Sweden, NATO and nuclear weapons

7 September 2023

Sweden has a long tradition of public opinion and work against nuclear weapons. This is now challenged by Swedish NATO membership, which means acceptance of, and commitment to, NATO's nuclear weapons doctrine. A central issue is whether nuclear weapons might at some point be deployed on Swedish territory.

On 29 August 2023 the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS), in collaboration with Swedish Physicians against Nuclear Weapons, published an interim briefing on this topic. It was the second of a series of briefing papers being prepared on the impact of NATO membership on Swedish security. The briefing papers can be found here: https://www.svenskafreds.se/natorapport-2023/ (all in Swedish), and are part of a larger report that will be launched by the SPAS in December 2023.

Main findings

The SPAS kindly provided NATO Watch with an English language translation of the main findings of the briefing on NATO and nuclear weapons:

Sweden's commitment to NATO's nuclear weapons doctrine risks eroding Sweden's commitment to the non-proliferation agreement, if nuclear weapons are brought into Sweden.

Whether or not nuclear weapons are brought into Sweden is a national decision, but if no restrictions are imposed, Swedish membership in NATO could mean:

1. that nuclear weapons could be placed on Swedish territory through nuclear sharing; and/or

2. that nuclear weapons could be temporarily stationed or transported within Swedish territory.

There is uncertainty regarding whether the Swedish government has authority to decide to receive nuclear weapons on Swedish territory in wartime, without the parliament's approval. The lack of clarity in what and who defines whether Sweden is at war also raises questions about when the Swedish stance on nuclear weapons in peacetime ceases to apply.

A parliamentary stance or policy does not rule out that nuclear weapons can be brought in or placed on Swedish territory. However, it is entirely possible as a NATO country to prohibit the deployment, importation and transport of nuclear weapons on the country's territory in times of peace and war.