Sweden aims to address students’ concerns about NATO and war once it loses its neutrality

Sweden seeks to answer worried students’ questions about NATO and war
Sweden seeks to answer worried students’ questions about NATO and war

Their concerns had been aroused by remarks made by the nation’s top military commander and the minister of civil defence, who said that war was possible and that Swedes needed to get ready. News of the remarks rapidly leaked out, and the national children’s support line began receiving more inquiries concerning war.

The last war Sweden fought concluded in 1814.

As Björkwall put it, “We have had the policy of neutrality for so long, several hundred years, that I have to teach about what has happened in the world, what has changed that made us change our policy. Of course we have to deal with the students’ worries about risk for conflict and war, and explain why we joined.”

Björkwall’s new curriculum aims to clarify things his pupils encounter online for teenagers who are not familiar with NATO, war, or global politics.

The ramifications of NATO’s Article 5, the collective defence provision that states that an assault against one partner is an attack against all allies, were discussed in one lecture, emphasising that the article does not automatically trigger a military response.

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Linnea Ekman, a student, noted that Article 5 does not call for the deployment of troops and that she did not perceive any greater threat.

As Sweden chooses a side, Edith Maxence, a different student, expressed fear that the globe might grow even more divided.

The 14-year-old stated, “I feel comfortable that Sweden is in NATO, but I feel frightened that (…) it may start a war.”

She is not alone: youngsters are calling the national child assistance line run by youngsters’s Rights in Society more and more frequently, inquiring as to whether NATO membership puts Sweden at greater risk.

Before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, callers hardly ever asked about war; however, in the week following military chief Micael Bydén’s and Civil Defence Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin’s remarks in January underlining the risk, almost 20% of calls, according to BRIS secretary-general Magnus Jägerskog, asked about war.

Björkwall assisted in designing the programme that aims to address these issues.

In March, he and colleagues developed a series of video programmes on NATO together with teaching materials, which, together with UR, a publicly financed civic education organisation that produces educational content for teachers and students, reached around 100,000 Swedish pupils.

Björkwall poses a more difficult issue to his final-year students: Should Sweden stand with authoritarian nations? He cites NATO partners Turkey and Hungary as examples, which prevented Sweden from joining for months after its neighbour Finland.

There is a division in the class; over half of the kids are unsure.

Adam Sahlen, 15, stated, “We found it hard to draw a single conclusion,” but he also admitted that “the military develops stronger and better if we interact with others, notably Turkey for example.”

“I want them to be mature, democratic citizens that can vote deliberately later on,” Björkwall stated, cautioning against endorsing one viewpoint over another.


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