Stockholm: Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced Monday that Sweden will join Finland in seeking NATO membership. This development comes in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is a historic shift that comes after more than 200 years of military non-alignment in the Nordic country.
The move is likely to upset the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It came after neighbouring Finland announced Sunday that it too would seek to join the 30-country military alliance.
Andersson called it ‘a historic change in our country’s security policy’ as she addressed lawmakers in the Swedish capital.
“We will inform NATO that we want to become a member of the alliance,” Andersson said. “Sweden needs formal security guarantees that come with membership in NATO,” she added.
Andersson said that Sweden was acting together with Finland, whose government announced Sunday it would seek to join the alliance.
The announcement came after a debate in the ‘Riksdagen’, or parliament, earlier Monday showed that there is a huge support for joining NATO. Out of Sweden’s eight parties, only two smaller left-leaning parties opposed it.
The Swedish Social Democrats broke Sunday with the party’s long-standing position that Sweden must remain nonaligned. It paved the way for a clear majority for NATO membership in the parliament.
Public opinion in both Nordic countries was firmly against joining NATO before the Russian invasion of Ukraine February 24. However, support for NATO membership surged quickly in both nations after that.
“The Swedish government’s intent is to apply for NATO membership. A historic day for Sweden,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde wrote on Twitter. “With a broad support from political parties in the parliament, the conclusion is that Sweden will stand stronger together with allies in NATO,” Linde added.
Once a regional military power, Sweden has avoided military alliances since the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Like Finland it remained neutral throughout the Cold War. However, it formed closer relations with NATO after the 1991 Soviet collapse.
The Kremlin, however, has repeatedly warned the move would have destabilising consequences for security in Europe. Putin said Monday that Moscow ‘does not have a problem’ with Sweden or Finland as they apply for NATO membership, but that ‘the expansion of military infrastructure onto this territory will of course give rise to our reaction in response’.
Though NATO officials have expressed hopes for a quick ratification process, all 30 current NATO members must agree to let Finland and Sweden in the door. Turkey voiced some objections last week, accusing the two countries of supporting Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers to be terrorists.