NATO chief outlines security pledges for Sweden
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said the US-led bloc will carry out new troop deployments near Russia’s borders if Sweden requests to join – even before it’s officially accepted into the organisation.
Speaking to Swedish state TV about Stockholm’s prospective membership application on Thursday, Stoltenberg said NATO could immediately leap into action to bolster the country’s defenses during the process, which could take up to a year to conclude.
“From the potential moment Sweden is applying, and NATO says that they want Sweden to join, there is a very strong obligation from NATO to be able to guarantee Sweden's security,” he said. “We have different ways of doing it, including through an increased presence of NATO forces in the area around Sweden and the Baltic Sea.”
The comments follow weeks of public discussion centered on Stockholm’s potential NATO application, as well as that of its neighbor Finland. Though both have remained neutral throughout the military bloc’s existence, officials have argued that Moscow’s attack on Ukraine in late February has significantly altered their thinking on regional security.
Washington – NATO’s chief military power which effectively leads the bloc – has spoken positively about membership for both Nordic states, with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki echoing Stoltenberg’s remarks during a Thursday briefing.
“We are confident that we could find ways to address any concerns either country may have about the period of time between a NATO membership application and the formal accession to the alliance,” she said, suggesting the United States could offer some form of security guarantee ahead of their formal acceptance into the bloc.
Both nations are reportedly set to decide on whether to file applications sometime this month, and while lawmakers in Stockholm and Helsinki have already largely approved the idea, members of Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party have recently raised objections.
“We in the federal board have decided to remain in line with our congressional decisions that Sweden should be militarily non-aligned and stand outside NATO,” said Annika Strandhall, the country’s climate and environment minister and a prominent member of its women’s faction.
Stoltenberg has previously stated Sweden and Finland would be “warmly welcomed” into NATO, and that their membership could even be fast-tracked, indicating strong support for expanding the alliance to 32 members.
Moscow has vocally opposed those moves, having long rejected any further eastward expansion of the alliance (Finland’s ascension would grow the NATO-Russia border by more than 800 miles). Senior Russian officials have also warned that increased military deployments to the Baltic region – which includes NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Sweden and Finland – could even trigger the stationing of Russian nuclear and hypersonic weapons to the area to restore “balance” there.