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The end of Swedish neutrality: Nordic country joins NATO

March 11, 2024

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Salvador Sánchez Tapia

Professor of International Office of the University of Navarra

On March 11, at 12:00 a.m., the Swedish flag will be raised at the NATO Headquarters headquarters in Belgium. The event will culminate the long accession process of the Scandinavian country, which will become the thirty-second member of the Atlantic Alliance.

If any accession to NATO is to be hailed as an event B, Sweden with more reason; because of the nature of the protagonist, and because of how tortuous he has been. result the process, in which it has been necessary to overcome the resistance of Turkey and Hungary.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine has achieved the important milestone of ending more than two centuries of neutrality, not devoid of shadows, which Sweden has been able to take advantage of. Because of its proximity to Russia, Sweden is concerned about Putin's aggressiveness, as evidenced by his decision in 2018 to reinstate conscription. Support for NATO membership, traditionally low among Swedes – around 20% of the population until the annexation of Crimea – soared in 2022 to 64%, leading the country to finally seek accession.

Sweden's contribution to NATO is not minor. Due to its geographical position, its entry reinforces the protection of the Allied northern flank against any Russian penetration that tries to reach the Atlantic from Norway bypassing the Skagerrak and Kattegat straits, and traps the Russian Baltic fleet in what is de facto an inland NATO lake, with the exception of Kaliningrad and the Russian outlet to the sea through St. Petersburg.

Its socio-economic indicators place the country among the richest and most developed in Europe; This can be expected to make a significant contribution to the budget ally. In addition, Sweden will provide NATO staffs with highly qualified officers; well-organized units, equipped with modern technology, trained in agreement with high standards, and reinforced by the National Guard (Hemvärnet), a territorial base for the defense of the country.

Sweden's is also the entrance of a country endowed with a sophisticated defense industry capable of producing and exporting fighter jets such as the Saab 39 "Gripen," submarines of the "Gotland" or "Blekinge" classes - the latter in development-, or Hägglunds BAE CV 90 combat vehicles, to name a few examples.

Sweden's effective integration into the allied military structure is expected to be quick and easy; not surprisingly, the country has been actively participating since 1994 in the Partnership for Peace program, which makes the interoperability of its armed forces with NATO standards very high. On the other hand, in addition to participating in numerous allied exercises, the Swedish armed forces have contributed their solidarity share of effort in NATO operations in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq. Perhaps it will be more difficult to heal the open wounds with Hungary and Turkey - now allies - in the accession process.

The culmination of the pathway Finland and Sweden's accession boosts the expectations of other candidates such as Ukraine. The difficulties that the Nordic countries have had to overcome are small compared to those that await Kiev, even if, at the declarative level, the Alliance officially proclaims that "the future of Ukraine is NATO." It is possible - and, if you like, desirable - that this should be the case; But as long as the country is at war, access seems complicated. That is what German Chancellor Scholz's statements seem to suggest, watering down the wine of the lazy man advertisement Macron's report that some European countries might consider deploying troops to Ukraine. Later, depending on how the war ends, it would not be surprising if the old realities of European geopolitics prevailed, and for Ukraine to be left in an uncomfortable limbo between Russia and the West.

From a Spanish point of view, Sweden's access, which, by the way, limits the issue of non-NATO EU countries – this is good news. Beyond improving the security of the Scandinavian country, the entrance it makes the Swedes legally in solidarity with that of other European countries, the other side of the coin that Stockholm resisted until Putin knocked on its doors.

With Sweden's accession, NATO's centre of gravity shifts a little further eastwards, away from the Allied southern flank. Spain, sensitive and concerned about the challenges to European security coming from the other side of the Mediterranean, must, in addition to showing its unmitigated solidarity with the countries most beset by Russian pressure, ensure that the concept of defence in 360° enshrined in the 2022 Strategic Concept does not remain at the level of rhetoric.