Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The Swedish government reached a formal decision on Monday to apply for NATO membership, in a landmark decision that stands to end more than two centuries of Swedish neutrality.
“We are leaving one era behind us, and entering a new one,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said during a press conference held to announce the decision. “NATO will strengthen Sweden, Sweden will strengthen NATO,” she added.
The PM noted that the formal application could be handed within the next three days, and that the government will align its actions with its neighbour Finland, which has also announced it would apply for NATO membership.
Sweden has held to a policy of military non-alignment for more than 200 years, making it a central tenet of its national identity. It has resisted joining NATO in the 73 years of its existence, maintaining military neutrality throughout the height of the Cold War.
But both Finland and Sweden were forced to acknowledge a significant change in regional security landscape after 24 February, when the Russian military launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbour, Ukraine.
The popular opinion in both countries suddenly shifted away from neutrality, with polls indicating a historic change in voters’ preferences as most voters in both countries switched from opposing NATO membership to wholeheartedly supporting it. In close talks between Andersson and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, the two countries reached an understanding that they would most likely enter the process together.
Top Swedish general, Micael Byden, told the press on Monday that the decision to apply for membership was “right from a military-strategic perspective”, and that defending the country, either on its own or in cooperation with other states, would become easier with Stockholm joining the alliance.
“I know, based on my conversations and the relations that I have with my counterparts, that Sweden is welcome in NATO. But we are not only welcome – I also know that Sweden as a member makes NATO stronger,” said Byden.