Sweden has formally decided to apply for NATO membership following a similar decision by its Nordic neighbour Finland, ending more than 200 years of military non-alignment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We will inform NATO that we want to become a member of the alliance,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said as she addressed lawmakers in the capital Stockholm on Monday.
“Sweden needs formal security guarantees that come with membership in NATO,” she said, calling the decision “a historic change in our country’s security policy”.
The announcement came a day after Finland said it would seek to join the 30-country trans-Atlantic military alliance.
Andersson said the application could be handed in on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and would be synchronised with Finland.
Military non-alignment has been a central tenet of Swedish national identity for two centuries. The change of policy marks a shift in public perception in the Nordic region following Russia’s attack on its neighbour, Ukraine.
“Europe, Sweden and the Swedish people are living now in a new and dangerous reality,” Andersson said.
While the government does not need parliamentary approval to go ahead, there was broad backing for an application. However, Andersson remarked that Sweden did not want permanent NATO military bases or nuclear weapons on its territory if its membership was approved.
Opposition from Turkey
The prospect of the Nordic countries’ membership has been met with opposition from Turkey, which surprised its NATO allies last week by saying it would not view the applications positively due to their history of hosting members of Kurdish rebel groups.
Turkey said it wanted the Nordic countries to halt support for Kurdish rebels on their territory, and to lift bans on sales of some weapons to Turkey.
In a news conference on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated that Turkey would not approve their bids to join NATO, calling Sweden a “hatchery” for “terrorist” organisations.
“Neither of these countries have a clear, open attitude towards terrorist organisations,” Erdogan said. “How can we trust them?”
Ankara says Sweden and Finland harbour people it says are linked to groups it deems “terrorists”, namely the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) armed group and followers of scholar and cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in a decades-old armed rebellion waged by the PKK in the country’s southeast. Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber said on Monday that Sweden and Finland had not granted approval for the repatriation of 33 people that Turkey requested.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday he was confident “that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the membership”.
Any decision on NATO enlargement requires approval by all 30 members of the alliance and their parliaments. Diplomats said Turkey would be under pressure to yield to Finland and Sweden, as their accession would greatly strengthen NATO in the Baltic Sea.