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Swedish security review paves way for NATO bid

Swedish security review paves way for NATO bid

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STOCKHOLM: Sweden on Friday inched closer to a reversal of its decades-long policy of military non-alignment, as a security policy review concluded that joining NATO would reduce the risk of conflict in northern Europe, reports AFP.

The report, compiled by the parties in parliament, paves the way for Sweden to announce a bid for NATO membership together with neighbouring Finland in the coming days.

Public and political support for joining the Western military alliance has surged in both countries following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. On Thursday, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and President Sauli Niinisto said they believed Finland should join NATO “without delay”, and a special executive committee is expected to announce Finland’s formal decision on Sunday.

In Sweden, the ruling Social Democratic Party is winding up an internal debate on the party’s long-held opposition to NATO membership, and is due to announce its stance on Sunday.

A green light from the party of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson would secure a firm parliamentary majority in favour of joining, and the Swedish government would then likely announce its membership bid on Monday or Tuesday.

Presenting the parliamentary report, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde stressed that Finland’s position would impact Sweden and “needed to be considered”.

“Swedish NATO membership would raise the threshold for military conflicts and thus have a deterrent effect in northern Europe,” the report said, listing several arguments in favour of joining.

It stopped short of offering a concrete recommendation on which path the country should choose, but noted that it was “not realistic to develop bilateral defence alliances outside existing European and Euro-Atlantic structures.”

It also noted that “within the framework of current cooperation, there is no guarantee that Sweden would be helped if it were the target of a serious threat or attack.”

Linde noted that both Finnish and Swedish memberships would be considered “negative” by Russia.

She told reporters Sweden did not anticipate a “conventional military attack” in reaction to a potential application, but acknowledged that the government has not ruled out “an armed assault against Sweden”.

The report also noted that “Russian provocation and retaliatory measures against Sweden cannot be ruled out during a transition period”, citing “cyberattacks and other forms of hybrid attacks”.

The review said that “Russia will be weakened militarily by its war of aggression against Ukraine for some time to come,” but said it would be able to “carry out limited acts of violence against Sweden, such as sabotage by Russian special forces units or operations using long-range weapons.”

While Sweden and Finland are expected to announce a joint NATO bid, Sweden has been less eager to upend its long-held policy of non-alignment.

The country has stayed out of military alliances since the end of the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s.

Moscow has repeatedly warned Stockholm and Helsinki of consequences if they were to join the alliance.

On Thursday, the Kremlin responded to Marin’s and Niinisto’s announcement by saying it would have to take “military-technical” steps if Finland joined the alliance.

Wary of Russia’s reaction, Finland and Sweden have already sought to obtain assurances of protection during the months necessary for their formal entry into the alliance, and a declaration of solidarity with the UK was announced by both countries on Wednesday.