Sweden’s NATO Bid Is Approved

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From the The Morning Dispatch on The Dispatch

Happy Monday! Great news for all you office workers to kick off the work week: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday ended their official recommendation to quarantine for five days after testing positive for COVID-19.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Talks aimed at reaching a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan—which is set to begin March 10—seemed to falter on Sunday after the Palestinian terrorist group rejected demands to release a list of remaining living hostages, prompting Israel to boycott the U.S.- and Qatari-mediated negotiations in Cairo. The U.S. military, meanwhile, began airdropping humanitarian aid into Gaza on Saturday, delivering roughly 38,000 ready-to-eat meals to the war-torn enclave. Speaking at an event in Selma, Alabama, on Sunday, Vice President Kamala Harris urged Israel to facilitate more aid shipments into the Strip and called for a ceasefire “for at least the next six weeks,” blaming Hamas for the lack of progress. “Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire,” she said. “There is a deal on the table, and as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal. Let’s get a ceasefire.”

  • A Belize-flagged cargo ship that was struck by a Houthi missile on February 18 while traversing the Bab el-Mandeb Strait sank on Saturday after days of taking on water, officials reported. The Rubymar, which was transporting fertilizer and had been leaking fuel, was the first vessel to be destroyed in the Red Sea since the Iranian-backed militants in Yemen first began their attacks on international merchant vessels in November.

  • Thousands of supporters turned out to honor Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny—who mysteriously died in an Arctic prison in February—at a funeral service in Moscow on Friday. The ceremony was conducted under heavy police security, and while officials detained some mourners before the event began, protesters shouted chants against Russian President Vladimir Putin outside the church and cemetery in one of the largest recent displays of mass public dissent.

  • German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius accused Russia on Sunday of waging an “information war” against Germany following the reported interception and leak of sensitive conversations about the Ukraine war between high-ranking military officers. The 38-minute-long audio recording, posted online Friday by Russia’s state-backed RT media, included discussions about potential strikes on Crimea and the possible use of German-made Taurus missiles by Ukrainian forces. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday called the leak “a very serious matter,” and said German intelligence was working to investigate the matter “very carefully, very intensively, and very quickly.”

  • Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was elected prime minister by his nation’s parliament on Sunday, after a coalition government was established following fractious elections in February that produced no clear winner. Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, partnered with the Pakistan People’s Party to form a governing majority after independent candidates aligned with jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan won a majority of seats in the national contest. Khan’s allies, who jeered Sharif as he gave remarks after his confirmation, have alleged that the February election was rigged.

  • President Joe Biden on Friday signed a short-term spending deal that will keep government agencies operating through March 8 and March 22, staving off a shutdown for a few more weeks. On Sunday, Congress released six bills that would fund federal agencies—including the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration—for the rest of the fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2023. The package will be voted on by the House this week before moving to the Senate.

  • New Jersey businessman Jose Uribe, a co-defendant in the criminal corruption case against Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, pleaded guilty to six charges on Friday, including conspiracy to bribe the senator with a Mercedes-Benz convertible. Uribe has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors against the senator, who, along with his wife, has been accused of accepting more than $500,000 in cash and 13 gold bars in bribes. Menendez, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stepped down from his leadership role in September but remains in the Senate.

  • Former President Donald Trump won three state primary contests on Saturday, adding more than 130 delegates to his count. Trump commanded large victories in the Idaho and Missouri caucuses, and secured all remaining delegates in Michigan’s party convention after winning the state primary earlier this week. Former Ambassador Nikki Haley won the Washington, D.C., Republican primary on Sunday, her first victory so far. The win marked the first time a woman has won a Republican primary contest in U.S. history. Trump leads Haley in the delegate count 244-43 ahead of contests in North Dakota on Monday and 15 more states on Tuesday.

Swede Victory

After 19 months of slow-walking the measure, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán finally relented last week and allowed his parliament to ratify Sweden’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), paving the way for a 32nd member of the alliance. A trip by Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to Budapest late last month and a resulting agreement for Hungary to buy Swedish fighter jets overcame the lingering opposition—although we’re pretty sure a lifetime supply of Swedish Fish would have been an equally effective deal sweetener.

