Swedish Foreign Minister: Joining NATO Is Up to Us

Russian threats to Ukraine have spurred security conversations in northern Europe.

By , a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde attends a NATO meeting.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde attends a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Riga, Latvia, on Dec. 1, 2021. Gints Ivuskans/AFP/Getty Images

Ahead of a series of talks next week between Russian officials and NATO, Sweden’s top diplomat underscored that Moscow has no right to dictate which countries can apply to join the trans-Atlantic military alliance. 

Sweden, along with neighboring Finland, is not a member of the security alliance. Although Sweden has no current plans to join NATO, it has deepened its cooperation with the bloc in recent years. Russia’s recent threats to Ukraine have spurred conversations about regional security in northern Europe and the Baltic states. 

“It should not be up to Russia if we could join or if we could not join NATO,” said Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde in an interview with Foreign Policy on Friday. Linde described Moscow’s demands to curtail NATO’s activity as “astonishing,” noting they would have profound consequences for Sweden’s security if they were accepted. 

Ahead of a series of talks next week between Russian officials and NATO, Sweden’s top diplomat underscored that Moscow has no right to dictate which countries can apply to join the trans-Atlantic military alliance. 

Sweden, along with neighboring Finland, is not a member of the security alliance. Although Sweden has no current plans to join NATO, it has deepened its cooperation with the bloc in recent years. Russia’s recent threats to Ukraine have spurred conversations about regional security in northern Europe and the Baltic states. 

“It should not be up to Russia if we could join or if we could not join NATO,” said Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde in an interview with Foreign Policy on Friday. Linde described Moscow’s demands to curtail NATO’s activity as “astonishing,” noting they would have profound consequences for Sweden’s security if they were accepted. 

U.S and European officials are set to meet with their Russian counterparts in a variety of high-stakes meetings as the West looks for diplomatic off-ramps amid fears of a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine. Moscow has demanded a sweeping series of security guarantees, including a halt to any eastward expansion of the bloc and limits on its deployments to recent member states. 

A readout of a call between U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his counterparts from the Nordic countries noted “participants reaffirmed the right of each country to choose its alliances.”

Linde’s comments follow similar remarks made by Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in his New Year’s address: “Finland’s room to maneuver and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military alignment and applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova warned in late December 2021 that NATO accession for either Finland or Sweden, which maintained policies of neutrality during the Cold War, would entail “serious military and political consequences, which would require an adequate response on Russia’s part.”

Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine prompted a surge in defense investments in Sweden not seen since the 1950s. In 2020, the country’s parliament voted to increase defense spending by 40 percent over the next five years and increase the size of the armed forces from 60,000 to 90,000 people.

The Swedish foreign minister stressed the importance of the country’s security cooperation with the Baltic and Nordic states as well as the United Kingdom and the United States. “It’s my deep conviction that being militarily nonaligned [and] with those security agreements with other countries and a strong defense is the best way to keep the Swedish people safe,” she said. 

U.S. and Russian officials are set to meet in Geneva on Monday to discuss Moscow’s demands for security guarantees. It will be followed by a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). 

Experts believe Russia’s calls to limit NATO expansion and activity are likely to be a nonstarter, but there may be scope for progress on broader questions of European security arrangements where both sides have an interest in de-escalating tensions. “There is some part of the proposals that I think is interesting to discuss,” Linde said, pointing to arms controls, rules on military exercises, and confidence-building measures. 

Linde, who served as head of the OSCE until December 2021, said although Moscow’s intentions remain unclear, it is best to try and find a diplomatic solution that can avert a military intervention. 

“To give diplomacy and dialogue a chance to work is always better than military activities,” she said. “And we know that Russia has both the means and the will to use the military.”

Amy Mackinnon is a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @ak_mack

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