On Monday, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) eventually confirmed that Sweden and Finland would be joining the military alliance. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stre referred to it as “historic” in the truest sense of the term, emphasizing that the entire Nordic region will become stronger as a result.
“It’s important, positive, and great for Sweden, Norway, the Nordic region, and NATO that Sweden’s membership in the alliance has been clarified,” Stre stated on Tuesday morning on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “A united Nordic region within NATO will make the alliance stronger and the Nordics safer.”
Stre has long emphasized the significance of defense cooperation with Sweden, which ended its long history of neutrality shortly after the invasion of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin in February of last year. Norway shares a lengthy border with Sweden, as well as with Finland in the far north, and all three are eager to collaborate more closely on defense issues and operations.
After NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, himself a Norwegian, announced that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had finally dropped his objections to Sweden’s membership, such defense cooperation will eventually be possible.
After a breakthrough meeting on Monday, Erdagon terminated months of posturing and what the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv (DN) referred to as his “circus” that had become “a tragic farce.” Using the fact that all NATO members must approve any new members as leverage, Erdogan demanded a lengthy list of concessions from Sweden and, more recently, Turkey’s acceptance into the European Union (EU).
Erdogan was successful in some areas, such as counterterrorism, but not all. In a meeting with Stoltenberg and Kristersson just prior to the start of the NATO summit in Vilnius, he ultimately agreed with fellow allies to admit Sweden into NATO. Hungary, which had also delayed its acceptance of Sweden for various political motives, soon followed suit and withdrew its objections.
Stoltenberg could declare the expansion of NATO to 32 members now that the alleged attempts at “political extortion” have been eliminated and US President Joe Biden is waiting in the wings.
It was Stoltenberg’s most recent personal triumph as NATO’s popular leader, who just consented to remain in his position for another year. Stoltenberg also described the accession of Sweden as “a historic step that strengthens all NATO allies.”
Stre of Norway acknowledged a “huge sense of relief,” and Kristersson said he was “very happy that we shook hands.” The Swedish prime minister stated that it was a “good day for Sweden” and that he looks forward to the remainder of the summit.
Kristersson stated that he supported “closer cooperation” between Turkey and the EU, possibly in the form of “modernized customs unions” and also on visa issues. However, Turkey has a long way to go before fulfilling EU membership requirements.
Democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law have all suffered under Erdogan’s autocratic rule. Several EU leaders reacted negatively to Erdogan’s attempt to link his acceptance of Sweden as a NATO member to EU membership, stating that the two issues were wholly distinct.
Stre described Kristersson as a “relieved man” and added, “I believe the Swedes are also pleased.” As a response to Putin’s aggression against its neighboring Ukraine, a clear majority of them supported Sweden’s application to join NATO, as did a majority in Finland.
Many Norwegians, who share a northern border with Russia, will feel secure with the addition of Finland and Sweden to NATO. This week’s news from Vilnius was met with widespread relief and support, especially after Stoltenberg announced a so-called “fast track” for Ukraine’s entry into NATO once the conflict ends. Tuesday, Stre suggested diplomatically that Putin need only “change his policies” and presumably retreat.
Norway remains active in NATO operations along other Russian borders, and Stre visited Norwegian forces stationed at the Rukla base in Lithuania prior to the start of the NATO summit. Stre was accompanied by his defense minister, Bjrn Arild Gram of the Center Party, both of whom emphasize the significance of protecting and defending the eastern flank of NATO.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the border defenses of Lithuania’s neighbors Latvia and Estonia, which were all part of the Soviet Union before the end of the Cold War, have been significantly strengthened.
Before the NATO summit began, Stre’s government also announced that Norway will increase its military aid to Ukraine by NOK 2.5 billion, to a total of NOK 10 billion (nearly USD 1 billion) for this year alone.
In the meantime, Norway is reconstructing its own defense establishment, which deteriorated after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. For instance, the focus transferred from military infrastructure in Northern Norway (where Norway shares a border with Russia) to NATO-led international operations.
This included the now-criticized bombardment of Libya while Stoltenberg was still Norway’s prime minister, as well as the ill-fated operations in Afghanistan, which had to be abandoned when the Taliban retook power.
In light of Putin’s savagery in Ukraine, Norway is constructing new barracks at the Porsangmoen base and elsewhere in Northern Norway with the intention of doubling the number of soldiers stationed there. The newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that Putin has inadvertently sparked a construction surge in the region by redirecting billions of dollars into military improvements.