Sweden is (still) approaching a NATO candidacy

Sweden and Finland are fast approaching NATO membership… This Friday, an official Swedish report paved the way, multiplying the favorable conclusions before the decision of the Nordic country and its Finnish neighbor in the coming days. After decades out of military alliances, Helsinki and Stockholm are due to announce their NATO candidacies by early next week, as a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Finland has already taken a huge step on Thursday, its president and its Prime Minister saying they are in favor of joining the alliance “without delay” led by the United States. The Finnish candidacy must be formalized by the executive tandem this Sunday, after the meeting of a government council.

A “deterrent” effect

On the same day, Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party is to decide on a candidacy, and support would remove the last significant hurdle on Stockholm’s side. Without expressing a formal recommendation, a report prepared by the government with all the parties in Parliament multiplied the conclusions favorable to a Swedish candidacy.

“Sweden’s membership in NATO would raise the threshold (of triggering) of military conflicts and would thus have a deterrent effect in Northern Europe”, concludes in particular the 40-page strategic review, prepared in recent weeks. While Moscow threatens Finland and Sweden with “consequences” in the event of membership, the report considers an armed attack very unlikely, but recognizes that Russian “provocations” and “reprisals” “cannot be excluded”.

Guarantees in case of attack

“Our opinion is that we would not suffer a conventional military attack in reaction to a possible candidacy for NATO,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told a press conference.

Although Sweden enjoys an article of mutual support as a member of the European Union, the report concludes that as a non-member of NATO, the country currently has no “guarantees clear help in case of aggression. “In the current framework (…) there is no guarantee that Sweden will be helped if it were the target of a serious threat or an attack”, estimates the strategic review.

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Shift in public opinion

Before the war in Ukraine, the debate on NATO vegetated in Finland and Sweden, with no prospect of joining the alliance. The invasion launched by Moscow has resulted in a historic shift in the two countries, concerned about better military protection against a Russia capable of attacking its neighbor.

According to the latest polls, half of some 10 million Swedes are now in favor of joining the alliance, a share that rises to two-thirds if Finland also joins. In Finland, more than three-quarters of the population of 5.5 million people want to come under the umbrella of the alliance.

Strategic setback for Moscow

Clear majorities are also emerging in the parliaments of the two countries. Moscow threatened Thursday with “military-technical” measures in the event of Finnish membership, after weeks of various warnings from Stockholm and Helsinki.

Chaired by President Vladimir Putin, the Security Council of Russia discussed Thursday the probable Swedish and Finnish candidacies and “the possible threats to the security of Russia arising therefrom”, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Seeing the two hitherto non-aligned countries join NATO, and in particular Finland with its 1,300 kilometer border with Russia, would be a strategic and symbolic setback for Moscow, according to Western analysts.

“Hands full with Ukraine”

As for Russian retaliation, “it is almost certain that we will have hybrid attacks, such as cyberattacks,” Robert Dalsjö, a researcher at the Swedish Defense Research Institute (FOI), told AFP. “But they have their hands full with Ukraine, and they are already overwhelmed. So I very much doubt that they come here to kill anyone”.

Worried about the reaction of Russia, Finland and Sweden have however sought to obtain assurances of protection during the months necessary for their formal entry into the Atlantic Alliance, like an agreement signed Wednesday with London.

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