Sweden's NATO membership only undermines European security

China Military Online
Lin Congyi
2024-03-08 14:49:51

By Lyu Yunmou

Recently, the Hungarian parliament has approved Sweden's bid to join NATO by a vote of 188 to 6. This marks that Sweden's NATO membership has been unequivocal, and the alliance will have its 32nd member state on the occasion of its 75th anniversary.

Why does the neutral country veer to the military alliance?

Capitalizing on its geographically advantageous position and easily defendable terrains, Sweden has enjoyed nearly two centuries of prosperity and peace, claiming that it has not been involved in any war since 1814. Thus, it is one of the few European countries involved in World War II but emerged with its military power and economic base intact.

However, as the fallout from the Ukraine crisis has extended to the fringes of the European continent, Sweden's sense of security has diminished dramatically, leading to a heightened demand for collective defense. However, the EU is moving at a slow pace for the building of the European Defense Union and lacks effectiveness in delivering on its promise made in the mutual assistance clause, which says that "if an EU country is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other EU countries have an obligation to aid and assist it by all the means in their power." Therefore, Sweden has set its sight on NATO.

In addition, the role of Finland in the accession of Sweden cannot be disregarded. Unlike Sweden that is situated across the sea from Russia, Finland shares a land border stretching for 1,300 kilometers with Russia. With a heightened sense of insecurity after the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, Finland has actively advocated for accession to NATO. Therefore, the country not only regards NATO membership as a remedy for addressing its own security concerns, but also constantly incites Sweden to apply for the membership, in a bid to ease its burdens around Russia.

Therefore, amidst the interplay of various factors, following the Finnish government's declaration to apply for NATO membership on May 16, 2022, Sweden's then-Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson also announced the formal decision to do likewise.

NATO expansion only undermines European security

If we perceive Finland's entry as placing NATO at the doorstep of Russia, then Sweden's admission can be said to fill in the last puzzle piece in northern Europe for NATO, pushing the frontier zones forward and fueling arrogance for the alliance.

First, Sweden's admission ensures seamless replenishment and support in the northeast flank for NATO, providing Finland and the Baltic countries with a reliable backbone in the presence of Russia. Anna Wieslander, director for Northern Europe at the US think tank Atlantic Council , pointed out that the main tasks for Sweden are to defend the airspace security of the Baltic Sea and serve as replenishment and support staging ground of equipment, ammunition, field hospitals and other resources for the US and NATO.

Second, Sweden's strong defense capabilities will boost the confidence of Eastern European countries in dealing with Russia. Compared with the robust land force of Finland (900,000 active and reserve personnel), Sweden excels in the air force and naval strength, fostering an effective complement to the former and adding positive assets for NATO. After the outburst of the Ukraine crisis, Sweden strengthened its military deployment in Gotland, which poses direct threats to the Russian Navy's activities in the Baltic Sea, especially for its fleet based in Kaliningrad.

For Europe, the contraction of the neutral zones is inevitably accompanied by the collapse of its strategic autonomy space. Historically, the Nordic countries had acted as mediators in the conflicts between Russia and the West, but the overall development of the European version of NATO will further reinforce the opposition between Russia and Europe, making it more difficult to achieve a stable and sustainable European security framework.

Joining NATO is a policy preference oriented towards safeguarding self-interests for Sweden, but it should not be achieved by excessively squeezing the security spaces of other countries. Otherwise, Europe will only find itself in a more vulnerable position. For this, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova responded that the country will closely monitor Sweden's role in NATO and will "shape our policy and implement reciprocal measures, both in the military-technical aspects and other areas, to counteract any threat to Russia’s national security that may result as a consequence". Amid the continuous onslaught of black swan and gray rhino incidents, Europe, where strategies, thoughts and theories have consistently evolved, should critically examine its own security concept.

(The author is the head of the Europe security program with the Institute of European Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.)

Editor's note: Originally published on china.com.cn, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.

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