Sweden sets out benefits of NATO as membership bid looms, Turkey objects

STOCKHOLM: Swedish membership of NATO would boost national security and help stabilise the Nordic and Baltic regions, Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Friday (May 13), a day after neighbour Finland said it would seek to join the US-led alliance without delay.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced Sweden – and its closest military partner Finland – to publicly pick sides after remaining outside the military alliance since it was founded in 1949 to counter the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

Stockholm is widely expected to follow Helsinki’s lead and could apply for entry to the 30-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as early as Monday.

“Swedish NATO membership would raise the threshold for military conflicts and thus have a conflict-preventing effect in northern Europe,” Linde told reporters as she presented the conclusions of an all-party security review that examined the pros and cons of NATO membership for Sweden.

“The most important consequence of Swedish membership of NATO would be that Sweden would be a part of NATO’s collective security and included in security guarantees according to … Article 5.”

Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty says that an attack on any NATO country should be seen as an attack on all.

While Sweden and Finland have long had close relations with NATO and regularly take part in exercises and its high-level meetings, they are not covered by its security guarantee.

The government said the report did not constitute a recommendation to join NATO.

The Left and Greens were the only parties that did not support the report’s conclusions.

An application would have to be approved by all NATO countries and later, by Sweden’s parliament.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday it was not possible for NATO member Turkey to support plans by Sweden and Finland to join the pact, saying the two countries were “home to many terrorist organisations”.

Turkey has in the past slammed Sweden and other Western European countries for their handling of organisations deemed terrorist by Ankara, including Kurdish militant groups PKK and YPG and followers of US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Linde said Sweden nevertheless hoped to get unanimous support in NATO if it applied and that the two Nordic countries had “very, very strong support” from important member states with whom Turkey had an interest in maintaining good relations.

She added that she would discuss the situation at an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin over the weekend to which both Sweden and Finland were invited.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto counselled patience. “It’s not happening in one day,” he told reporters, adding that he was due to meet his Turkish counterpart in Berlin on Saturday.

FROM ARCTIC TO BLACK SEA

Finnish and Swedish membership of NATO would redraw the geopolitical map of northern Europe and create a largely unbroken ribbon of member states facing Russia from the Arctic to the Black Sea.

On Thursday, Finland’s president and prime minister said the country – which shares a 1,300km border and a difficult past with Russia – must apply to join the NATO military alliance “without delay”.

Russia said Finland’s bid was a hostile move that posed a threat to its security.

Moscow in April said it could station nuclear-armed missiles in the Russian territory of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between NATO members Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, if Finland or Sweden joined the defence alliance.

“If Sweden chooses to seek NATO membership, there is a risk of a reaction from Russia,” Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said. “Let me state that, in such a case, we are prepared to deal with any counter-response.”

Hultqvist said that Sweden would also need assurances from allies to cover the period between its application to join NATO and its ratification by existing members.

“Among other things, increased military exercises with international partners both on Swedish territory and in the near vicinity could contribute to raising the threshold (against an attack),” he said.

Sweden and Finland have received promises of support from NATO members including Britain, Germany and the United States.

On Sunday, Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats are widely expected to end decades of opposition and formally approve joining NATO. Parliament will then debate security issues on Monday.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is expected to call a special cabinet meeting immediately after the debate with an application sent to NATO headquarters by the end of the day, the Expressen daily has reported, citing unnamed sources.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday Finland would be “warmly welcomed” and promised a “smooth and swift” accession process, while the US government said it would support a membership bid by Finland and Sweden.