Sweden Joins NATO to Complete Alliance’s Nordic Expansion

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(Bloomberg) -- Sweden became the 32nd member of NATO, completing the defense alliance’s historic enlargement into the Nordic region, nearly two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the membership bid.

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Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson handed Sweden’s accession document to Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the US State Department on Thursday, marking its formal entry into the alliance. The country’s flag will be raised over the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s headquarters in Brussels on Monday.

“We will live up to the high expectations from all NATO allies,” Kristersson said. “We will share burdens, responsibilities and risks with other allies.”

Sweden’s addition comes 11 months after Finland completed its accession, despite the nations submitting a joint bid. The hold up was due to objections from both Turkey and Hungary. Turkey ratified in January after securing a deal to acquire fighter jets from the US, while Hungary’s parliament approved entry on Feb. 26, 21 months after the Nordic country applied for membership.

“Good things come to those who wait,” Blinken said. “None of this was easy, none of this was obvious. It’s taken nearly two years of tireless diplomacy.”

Read More: How Russia Pushed Finland and Sweden to Join NATO

Having Sweden and Finland in the alliance cements NATO’s position in the Baltic Sea and allows it to better defend the Baltic nations. The only land connection between those smaller countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — and the rest of NATO is the narrow Suwalki Gap, often considered the alliance’s weakest spot. The Baltic countries have been flagged as a potential target for Russian aggression.

As a full member, Sweden benefits from NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense commitments — meaning allies are bound to come to its aid if it’s under attack — and the Nordic country will have to defend other allies, too. Sweden can help facilitate the transit of troops and equipment from Norway’s North Sea ports to the east. Its island of Gotland can help secure control of critical naval routes and air space.

Still, Sweden is joining NATO at a time when the alliance is grappling with growing uncertainty about the US’s commitment to European security. Donald Trump, who could return to the White House after November’s elections, has suggested letting Russia attack members that don’t meet NATO’s spending goal. Even the current administration under President Joe Biden is facing difficulties passing aid for Ukraine’s defense against Russia, and the US has in recent years been shifting its focus away from Europe toward Asia in response to China’s increasing military power.

“This starts a new chapter in the history of the Kingdom of Sweden,” Ebba Busch, deputy prime minister, told reporters in Stockholm. “Now we will build security, peace and freedom together with others. NATO membership strengthens the protection for our democratic values and for our way of life.”

--With assistance from Natalia Drozdiak and Ott Ummelas.

(Updates with comments from Kristersson and Blinken from third paragraph)

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