Sweden’s NATO Membership: Embracing New Opportunities

Sweden joined North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) on 7th March as the 32nd member of the military alliance. NATO was formed in 1949 after the Second World War to counter the spread of communism and threat of invasion by the Soviet Union. The essence of treaty lies in the Article 5, which upholds the principle of collective defense. This means that an attack on any member state would be taken as a security breach on all members. Each member has the right to use all available means to counter threats in the North Atlantic area. 

The joining of Finland and Sweden shows that NATO has expanded in its scope over the years.  Addition of Sweden in the alliance is a historical victory of NATO as it is known for its ‘neutral status’ since the end of World Wars. Its 200 year old non-alignment policies dates back to Napoleonic wars but the stance of both Finland and Sweden changed after the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Initially, the membership was faced by some obstacles because Turkey and Hungary were reluctant to ratify it. However, the intense diplomatic efforts by the member states proved rewarding and Sweden became a part of NATO. In the words of US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken “Good things come to those who wait. No better example.” Here the question arises that what it would mean for the alliance? 

One of the major advantage of Sweden joining the alliance would be the presence of NATO members in the Baltic Sea surrounding the Russia’s Kaliningrad city. In this way, the threat of Russian invasion to the Baltic states will be minimized to some extent. However, it will require increased capacities and efforts to achieve any gains against Russia. Energy connections and fibre optic cables are limited in numbers in the Baltic Sea and there are very few NATO allies’ forces. There is also a need to increase the naval manpower in the region. It could be argued that in order to counter Russia at Kaliningrad, there is a requirement of drone swarms at the sea and in the air. The NATO would also be able to control the northern and southern shores of Gulf of Finland which leads to the St Petersburg city of Russia. In a statement, the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg said: “Sweden’s accession makes NATO stronger, Sweden safer, and the whole alliance more secure.” Below is the Map of Baltic Sea surrounding the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad:

Sweden is the fifth largest country and biggest arms exporter in the Europe. It has the best Fourth Generation JAS 39 Gripen Fighter Aircraft, Gotland-class Attack Submarines and Leopard 2 Battle Tanks. The Gotland-class attack submarines are designed to carry out tasks associated with intelligence, antisubmarine warfare, special operations and surveillance. Therefore, it indicates that Sweden can have a very active role in the air-policing and other strategic matters. All of this if adds up in the already existing military assets of NATO could be used to achieve remarkable achievements against Russian threats. Moreover, Sweden can play an important role by ensuring land transit routes across the Scandinavian peninsula. It will also help in connecting the civilian road, rail, sea and air infrastructure. 

It’s important to note that this occurred against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine War, indicating Russia’s inability to divide Europe. President Joe Biden while congratulating Sweden said: “When Putin launched his brutal war of aggression against the people of Ukraine, he thought he could weaken Europe and divide NATO,”. The United States and Russia tries to exert influence politically, militarily and economically and supports opposing sides in the conflicts in Europe, such as Georgia and Ukraine. They also try to gain influence on the market and resources especially natural gas. Similarly, US keeps a control of the region through NATO while Russia through military deployments. This situation is further exacerbated by the issues like cyber security and missile defense systems making the competition more intense.  Hence, the joining of Sweden in NATO may impact the geostrategic competition between US and Russia in the European Region. 

An intriguing question emerges: What if Ukraine were to follow the path of Sweden and Finland and join NATO? What implications would this have for the Russia-Ukraine conflict? Firstly, it would get the collective security guarantee from the NATO member states and there would be more NATO presence in the Eastern Europe. This will allow the alliance to have military deployments creating a buffer zone between Russia and NATO. In 2008, NATO members gave Ukraine a green signal to join NATO during a Bucharest summit but didn’t provide any Membership Action Plan (MAP). Under the MAP process, the member states have to meet political, military and economic criteria. Unfortunately, due to Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is experiencing reduction in arms, ammunition and manpower making it difficult to meet this requirement. On the negative side, it may ignite further confrontations between Russia and European states. It will also affect the credibility of the alliance as some members may not approve Ukraine’s membership because of fear of an active war with Russia. Nevertheless, such a situation may be taken as an opportunity to end Russian invasion of Ukraine through dialogue and diplomacy. 

In conclusion, Sweden joining the NATO is an important milestone for the alliance and holds special importance for the future of the region as well as the great power competition between Russia and US. Sweden will have to increase its defense spending in order to meet NATO’s target of 2% of GDP. The security dynamics of the Northern Europe would be changed potentially affecting the balance of power in the Baltic sea. The regular military exercises and increased interoperability would serve as a deterrent against any form of aggression. On the other hand, the move would be a great challenge for Sweden as its relation with Russia would be strained. Similarly, high defense spending would have economic implications as well. How Sweden responds to these challenges would determine the future of its decision to join the NATO. U.S.

[Photo by the Department of State, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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