Sweden Set to Join NATO After Hungary Finally Approves Bid

London — Sweden is set to officially join NATO after Hungary finally gave its approval Monday, the last member of the Western alliance to ratify the bid.

Analysts say the addition of the Nordic nation to NATO as its 32nd member will bring significant military capabilities to the Western alliance.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said it was a “historic day” for his country.

“Sweden is now leaving 200 years of neutrality and nonalignment behind us. It is a big step. We must take that seriously. But it is also a very natural step that we are taking,” Kristersson said at a news conference in Stockholm on Monday, following the Hungarian approval.

“Membership of NATO means that we now join a large number of democracies that work together for peace and freedom. A new home where neighbors cooperate for safety and a group of countries that, in practice, we have belonged for a very long time,” he added.

Hungary vote

Hungarian lawmakers passed the vote with an overwhelming margin of 188 in favor of Sweden’s accession and only six against the motion.

Earlier, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had urged MPs to approve the bid.

“The Swedish-Hungarian military cooperation and Sweden’s accession to NATO will strengthen Hungary’s security,” Orban said ahead of the vote.

Sweden’s submitted its application to join NATO along with Finland in May 2022, three months after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Finland’s application was ratified relatively quickly, and it joined the alliance in April 2023. However, Sweden’s bid was held up by Turkey and Hungary. Ankara claimed that Sweden was harboring Kurdish groups, which it considers terrorists. Turkey eventually approved the NATO bid in January after Sweden introduced new anti-terror laws.

Hungary’s objections to Sweden’s NATO accession were less clear.

Orban had voiced anger over Sweden’s criticism of a perceived democratic backsliding in his country.

A visit by Kristersson to Budapest last Friday – and the purchase by Hungary of four Swedish Gripen fighter jets – appear to have helped overcome the tensions.

US ambassador

The U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman, who has been critical of Budapest’s delaying the ratification, welcomed the vote.

“Sweden’s accession to NATO will advance the security of the United States, the security of Hungary and the security of the alliance, and this has been a decision that has taken some time and we look forward to it,” Pressman told reporters outside the Hungarian parliament.

“Sweden has been waiting to join the alliance for now almost two years and a step forward has [been] taken, and this process should conclude rapidly,” he added.

Swedish forces have been training alongside NATO forces for decades, but formal membership will allow far deeper coordination of deployment and defense planning.

Sweden is expected to officially join NATO in the coming days or weeks, breaking its long-held policy of military non-alignment.

“The final piece of the puzzle falling into place, making NATO’s position in the Nordic-Baltic region whole. Sweden gains security in a crowd and supported by American nuclear deterrence,” said Robert Dalsjo, a senior analyst at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, adding that valuable military capabilities will be added to the alliance.

“We have a modern air force, with Gripen planes. We have excellent submarines, especially adapted to the conditions in the Baltic Sea. We have a small but high-tech navy and we have, on the ground, we have sub-arctic capabilities,” Dalsjo told Reuters.

Baltic defense

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are widely seen as among the most vulnerable NATO member states to a potential attack by Russia. Having Finland and Sweden in the alliance creates a powerful deterrence, according to Charly Salonius-Pasternak of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

“Enabling the defense of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia from different angles. It will be possible to do very large, combined, air operations looking at directions from north Finland, and northwest to western Sweden, with both of those countries as NATO members, something that was not possible to plan as little as a year ago,” Salonius-Pasternak told VOA.

Swedish public opinion swung dramatically in favor of joining NATO after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The latest opinion polls suggest around two-thirds of Swedes approve of its membership.

Stockholm residents largely welcomed Hungary’s ratification of the bid.

“Finally, it’s been a long wait until Hungary to get the acceptance in the Parliament and what’s behind the scenes for it taking this long. But it’s good to finally be here. We have been preparing for a bit of time for this,” Jimmy Dahllof, a boat captain from Stockholm, told Agence France-Presse.

Finland’s experience of joining NATO has lessons for Sweden, said Helsinki-based Salonius-Pasternak.

“It’s the first steps of an ongoing process – a cultural change at the highest political level, societal level – that we are now responsible for our own defense but together and as part of an alliance, rather than solely ‘we alone’ thinking. And this I honestly think will be a generational shift,” he told VOA.

An accession ceremony is expected in the coming days after final formalities of Sweden’s membership are completed. Writing on X, formerly Twitter, NATO’s secretary-general said Monday that Sweden’s accession “will make us all stronger and safer.”

Russia response

Russia did not immediately respond to Hungary’s ratification. In the past Moscow has said that NATO membership would make Sweden “a legitimate target for Russian retaliatory measures.”

Kristersson said Monday that Moscow had itself to blame.

“As far as Russia is concerned, the only thing we can safely expect is that they do not like Sweden becoming a NATO member. They didn’t like Finland becoming a NATO member either,” Kristersson said. “The whole purpose was to emphasize that a country like Ukraine would not be allowed to choose its own path. Instead of accepting that Russia had veto rights over Ukraine’s way forward, NATO has now, soon instead gained two new members.”

He added, “Russia does not like it. What else they do, we cannot know. We are prepared for all sorts of things. What we see all the time are disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks and that sort of thing. I think our whole part of the world is on its toes to face many different things.”

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