Sweden Set to Join NATO
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The Kingdom of Sweden was a great power in Europe, controlling much of the Baltic region during the 17th and early 18th centuries.
Its decline was marked by Sweden’s loss at the Battle of Poltava. In July 1709, King Charles XII and the Swedish army lost to a superior Russian force.
The Battle of Poltava was Sweden’s greatest military disaster and began the rise of Russia as a European power.
The Russian Empire continued to expand over the next 200 years and during World War I, communists took over the country and formed the Soviet Union.
After World War II it was clear the Soviet Union was going to attempt to continue to expand their empire and control over puppet governments. To counter that, many countries in Europe and the United States formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Once the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, many countries in Eastern Europe (Estonia to Bulgaria) joined NATO in an effort to prevent future Soviet (now Russian) control.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, both Finland and Sweden formally submitted applications for membership to NATO.
In order for a new country to join NATO each of the existing members must vote in favor of the new members. While almost all of the NATO member countries voted in favor of both Finland and Sweden in 2022, Hungary and Turkey did not.
Turkey initially opposed both countries joining NATO as they had provided support to Kurdish groups seeking a Kurdish homeland (deemed as terrorist organizations by Turkey).
While Finland did eventually receive approval by all member countries, and formally joined NATO in April 2023, it is taking a bit more negotiation for Turkey to approve Sweden’s membership.
This included Sweden tightening their anti-terror legislation and agreeing to work closely with Turkey on concerns of national security. Separately, the United States must also approve the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.
Now that Turkey’s Parliament has voted in favor of Sweden’s membership, the last step is for Turkey’s President Erdogan to sign the protocols.
Though Hungary technically has not yet ratified Sweden, Hungary’s Prime Minister released a statement saying the government supports Sweden’s membership.
Russia’s rhetoric towards Ukraine prior to invasion is very similar to Russia’s rhetoric regarding NATO members Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. This rhetoric creates a concern they want to reconquer these NATO countries and a Russian versus NATO war in the region would destabilize Scandinavia and the Baltic.
Further the border between Poland and Lithuania, known as the Suwałki Gap, is another flashpoint between Russia and NATO countries. While Belarus is to the east, there is a Russian enclave to the west of the Gap, the Kaliningrad Oblast, created after World War II when Russia took the territory from Germany, which formally was East Prussia. Today, it is heavily militarized by the Russians, including warships, warplanes, and nuclear weapons.
Sweden’s membership in NATO could prove to greatly benefit the alliance as Sweden’s military strength significantly increases NATO’s capabilities in Scandinavia and the Baltic.
Sweden’s defense industry is one of Europe’s largest, producing some of the best defense equipment on the market. One example of this is the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, a supersonic fighter aircraft, produced by Swedish aerospace and defense company Saab AB. The Gripen is designed to take off and land on short runways and can be refueled and rearmed in a matter of minutes.
As a result, Sweden’s Air Force is one of the largest in Europe, which possesses at least 100 fighter jets. These fighter jets provide critical support to Army and Navy forces as they conduct operations in the Baltic and Arctic regions.
Sweden’s strategic position in Northern Europe and powerful submarine force are also key to keeping waters navigable in the Baltic Sea. The Baltic Sea is a shared waterway with Russia, and it bottlenecks, limiting access to ports in eight countries. Sweden’s knowledge of navigating the Baltic Sea and their submarines which work well in the Sea’s shallow water, could all prove to be important for NATO’s future success.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought into sharp focus Russia’s desire to expand far into Europe once again. The importance of the NATO alliance, and bolstering its capabilities, has become clear and with Sweden in the alliance, it looks to become stronger than ever.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at https://morgangriffith.house.gov/. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.