More Swedes want to join NATO

According to a new poll, in the past year Swedes have grown more concerned about Russia, and for the first time a plurality favor joining the western military alliance NATO.

But, while Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström has signaled a tougher attitude towards Russia, she says exploring NATO membership would send the wrong signals.

Following the crisis in Ukraine, Russian military aircraft intrusions into or near Swedish airspace, and a submarine hunt in the Stockholm archipelago, some 73 percent now say they are concerned about developments in Russia. That compares to 45 percent the year before.

The online survey was carried out by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency.

The day after the new leader of the conservative Moderate Party, Anna Kinberg Batra, called for a study into whether Sweden should join NATO, the survey shows that 45 percent of the population would be in favor of joining the alliance, with 35 percent opposed. It’s the first time there has been more Swedes in favor of NATO membership than against.

Some 55 percent also would like Sweden to reintroduce military conscription, while nearly six out of ten want an increase in defence spending, twice as many as in 2012.

At the Society and Defence annual conference in Sälen, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström said Swedish foreign policy is taking a new direction, and will adopt a tougher stance towards Russia. But she rejected the proposal to study the possibility of NATO membership. Speaking the TT news agency, Wallström said it would send a signal to the world that Sweden is considering abandoning its traditional polices of non-alliance.

“You’d send a very strong signal that would create insecurity among all of our partners,” she said. Instead Wallström wants to start a broad debate on security policies, beyond just military defences. A study, she says, would be an obstacle for such a debate.

There were 1020 participants in the web-based survey, which was carried out between October and November last year.