that those policies may be changing comes during Almedalen, which was more or less founded by the iconic Social Democrat leader Olof Palme.

Since the end of the Cold War Sweden has certainly been part of Nato’s Partnership for Peace program. And one political party here, the Liberals, have long advocated full membership in the military alliance.

Now the Social Democrats, the party of Olof Palme, have come out in favor of Sweden working with the NRF, the NATO Reaction Forces.

At Almedalen, Swedish Defence Minister Karin Enström welcomed the change:

"This is something the government has wanted to do," she says, "so it’s welcome news the Social Democrats are now in favor. This will add greatly to our cooperation, and deepen our ties with NATO, while continuing to build up Sweden’s defence capabilities by giving us access to advanced exercises."

The NRF rapid reaction force is NATO’s most elite unit. It consists of 13,000 troops who in a crisis can be quickly sent to anywhere in the world. The center-right Swedish government first proposed taking part in NRF maneuvers back in 2008, but the Social Democrats rejected the proposal. While in opposition, they are still Sweden’s largest political party, and their support is necessary for any longterm undertakings like working with the NRF.

But, as Karin Enström explains, taking part in exercises doesn’t actually mean joining the NRF:

"We first have to sign up with something called the Response Forces Pool, which is for non-NATO members," she says. "We won’t actually be part of the rapid deployment force."

But does this mean a step closer to NATO membership, which is a controversial issue among Swedes?

"It means we’ll deepen our cooperation with NATO" Karin Enström says. "There’s broad political support for this, and it also confirms the guidelines of the most recent Defence Committee report, which is positive."

Ironically, the shift comes as Europeans are expressing concerns over reports of spying on the EU from NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.