Why is Sweden still on standby to join NATO?

Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine undermines European security order, specifically the Nordic states. Growing security threats galvanised Sweden and Finland, historically non-aligned states to join NATO. Strong defensive alliance is needed of for both states. Therefore Finland and Sweden handed over their NATO applications on May 18, 2022. Finland’s membership got ratified by member states of NATO where Sweden still waits in queue for its acceptance. This article will explore the reasons for putting Sweden on Stand-by on this belligerent stage.

Sweden had an official non-alignment policy. Sweden’s non-alignment policy refers to its stance of neutrality in international conflicts and its refusal to join any military alliance. The policy was officially adopted in 1953, during the Cold War and has been a cornerstone of Swedish foreign policy ever since. Under this policy, Sweden has refused to join military alliances such as NATO, although it has cooperated with NATO on some issues. Instead, Sweden has sought to maintain good relations with all countries and to act as a mediator in international conflicts. Sweden’s non-alignment policy has allowed it to maintain a high degree of independence in its foreign policy, and has helped to establish the country’s reputation as a neutral and peaceful nation. It has also enabled Sweden to pursue an active role in international diplomacy and conflict resolution.

 But World political dynamics took a swift shift after Russia-Ukraine war which increased the security threat from the Russian side towards Nordic region.  To strengthen itself militarily and on mass demand from      nation, Sweden ended 200 years of militarily neutrality and sought to join NATO in May 2022.

Finland and Sweden applied for membership together and Finland achieved accession on April 4 2023, becoming 31st member of NATO. While Sweden’s path to NATO remains blocked by Turkey and Hungary. Analysts do not expect Turkey’s ratification of Sweden before the General election in Turkey. Turkey claims that Sweden doesn’t take Turkey’s security concerns seriously. Moreover, Turkey also holds Stockholm responsible for harbouring the militant group, The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), also known as Kongra Gel,  militant Marxist-Leninist separatist group, exercising armed insurgency against Turkey for years. Sweden denies these allegations.

Moreover,  in recent weeks Turkey objected to certain hate crimes in Stockholm. The most condemned incident was the burning of The Holy Quran near the Turkish embassy in Sweden. This blasphemous act was done by Far-right politician and anti-Islam provocateur Rasmus Paludan, a Danish-Swedish national, with a reputation for carrying out similar acts. On this heinous incident, Turkish President Erdogan responded,

Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their Nato membership,” Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan,

Another incident which angered Turkey was hanged effigy of Erdogan in protests across Sweden, which further fuelled the contention between Ankara and Stockholm. These events definitely deepened the standoff with Turkey over Sweden’s bid to join NATO.

While providing strong military alliance NATO also expects high economic and military contributions from its member states. As a NATO member, Sweden will be expected to provide staff to NATO’s political and military structures. Moreover, Sweden will be expected to contribute approximately SEK 600–700 million per year to NATO’s common budget. It is also the stated target that the organisation’s members commit a minimum of 2 percent of GDP to defence spending, in accordance with NATO’s Defence Investment Pledge that was adopted at NATO’s Wales Summit in 2014. Sweden continues to invest in defence and will reach NATO’s current level of 2 percent of GDP by 2026. NATO members also aim to allocate at least 20 percent of defence spending for defence material, research, and development.

Sweden’s accession to NATO can be worthwhile for NATO itself Because Sweden is important to NATO’S defence of the Baltics. Swedish cooperation with the Alliance would make protecting the Baltics easier and thereby strengthen NATO’s security guarantee to its member countries. That, in turn, would improve NATO’s ability to deter Russian aggression in the region.

Analysts suggest that hurdles in Sweden’s path to Nato can be lifted if Turkey’s general election goes in favour of the opposition party, since president Erdogan is considered the sole hurdle in Sweden’s ratification. If the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Kilicdaroglu win, the new Turkish administration will likely revise some of Erdogan’s more contentious and confrontational foreign policy positions. In that context, a smarter approach by Stockholm and more flexibility from Ankara could lead to Sweden becoming the 32nd member of NATO. Therefore  general elections of Turkey will not only shape the future of Turks  but NATO as well.

Zainab Imran is currently pursuing a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from National Defence University Islamabad. 

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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