On January 23rd, it was announced that Turkey will drop its objections to Sweden joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Though Hungary must still vote to allow Sweden’s accession, NATO will in all probability soon come to include all of Northern Europe, a major geostrategic shift from a few years ago. For comment, Providence reached out to Mike Coté, Garrett Exner, and Michael Lucchese.
Sweden’s accession to NATO is of significant benefit to both parties with few potential downsides.
Sweden has long operated under the Western security umbrella, so joining NATO officially will only formalize these existing defense relationships. As of now, Sweden’s military budget falls below the 2% of GDP standard for NATO members – it was 1.2% in 2022 and 1.4% in 2023 – but the trajectory is promising. If it does indeed hit that threshold as planned in 2028, it will be a member in good standing; if it fails to live up to its promises though, Sweden could be seen as just another laggard being dragged along by the United States, building resentment in Washington.
Other benefits outweigh this concern by a significant margin. With Sweden’s accession to NATO, the Atlantic alliance will control the vast majority of the crucial Baltic Sea littoral, gaining the ability to hem in Russian maritime traffic if conflict were to arise. Sweden’s long coastline and many islands would prove critical in maritime defense, particularly in interdicting traffic to and from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Being able to freely train and operate in this theater will be a boon to NATO readiness.
Sweden is home to a thriving technology sector and a technologically-advanced armaments industry, which can be leveraged by NATO to produce and innovate important battlefield technologies. The country’s northern reaches are key for satellite launch infrastructure and other aspects of space defense, which will only increase in importance over the coming decades. Finally, Sweden’s long history as an intermediary for international dialogues between rival factions – warring states, non-state actors, rebel groups – will serve NATO usefully, allowing the alliance a tried-and-true path for deconfliction and negotiation.
NATO’s long-overdue addition of Sweden is quite welcome and will significantly improve the alliance’s geopolitical position.
Sweden’s long-awaited, much delayed arrival into NATO is the required consequence for a bad actor. For years, Vladimir Putin expressed his desire to create buffer between Moscow and the West. This was how Putin saw Ukraine, and to a lesser extent Georgia, before the Orange and Rose Revolutions. His 2008 invasion of Georgia, and the 2014 and 2022 invasions of Ukraine are simply Putin’s attempt to rebuild the buffer by force.
NATO, and the Western world, are right to hand him a substantial consequence for his aggression. His war has not only cost hundreds of thousands of Russian lives and billions in Russian equipment but has now produced the one thing he sought to prevent: Western militaries running the length of his borders.
With the ascension of Finland into NATO in April, and the probable ascension of Sweden this year, Russia will have tripled the length of its border with NATO nations. Russia’s best Western facing port, Kaliningrad, will now have two NATO nations straddling the exit of the Baltic Sea (Sweden and Denmark), matching the historical problem Russia has faced with Turkey and the Black Sea ports.
Sweden joining NATO means Putin’s aggression has become strategic failure even if he manages to hold territory in eastern Ukraine. Going forward, the expansion of NATO should become the model consequence for other bad actors. As China encroaches on Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, and India, it should see a coalition expand to oppose the aggression. For each act of aggression, the coalition should take a step toward the thing it China seeks to prevent: containment.
The Biden administration’s weakness has invited renewed aggression from China, Iran, and Russia. Paralyzed by caution and refusing to streamline support for Ukraine, President Biden is particularly emboldening Vladimir Putin’s aggression. Should he target other Eastern European nations next, the NATO alliance will need as many friends as we can get.
Sweden has already shown their commitment to peace and stability in Europe by sending $30 billion to help Ukraine. The Nordic country is doubling down on that commitment by seeking NATO membership. Sweden has one of the largest defense industries in Europe, which could prove pivotal should the fight expand beyond current borders.
Among American leaders, debates rage about whether or not the United States should continue to support Ukraine. Sweden’s probable accession to NATO proves, however, that the only way to spur on greater European investment in Ukraine is to demonstrate resolve. Free peoples around the world still believe in NATO, and it is incumbent on America’s leaders to stand firm behind it.
NATO is dedicated to the conviction that freedom is worth fighting for. The founding treaty pledges that member states “are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.” Originally, it was the Soviet Union that posed a threat to this order – today, it is the emerging Eurasian axis.
The West now faces a new struggle for civilization itself. China, Iran, and Russia together pose a revolutionary challenge to America and her allies. They seek to replace freedom with tyranny, order with chaos. The NATO alliance is an essential bulwark against those dark ambitions. Welcoming new members such as Sweden will make the alliance much stronger, and will give us a fighting chance against our common enemies.