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Sweden Follows Finland’s Steps Toward NATO

Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats have decided to join the alliance in a historic shift.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson gives a press conference after a meeting at the ruling Social Democrats' headquarters in Stockholm on May 15. FREDRIK PERSSON/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Sweden’s steps toward NATO, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Northern Ireland, and the world this week.

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Sweden Makes Its NATO Move

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Sweden’s steps toward NATO, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Northern Ireland, and the world this week.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Sweden Makes Its NATO Move

Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats on Sunday evening backed joining the NATO alliance, a dramatic U-turn for a party wedded to the country’s previously nonaligned stance.

In approving the decision, the party expressed “unilateral reservations against the deployment of nuclear weapons and permanent bases on Swedish territory.” The wider parliament is expected to debate the issue further today, but Sunday’s decision means the largest obstacle to membership has been overcome.

The decision means Sweden is set to join Finland in seeking to join the alliance. The Finns are a step ahead, with the parliament in Helsinki set to approve a decision to apply for membership today.

A formal announcement for Sweden is timed perfectly for the visit of the Finnish President Sauli Niinisto to Stockholm on Tuesday.

Russia has already vowed a “military-technical” response, the outlines of which have yet to be defined.

Speaking to Foreign Policy earlier this month, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said the moves would likely include changes to the “military-political landscape” of the Baltic Sea area, with the most dramatic being the likely deployment of nuclear weapons to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad (something Lithuania’s defense minister thinks has already happened).

But Russia is not the only regional power that has expressed reservations about the Nordic nations’ moves.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, perhaps with one eye on building Turkish leverage—considering the unanimous approval new members must receive from current NATO members—said that he did not have “favorable thoughts” toward the two countries as he added that they were “home to many terrorist organizations,” an apparent reference to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as well as Kurds who were granted political asylum in Scandinavian countries.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at Sunday’s NATO minister’s summit, but he did not divulge the details of his conversation. The two men are expected to speak again in Washington on Wednesday.

Nor is the addition of the two countries and their sizable militaries a panacea for NATO’s security issues in the Baltic Sea. As Edward Lucas wrote for FP back in February, NATO first needs to straighten out its complicated Baltic command structure, which he likened to a “bowl of spaghetti.”

Speaking to Foreign Policy on Sunday, Lucas said that the addition of Sweden and Finland “sorts the strategic incoherence of the region and creates the conditions in which we can solve the problems. It doesn’t in itself solve the problems.”

Plenty of political hurdles remain, from deciding where to place a new NATO headquarters to assuaging the fears of smaller Baltic nations that the United States might back away now that larger, richer countries are involved. “There are a lot of really difficult, totally solvable questions. But this is absolutely not the final piece in the jigsaw,” Lucas said.

The shift away from neutrality for the two Nordic countries leaves just four EU members—Austria, Cyprus, Ireland, and Malta—with an ostensibly neutral military alignment.


The World This Week

Monday, May 16: Finland’s parliament votes on whether to join NATO.

NATO military exercises “DEFENDER-Europe 22” and “Swift Response” take place across Poland and eight other countries until May 27.

Tuesday, May 17: U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen meets with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto travels to Sweden for a two-day visit.

Wednesday, May 18: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosts his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Washington.

Friday, May 20: U.S. President Joe Biden travels to Asia. He begins with a two-day visit to South Korea before heading on to Japan for a Quad leaders summit and bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minster Fumio Kishida.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hosts Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al Thani.

Saturday, May 21: Australia holds parliamentary elections, with the opposition Labor party favored by current polls to win the most seats.


What We’re Following Today

The Northern Ireland protocol. A U.S. congressional delegation led by Rep. Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, heads to London today for a weeklong trip to the United Kingdom for discussions on the Northern Ireland protocol of the EU-U.K. Brexit agreement.

The trip comes as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds emergency talks in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with local political leaders as his government appears to back down from making unilateral changes to the protocol. Johnson mentioned his desire for a “sensible landing spot” as Ireland’s foreign minister warned that unilateral moves by the U.K. government could lead to a trade war with the EU or the suspension of the post-Brexit trade agreement.

Biden meets Mitsotakis. U.S. President Joe Biden hosts Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis today at the White House. Ukraine is expected to top the agenda, which will also include discussion on climate change and energy security.


Keep an Eye On

Lebanon’s elections. Vote counting continues following Lebanon’s parliamentary elections on Sunday, with preliminary results already reporting upsets for some established politicians. It appears that the anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces are set to overtake the Hezbollah-allied Free Patriotic Movement as the largest Christian party in parliament, although overall results won’t be known until later.

Sturgeon crosses the pond. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is in Washington today for a two-day visit seen by critics as burnishing her diplomatic credentials ahead of a possible second independence vote. Sturgeon will make a speech today at the Brookings Institution and will meet with congressional leaders the following day.


Odds and Ends

Global publishing giant Condé Nast has threatened legal action against a pub in the tiny hamlet of Vogue in Cornwall, southwest England, charging that the establishment, the Star Inn at Vogue, may confuse readers of the famed fashion periodical.

The cease-and-desist letter, signed by Condé Nast Chief Operating Officer Sabine Vandenbroucke, prompted dismay from the pub’s owner given that the pub and the town of Vogue predate the magazine Vogue by more than 100 years.

“I note in your letter that you have only been in existence since 1916 and I presume that at the time when you chose the name Vogue in the capitalized version you didn’t seek permission from the villagers of the real Vogue,” pub owner Mark Graham noted in his reply, in which he rejected a demand to change the pub’s name.

“I also presume that Madonna did not seek your permission to use the word Vogue (again the capitalized version) for her 1990s song of the same name,” he continued.

“You are both at liberty to use the uncapitalized version without our permission. As a side note she didn’t seek our permission either.”

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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