The Scandinavian nation will soon become part of the military alliance following a formal flag-raising ceremony at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Sweden joins neighboring Finland as the second new entrant into the body since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The accession of both historically neutral countries to the transatlantic security pact reflects how dramatically Europe’s security posture has changed over the last two years.

The weight of the decision—and the increased tension on the European continent—were on full display as Sweden was informally welcomed into the alliance. “Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security,” Kristersson tweeted last week. NATO Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg pointed to the immediate benefits of Sweden’s accession, arguing, “It makes NATO stronger, Sweden safer, and all of us more secure.” But the journey to membership wasn’t without bumps along the way.

When Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago, Sweden and Finland quickly announced their desire to join the alliance. But both Turkey and Hungary voiced objections to the new entrants, whose accession required unanimous consent among NATO member states. The two dissenters relented on Finland’s request last spring, but Sweden’s accession remained a sticking point. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s reticence partly concerned Sweden’s large Kurdish population and free speech and association laws protecting Kurdish critics of Turkey. Erdoğan also leveraged his opposition to Sweden’s bid as a way to push the U.S. to sell his nation F-16 fighter jets. Ultimately, Turkey ratified Sweden’s bid in January and the State Department greenlit the sale the next week.

Orbán’s objections ostensibly concerned diplomatic ties with Sweden. “The political relations between Hungary and Sweden are awfully wrong,” he said last May. “We don’t want to import conflicts into NATO.” Some diplomatic observers believe Orbán’s opposition had more to do with his annoyance at the European Union’s criticism of his government than concrete complaints with Sweden—and up until last week, even a few Hungarian lawmakers appeared confused about why Orbán was still delaying approval. As recently as late January, Orbán had said he wanted Hungary to ratify Sweden’s bid “at the first possible opportunity,” and after Turkey approved the bid, it was only a matter of time before Hungary backed down. The fighter jet deal with Sweden likely provided Orbán with a convenient bookend.

Now that both Finland and Sweden are in the club, what does the expanded roster mean for NATO? Arguably the most significant result of the larger membership is the signal it sends to Russia. Finland and Sweden did an about-face after the invasion of Ukraine, reversing well-entrenched diplomatic policy. “Two-and-a-half years ago, there was nobody in Finland, and there was no one in Sweden, that was thinking about membership,” said Chris Skaluba, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Transatlantic Security Initiative and former principal director for European and NATO policy in the U.S. Secretary of Defense’s office.

Sean Monaghan, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who studies NATO and defense, told TMD that “both of those countries had an extremely long history of neutrality. In Finland, decades; in Sweden, centuries.” Monaghan also noted Sweden’s accession “demonstrates that Newton’s third law applies to international politics too, that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s actions have incurred an equal and opposite reaction by NATO.” Stoltenberg echoed the sentiment last week, saying Sweden’s membership “sends a very clear message to President Putin that NATO’s door is open.”

Beyond the geopolitical signaling, Sweden brings substantial defense capabilities to NATO. While Sweden downsized its military after the fall of the Soviet Union, the country’s previous neutrality didn’t reflect a disregard for investing in its defense capabilities (à la Switzerland). “Sweden, like Finland, they’re coming at the alliance not as weak supplicants seeking protection because they have nothing they can do for themselves,” said Daniel Hamilton, a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies who previously worked on NATO policy at the State Department. “They’re both coming out of a tradition of non-alignment and neutrality—which, that kind of neutrality means if you’re not with anybody, you have to be able to defend yourself by yourself.”

Sweden, in particular, brings some comparative advantages to the alliance. “Finland is more of a land-based [force] because of its long border,” Hamilton told TMD. “Sweden has capabilities in the air and at sea that are distinct.” Sweden maintains an advanced air force, as well as an advanced submarine fleet that is much more adept than its NATO counterparts at operating in the Baltic Sea’s shallow waters. “The Baltic Sea is hard to deal with if you don’t have the necessary experience,” said Carl Gyhlenius, a former Swedish submarine commander. “The fact that another country is joining NATO which has this as its backyard, with that regional expertise, that should ease operational problems.” Sweden also brings technological capabilities to the alliance: The Swedish telecom firm Ericsson is one of the world’s leading 5G companies, and the nation recently discovered a huge stock of rare earth metals that could offer European countries a potential alternative to China’s dominance in rare earth mining.

