A bitter political feud has broken out between Sweden's Social Democratic prime minister, Olof Palme, and opposition parties over Swedish neutrality, a cornerstone of Swedish foreign policy that is almost never the subject of partisan debate.
Mr. Palme suggested in a Finnish newspaper interview on Dec. 9 that the more conservative elements of Sweden's political opposition were undermining the nation's posture of neutrality.
Svenska Dagbladet, a conservative daily and one of the nation's most respected newspapers, lashed out at Palme in response, calling for his resignation. In an editorial, the paper said Palme had harmed the national interest by questioning, in a foreign newspaper, the continuity of Sweden's neutrality if a government of a different political persuasion were to come to power.
The uproar may be a sign of the tone of debate and the importance of foreign policy issues in Sweden's national elections next year.
In some ways, it is the culmination of a conflict that has been brewing since evidence accumulated that the Soviet Union was probing Swedish territory with submarines and aircraft. Palme's opponents grew increasingly concerned that he wasn't handling the problem with sufficient toughness.
In an interview with Hufvudstads-bladet, a Swedish-language newspaper in Helsinki, Palme accused ''certain circles'' in Sweden's conservative Moderate Party of undermining the nation's tradition of neutrality. When asked whether a nonso-cialist government would threaten Swedish neutrality, Palme answered: ''First of all, there is a clear majority of the people behind the traditional policy of neutrality, and second, we will win the (1985) election.''
Opposition spokesmen said the prime minister should simply have answered ''no.''
Carl Bildt, the Moderate Party's foreign policy spokesman, said his party has criticized the Social Democrats for allegedly weakening Sweden's defenses.
''The Soviet Union is obviously undertaking military operations against Sweden in peacetime,'' Mr. Bildt asserted, ''and if they do that in peacetime, it is likely they will do it in wartime.''
Palme may have political reasons to pick a fight with the Moderate Party.
It is the second largest party in Sweden after the premier's own Social Democrats, and it would carry considerable political weight in any future nonsocialist coalition, even if it has important differences with the Liberal Party and the Center Party, two smaller opposition factions in Sweden's Riksdag.
By painting the Moderates as extremists in foreign policy and ''right-wing forces'' in domestic economic matters, Palme may be trying to woo back voters before the fall of 1985.