Sweden plans to host nuclear weapons on its soil… but only in the event of war

Sweden plans to host nuclear weapons on its soil… but only in the event of war
Sweden plans to host nuclear weapons on its soil… but only in the event of war

Over the past eighty years, Sweden has had an ambivalent attitude towards nuclear weapons. Thus, in the aftermath of the Second World War, Stockholm took a close interest in atomic weapons, which the United States had just used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and commissioned the Defense Research Institute [FOA – Försvarets forskningsanstalt] newly created, to develop a program with a view to obtaining them within the framework of its so-called “freedom of action” policy.

This reflection took time… But in 1957, on the basis of a FOA study detailing everything that would be necessary to produce them, the Swedish General Staff [ÖB – Överbefälhavaren] clearly stated its intention to acquire tactical nuclear weapons based on plutonium. Being non-aligned, Sweden could not claim possible protection from the United States within the framework of NATO. Hence this decision.

However, this could not materialize for at least three reasons: the difficulty of obtaining plutonium, American pressure and, above all, the lack of support from public opinion crossed by anti-nuclear ideological currents. . Also, this program was abandoned in the 1960s and Stockholm signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty [TNP] in 1968, before dismantling its military nuclear infrastructure.

However, at the same time, the head of Swedish diplomacy between 1945 and 1962, Östen Undén, also a member of the most left wing of the Social Democratic Party, campaigned against nuclear armament, believing that a “ Swedish bomb” would be perceived as a threat by the Soviet Union. He went so far as to submit a plan to the United Nations to ask countries that do not yet possess such weapons to refrain from obtaining them.

This ambivalence has manifested itself again recently. In 2019, Sweden refused to sign the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons… but launched the so-called Stockholm initiative for nuclear disarmament, with fifteen other countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, two countries which nevertheless harbor American nuclear weapons on their soil within the framework of NATO.

However, the war in Ukraine changed the situation. Like Finland, Sweden ended up abandoning its neutrality to join NATO. In December 2023, like Finland and Norway before it, the country signed an agreement with the United States to facilitate access for American forces to Swedish bases and other barracks. In addition, it provides for a possible “prepositioning” of American weapons as well as military support from Washington if “the security situation requires it”.

This agreement must be approved by the Swedish Parliament [Riksdag] next June. However, unlike Finland and Norway, this text does not explicitly prohibit the possible deployment of nuclear weapons in Sweden. In reality, this hypothesis is not mentioned there, which leaves room for any interpretation… and gives cause for controversy.

In November 2022, the Swedish Chief of Staff, General Micael Biden, nevertheless affirmed that he would express “no reservations” about a hypothetical deployment of nuclear weapons in his country. “My advice is very clear: a priori, no reservations. Putting locks on before you even become a member [de l’Otan] only creates obstacles and friction. It will then be up to the political authorities to make the necessary decisions,” he said.

Precisely, the Swedish Prime Minister, Ulf Kristersson, has just taken a position, while nuclear weapons are banned in Sweden in peacetime.

However, “in wartime it is a completely different question, it would completely depend on what happens,” Mr. Kristersson said on May 13 on SR AB, Swedish public radio. “In the worst-case scenario, democratic countries in our region of the world must be able to defend themselves against countries that could threaten us with nuclear weapons,” he added.

However, such a decision, if it must be taken, will be solely the responsibility of Sweden, “and not of the United States because “Sweden decides for Swedish territory,” insisted Mr. Kristersson. “But the aim of our NATO membership and our defense is to ensure that this situation does not arise,” he concluded.

Note that the head of the Swedish government did not mention the debate that President Macron wants on the subject of Defense in Europe. Debate in which the contribution of French nuclear deterrence would be discussed.

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