Updated May 16, 2022 - World

Prime minister says Sweden will formally apply for NATO membership

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. Photo: Hannibal Hanschke/Getty Images

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced Monday that her government will formally apply to join NATO, paving the way for the Scandinavian country to submit a joint bid this week with its strategic ally and neighbor Finland.

Why it matters: Sweden's reversal of more than 200 years of military non-alignment is the latest historic shift in Europe precipitated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

What they're saying: "Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is not only illegal and indefensible, it also undermines the European security order that Sweden builds its security on," Andersson said in a speech on Sunday, when her ruling Social Democrat party came out in favor of NATO membership.

  • "Should Sweden be the only country in the Baltic Sea region that was not a member of NATO, we would be in a very vulnerable position. We can't rule out that Russia would then increase pressure on Sweden," she warned.
  • In a reflection of their long-standing anti-war positions, the Social Democrats also said they will work to ensure Sweden "expresses unilateral reservations against the deployment of nuclear weapons and permanent bases on Swedish territory" if the NATO application is approved.

The big picture: The announcement comes days after the leaders of Finland, which shares an 800-mile border with Russia, called for their country to apply for NATO membership "without delay." Finland's President Sauli Niinistö confirmed his country would apply for NATO membership on Sunday.

  • Support for NATO membership in Finland skyrocketed virtually overnight after Vladimir Putin launched his invasion, as it quickly become clear that Finland could be uniquely vulnerable to Russian aggression in Europe's shattered security environment.
  • The evolution of public sentiment in Sweden was more modest, but 64% of Swedes in a poll conducted May 4-10 said they would support NATO membership if Finland applied as well.

Between the lines: Sweden, like Finland, has cooperated closely with NATO over the past three decades, but military neutrality has long been a point of pride and culture — especially for the ruling Social Democrats.

  • The party became divided on the question of NATO membership as the war in Ukraine broke out, with some factions arguing that joining the alliance would undermine Sweden's commitment to nuclear disarmament and global peace.
  • The Social Democrats ultimately came to the decision after pressure from Finland, Sweden's closest ally, and a parliamentary analysis that found joining NATO would reduce the risk of a Russian attack.
  • Sweden does not share a border with Russia but has long feared the possibility of Moscow invading Gotland — a strategically located island in the Baltic Sea viewed as critical to the defense of the region.

What to watch: Sweden's parliamentary report warned that Russia could respond to its move toward NATO by launching cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, incursions into Swedish air space and other "hybrid threats."

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said both Sweden and Finland will be "welcomed with open arms," but NATO ally Turkey said Friday it opposes the countries' accession, claiming they are home to Kurdish "terrorist organizations."
  • Sweden and Finland's foreign ministers met with their Turkish counterpart at a NATO ministerial meeting in Berlin this weekend in an effort to resolve the dispute, which could derail their membership bids.
  • It was unclear Sunday if they made any progress, but both Stoltenberg and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said they were confident the allies could address Turkey's concerns and move swiftly on both applications.
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