STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A Swedish parliamentary majority in favour of readiness to join NATO as a possible security policy option has emerged for the first time after the far-right Sweden Democrats party shifted position on the military alliance.
However, the government, which decides foreign and security policies, remained opposed to adopting such a "NATO option".
The introduction of a "NATO option" would not mean Sweden would apply for membership of the U.S.-led Western alliance but rather that Sweden would consider it down the road if deemed necessary for security.
The Sweden Democrats, better known for their anti-immigrant positions, said they still oppose NATO membership as such, but now favour taking on such an option in order to align Swedish defence policy with the "NATO option" stance of neighbouring fellow Nordic state Finland.
"We have long advocated entering into a defence alliance with Finland and are now taking a decisive step in that direction," Sweden Democrat party leader Jimmie Akesson said in a commentary published by the Aftonbladet daily.
"With Sweden announcing a so-called NATO option, like Finland, we strengthen security in our immediate region."
Fellow Nordic nations Norway, Denmark and Iceland are NATO members.
Parliament's defence and foreign affairs committee decided on Wednesday to call on the government in the legislature next week to add a NATO option to security policy, Sweden Democrats parliamentarian Roger Richthoff said.
Four parties in parliament expressly back Sweden joining NATO, though not the minority ruling coalition comprised of the Social Democrats and Greens.
Foreign Minister Ann Linde of the Social Democrats told TT news agency the government had no such plans. "These kinds of sudden changes based on fairly weak majorities, it's not good. It undermines the credibility of Swedish security policy."
The government remains convinced that the nation is best served by independence from alliances and that this contributes to security in northern Europe, she added.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, now with 30 members, was founded in 1949 to confront the threat of the communist Soviet Union, which broke up in 1991.
Post-Soviet Russia has accused NATO of fostering instability in Europe. Some analysts say that by remaining outside NATO, Sweden feels safer from Moscow. Sweden was also neutral during World War Two and was not invaded by Nazi Germany.
(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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