Greece (Brussels Morning) In the dynamic realm of global alliances, Sweden has made substantial strides toward NATO membership, marked by notable advancements and strategic cooperation. Recent updates indicate the signing of the Accession Protocol, substantial progress in military integration, and Sweden’s imminent position as the 32nd member of the Alliance.
Despite the pressure exerted by the U.S. and other NATO allies on Türkiye to withdraw its objections to Sweden’s membership, there seemed to be minimal impact until Erdogan, during a NATO summit last year, announced his intention to submit the necessary documents for parliamentary approval. However, progress stalled in Parliament, and it wasn’t until last Tuesday that lawmakers finally voted on the issue. The accession protocol for Sweden was ratified with 287 votes in favor and 55 against. The Turkish government completed the process on Thursday by officially publishing the measure in a government gazette.
Finland’s membership received unanimous ratification from all member states in April. However, Erdogan obstructed Sweden’s accession, alleging that the country shelters Kurdish exiles associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group recognized as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the United States, and the European Union.
Upon receiving approval from all NATO member countries, Sweden will be formally invited by NATO’s Secretary General to accede to the North Atlantic Treaty, the founding document of the Alliance. As a NATO member, Sweden will be integrated into the collective defense framework and will benefit from mutual defense assurances outlined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. According to Article 5, any armed attack against one or more Allies in Europe or North America will be deemed an attack against the entire Alliance.
Sweden has stayed out of military alliances for more than 200 years and long ruled out seeking NATO membership. But after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, it ditched its longstanding policy of nonalignment almost overnight and decided to apply to join the alliance together with neighboring Finland.
Sweden’s contemplation of NATO membership reflects the intricate web of historical, political, and security considerations that shape a nation’s foreign policy. As Sweden navigates this bumpy road towards NATO, finding a delicate balance between traditional neutrality, domestic opinions, and international security dynamics will be pivotal in determining the country’s future role in the evolving geopolitical landscape.
A sleeping Giant?
While Sweden maintained a neutral stance during the Cold War, it notably stationed a force of at least 15,000 soldiers on the Baltic island of Gotland during that period. In recent times, Sweden has undertaken efforts to reconstruct its military presence on Gotland, emphasizing a commitment to strengthening both its full-time military personnel and its conscript force in the years ahead.
In recent years, the country has experienced a heightened sense of vulnerability. The military limitations became evident in 2013 when Russian bomber planes successfully simulated an attack on Stockholm, necessitating assistance from NATO to repel the threat. In 2014, public attention was captivated by reports of a Russian submarine allegedly lurking in the shallow waters of the Stockholm archipelago. Adding to concerns, in 2018, every household received army pamphlets titled “If Crisis or War Comes,” marking the first distribution of such materials since 1991.
Russian President Vladimir Putin perceives NATO expansion as a direct threat to Russia’s security, citing it as a reason for launching the 2022 war in Ukraine. Paradoxically, the invasion has only resulted in an expanded reach for NATO. Russia’s foreign ministry cautioned both Sweden and Finland about potential consequences should they choose to join the alliance.
With Türkiye approving Sweden’s NATO membership, the Kremlin has indicated its intention to respond with measures similar to those proposed for Finland. The specifics of these measures remain unclear, but Russia has mentioned the relocation of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, raising concerns about their potential reach to Finland and Sweden.
As Sweden, a longstanding partner of NATO, moves towards full accession, a heightened level of coordination is expected. This will involve Swedish officials participating in NATO’s decision-making bodies, and the potential contribution of Swedish troops to NATO missions in countries like Estonia. Unlike previous agreements that allowed NATO troops to swiftly deploy to Sweden in times of conflict, the current scenario suggests that U.S. and other allied troops may have increased freedom to operate in Sweden during peacetime.
Leading up to Sweden’s anticipated NATO accession, joint training operations between Swedish and allied forces have seen intensified efforts. Notably, the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth recently visited the Swedish port city of Gothenburg, and joint exercises took place with Finnish and British marines alongside Swedish forces in the Stockholm archipelago. During a joint appearance with NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg in Stockholm, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson highlighted that Sweden had closely observed Finland’s accession process to glean insights for its integration, emphasizing the need for resetting and integrating various aspects into the alliance.