In December, Sweden signed a defense cooperation agreement that will grant the United States access to its military bases in advance of Stockholm’s pending accession to NATO. Swedes continue to debate the extent of the US military forces that should be allowed to station in the Scandinavian nation, with some even raising the prospect of placing strategic weapons on their once-neutral soil. As has been typical in recent years, the debate is mostly shrill and vacuous, pitting those who claim to “side with freedom” against those they accuse of serving as “Putin’s puppets.”
Missing on both sides is a recognition that the United States has neither the people nor the equipment to spare to turn Sweden into a garrison state, even if it wanted to. The US military is facing a massive personnel shortfall, while juggling several geopolitical crises at once. Meanwhile, America’s only land-based intercontinental ballistic missile, the Minuteman III, is more than half a century old and increasingly difficult to upgrade. A failed test launch in November has led to further calls for modernizing the US nuclear deterrent, but a replacement system isn’t due to be ready until at least 2030. Given all of this, stationing antiquated Minuteman III systems in Sweden is off the table, no matter how fervently certain Swedes might dream of such an honor.
Why, at a time when US nuclear weapons are rusting in old silos, have Swedish elites seen fit to end a policy of neutrality that had been in effect for generations? Why the urge to reach for the power of America’s nuclear arsenal at a time when that arsenal is in decrepitude? The answer is that Sweden, along with the rest of Europe, has been mentally deindustrialized. Physical deindustrialization—the shuttering of factories, the laying off of workers, the decay of productive capacities—is still underway, but mental deindustrialization is a fait accompli. The result is a growing intellectual and cultural dependence on a superpower that is itself in a state of decadence.
“European political culture and its American counterpart have become all but interchangeable.”