Sweden officially joins NATO during ceremony in Washington

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, poses for a photo with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson holding Sweden’s NATO Instruments of Accession in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department, on Thursday in Washington. (Jess Rapfogel/The Associated Press)

Sweden joins a year after Finland, following delay due to resistance from Turkey, Hungary

Sweden joined NATO in Washington on Thursday, two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced it to rethink its national security policy and conclude that support for the alliance was the Scandinavian nation’s best guarantee of safety.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson handed over the final documentation to the U.S. government on Thursday, the last step in a drawn-out process to secure the backing of all members to join the military alliance.

“Good things come to those who wait,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said as he received Sweden’s accession documents from Kristersson, who will also be a guest of Joe Biden at the president’s state of the union address in Washington.

Blinken said “everything changed” after Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, launched an invasion into Ukraine in February 2022, citing polls showing a massive shift in Swedish public opinion on joining NATO.

“Swedes realized something very profound: that if Putin was willing to try to erase one neighbour from the map, then he might well not stop there.”

Flagghuset CEO Stig Kvarnryd watches as new NATO flags are printed in the factory of his company on Thursday in Akersberga, outside Stockholm. Now that Sweden’s accession to NATO has arrived, municipalities, authorities and businesses want to be ready to raise the new flag. (Anders Wiklund/TT News Agency/The Associated Press)

For NATO, the accessions of Sweden and Finland — the latter of which shares a 1,340-kilometre border with Russia — are the most significant additions in decades. It is also a blow for Putin, who has sought to prevent any further strengthening of the alliance.

“Today is a truly historic day. Sweden is now a member of NATO,” Kristersson said. “We will defend freedom together with the countries closest to us — both in terms of geography, culture and values.”

Rejected idea shortly before Ukraine invasion

Sweden will benefit from the alliance’s common defence guarantee under which an attack on one member is regarded as an attack on all.

The Nordic country would add cutting-edge submarines and a sizable fleet of domestically produced Gripen fighter jets to NATO forces and be a crucial link between the Atlantic and Baltic.

Russia has threatened to take unspecified “political and military-technical counter-measures” in response to Sweden’s move.

“Joining NATO is really like buying insurance, at least as long as the United States is actually willing to be the insurance provider,” said Barbara Kunz, a researcher at defence think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

While Stockholm has been drawing ever closer to NATO over the last two decades, membership marks a clear break with the past when, for more than 200 years, Sweden avoided military alliances and adopted a neutral stance in times of war.

After the Second World War, it built an international reputation as a champion of human rights, and since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, successive governments have pared back military spending.

As recently as 2021, its defence minister had rejected NATO membership, only for the then-Social Democrat government to apply, alongside neighbour Finland, just a few months later.

“I guess had to take a stance really and I’m happy that we actually did and that we are safeguarded by NATO, because the tension with Russia has been growing for a couple of years,” said Carl Fredrik Aspegren, 28, a student in Stockholm.

While Finland joined the alliance last year, Sweden was kept waiting as Turkey and Hungary, which both have cordial relations with Russia, delayed ratifying Sweden’s accession.

Turkey approved Sweden’s application in January.

Hungary delayed its decision on Sweden’s accession until Kristersson made a goodwill visit to Budapest on Feb. 23, where the two countries agreed a fighter jet deal.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada : Canadian military says it has tracked, stopped China surveillance in Arctic waters, The Canadian Press

Denmark: Danish policy prioritizes low-conflict Arctic amidst Russian tensions, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: NATO membership strengthens Arctic Security, deepens Canada ties: Finnish Ambassador, Eye on the Arctic

IcelandIceland authorizes U.S. submarine service visits, Eye on the Arct

Norway: Russian jamming disrupting GPS signals for Norwegian aviation almost daily, The Independent Barents Observer

RussiaAs NATO forces move north for exercise, Northern Fleet sails out frigates, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedes must mentally prepare for war, says military top brass, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. nominates Alaskan as first Arctic ambassador, Eye on the Arctic

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