Swedes Celebrate the End of their Lengthy Wait to Join NATO

After nearly two years of applying to join NATO, numerous Swedes express a sense of relief that the process of securing membership in the military alliance is now complete.

While hurrying to work in -1C temperatures, Stockholm commuters were not interested in discussing the application process in detail. However, numerous individuals expressed feeling more secure just one day after Sweden formally became a member of Nato, following a document exchange in Washington.

“I believe it’s fantastic, really.” “It feels secure, and long overdue,” expressed Kristina McConnell, a 58-year-old who previously served in the military and was heading to the city centre law firm where she now works.

For over 200 years, Sweden maintained wartime neutrality, and ten years ago, most residents opposed joining the multinational military alliance.

However, backing for joining increased in the mid-2010s, as concerns grew over Russian actions in the area, such as spy planes in Baltic airspace and a suspected submarine in Swedish waters.

During the beginning of 2022, the country’s Social Democrat government, which had previously been against joining Nato, changed its stance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, prompting Sweden to quickly apply for membership.

According to Nicholas Aylott, a political scientist at Södertörn University and the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Swedes were shocked by Russia’s actions and observed their elites quickly shifting their stance on NATO, which they accepted.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson (left) emphasises the country’s commitment to sharing burdens, responsibilities, and risks with other allies

Surveys indicated that approximately two thirds of voters supported Sweden’s application to join Nato when it was formally submitted in May 2022. The percentage has remained consistent; in a January 2024 survey conducted by polling firm Novus, 63% of respondents expressed support for Sweden joining NATO.

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At Sergels torg, central Stockholm’s large black-and-white paved square, Wilma, 16, shared with the BBC that she believed she would feel more secure in her daily life, now that Sweden had joined the 32-member Nato alliance.

In the event of a potential attack from another country, we have the support of several nations to provide additional security.

Many Swedes take pride in their small country of just 10 million being seen as a valuable new member by others in the alliance.

Sweden’s commercial television channel TV4 highlighted video clips of US President Joe Biden mentioning Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in his State of the Union address on Friday morning.

The cameras focused on the centre-right Moderate party leader smiling in the crowd while Biden welcomed him to Nato, the most powerful military alliance in the world.

Swedish tabloid Expressen published an overview of how international media had reacted to the situation, including US network NBC calling it “the most significant expansion of the Western military alliance for decades”, and an editorial in Norwegian newspaper VG stating that a “old dream of a Nordic defence union” had been realised.

The question of whether or not to join NATO has divided Stanislav Yordanov’s family

Sweden’s membership application has been delayed due to resistance from Nato members Hungary and Turkey, who have recently changed their stance.

Turkey had initially withheld approval in a dispute over what it called Sweden’s support for Kurdish separatists, while Hungary accused Sweden of being hostile.

Dr Aylott expressed that the delay since Sweden’s application had caused significant frustration for politicians in Sweden.

The speaker mentioned that the majority of the political class is feeling a mix of mild euphoria and relief now that the paperwork has been finalised.

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However, some individuals continue to oppose Sweden’s Nato membership.

The Left party and the Green party in the country continue to be at odds.

On Thursday, a Left party lawmaker named Håkan Svenneling expressed concerns on Swedish public service television network SVT about the possibility of Sweden getting involved in external conflicts.

Kerstin Bergeå, Chair of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (Svenska freds), expressed her belief that state funds should be allocated towards investments in diplomacy, prevention, and addressing conflict causes to prevent wars.

At Stockholm central station, 21-year-old Stanislav Yordanov, who relocated to Sweden from Bulgaria at the age of nine, mentioned that his family had differing opinions on Nato membership.

The car rental sales agent expressed optimism about Sweden’s accession, while other relatives anticipate negative reactions from other countries.

According to government and military sources, there is a potential for conflict, but Sweden will now have increased protection due to all Nato members being obligated to assist an ally in case of an attack.

In January, two high-ranking defence officials advised the Swedish population to begin mentally and logistically preparing for potential conflict.

Despite facing accusations of causing unnecessary fear, the communication seemed to have a minimal effect on the general population, as there were hardly any indications of hoarding in Swedish grocery stores.

According to Dr. Aylott, it seems that the general public is not as involved as the political elite. Despite recent warnings from politicians and military leaders about the potential spread of conflict, many Swedes do not believe that the country is facing a serious threat.

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However, Aylott indicated that becoming a member of Nato would create a slight yet visible effect, potentially influencing public conversations.

According to him, there has been a public discussion regarding the appropriate locations and times for displaying the Nato flag at public institutions, and closer military collaboration could lead to a higher military presence in the area.

Warships from Nato countries frequently visit Swedish ports. There will likely be an increase in foreign soldiers on Swedish soil, along with more joint exercises,” he explained, “and it could be quite noticeable.”

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