Sweden’s defense spending has rapidly increased in recent years, and is on track to meet NATO’s 2 percent of GDP target this year—defense spending was 60 billion crowns (~$5.8 billion) in 2020, but will be nearly double that in 2024. The investment reflects not only the growing threat posed by Russia, but also Sweden’s distinct whole-of-society approach to defense. Swedish culture, in contrast to many NATO countries, emphasizes that every citizen—not just the military—has a responsibility to contribute to the nation’s national security. As European nations try to catch up on their defense spending and reprioritize other government spending goals, Sweden’s approach offers some inspiration. “This whole-of-society approach is something we’re all talking about,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren recently said. “In the Netherlands, people think security is something the military can take care of.”

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 marked a turning point for NATO and European defense spending, as NATO cut off most security cooperation with Russia and member states began upping their defense budgets. A decade later, 2024 may represent the culmination of that shift. This year, NATO’s European defense spending will meet the 2 percent GDP target, originally set in 2014, in the aggregate, and 18 NATO members are expected to individually meet or exceed 2 percent. The NATO summit last summer in Vilnius, Lithuania, saw the alliance adopt new strategic plans for how the new defense investment would be used. Chris Skaluba told TMD that the plans are “nothing like we’ve seen in 30 years since the end of the Cold War,” adding that “it is really back to NATO thinking about keeping the Russians out of NATO territory in a very demonstrative, very conscious way.”

Sweden’s accession further bolsters those plans. “NATO made a big deal of its regional plans when it agreed to them in Vilnius,” Monaghan told TMD. “But even then, there were still holes in the plans because Sweden was not a member. Now, Sweden is.”

Worth Your Time

  • Writing for Financial Times, Miles Ellingham detailed the vast, macabre world of whale strandings, and the characters that seek out the beached behemoths. “If you report a whale stranding, the first thing the BDMLR [the British Divers Marine Life Rescue] will tell you is not to touch it,” Ellingham wrote. “Dead whales are rife with disease and living ones can kill you with a single swing of their massive appendages. These warnings don’t tend to deter people much. Strandings have a tendency to become febrile public occasions. A few years ago, another fin whale washed up dead not far from here and [Dan] Jarvis went to look at it with his mother. … ‘It was an absolute circus,’ he says. ‘There were kids climbing all over it … A complete free-for-all, people taking parts of it away with them. We just had to walk away because it was beyond our ability to control the situation—over 50 people using its body as a playground.’”

A Big Record-Breaking Weekend on the Court

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NBC News: Nikki Haley Says She’s Not Bound by RNC Pledge to Support Republican Nominee

Toeing the Company Line

  • Our Monthly Mailbag (🔒) feature is back, and this month, associate audio and video producer Victoria Holmes has raised her hand. You can submit your questions for her here.

  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics team reported on Nikki Haley’s campaign going into Super Tuesday, Jonah explained why he believes it’s paramount the U.S. continue supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia, Nick debated (🔒) who is to blame for the shrinking likelihood that former President Donald Trump’s January 6 trial occurs before the election, and Chris questioned (🔒) whether Nikki Haley’s voters will come home to Trump in November.

  • On the podcasts: Drucker interviewed Haley on The Dispatch Podcast about the state of the Republican Party and why she’s still in the race, Jonah warned of the deadly effects of boredom, Sarah and Scott fact checked (🔒) The Big Short on The Dispatch Book Club, and David Brog, executive director of the Maccabee Task Force, joins Jamie on The Dispatch Podcast to discuss the October 7 attacks and anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses.

  • On the site over the weekend: Dan Kaplan dove into the vast spending disparities between Major League Baseball teams, Charles Murray reviewed Rob Henderson’s newly published book, Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class, and Michael Reneau reported on the tension in evangelicals’ views on immigration policy.

  • On the site today: Tim Mak and Joseph Roche report from the Donbas front lines on waning Ukrainian troop morale, John unpacks the effort to pass legislation protecting in vitro fertilization in Alabama, and Carl Graham explains coalition warfare.

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