Defence questions concerning Sweden and NATO


Information about what NATO membership may entail for Sweden regarding certain defence issues is provided here.

Questions about military defence

Sweden’s forthcoming NATO membership will improve security for both Sweden and NATO as a whole. As a NATO member, Sweden will be covered by the collective defence obligations set out under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. This will strengthen Sweden’s security and deter antagonistic actors from using military force against Sweden.

In its security policy report (Ds 2023:19), the Defence Commission concluded that an armed attack or use of military force against Sweden could not be ruled out. The antagonistic threat scenario facing Sweden is broad and becoming increasingly complex due to deceptive influence activities, disinformation, influence operations, cyberattacks, terrorism and sabotage, threats to critical infrastructure and exploitation of economic dependence. 

The Defence Commission’s report: The Swedish Defence Commission's report on security policy, 2023

The Defence Commission’s mandate is to present its assessment of international developments and related consequences for Swedish defence and security policy. Part of this is to assess the consequences of Sweden’s NATO membership and associated priorities for Sweden. In its first interim report, the Defence Commission presents its assessment of international security developments and the associated consequences for Sweden’s defence and security policy. The Commission also assessed the consequences and priorities associated with Swedish NATO membership.

More about the Defence Commission: The Swedish Defence Commission

The Defence Commission's security policy report: The Swedish Defence Commission's report on security policy, 2023

NATO has collective defence plans in place for the Alliance and carries out collective defence planning. The aim of this planning is to minimise the time between the outset of a crisis and the start of an intervention. As a member, Sweden will be included in NATO defence planning and take part in NATO’s collective defence of the Allies’ territory and security. This means that Sweden will be part of and contribute to the NATO forces and leadership structures. NATO also carries out joint capability planning. Through the capability planning process, NATO identifies the military capabilities that the Alliance and the individual Allies need in order to carry out their tasks and to maintain NATO’s collective defence.

In 2014, NATO endorsed the Defence Investment Pledge, which calls for Allies to meet the two per cent of GDP spending guideline and devote at least 20 per cent of annual defence expenditure to major new equipment by 2024. At the Vilnius Summit on 11–12 July 2023, the Allies agreed to make the two per cent target a minimum level so as to address the deteriorating security situation and meet the commitments and obligations of NATO membership. 

NATO’s definition of defence expenditure includes some items that Sweden has not previously defined as defence expenditure. These are items such as value-added tax for defence materiel and pensions for military personnel. To enable a more representative comparison of Swedish defence expenditure in a NATO context, Sweden has decided to adjust a number of items in its reporting of defence expenditure to NATO. The Government has also decided that the Swedish Armed Forces will present revised budget documentation ahead of the upcoming Defence Resolution that will be based on a financial planning framework, which will entail an increase of defence expenditure by approximately SEK 20 billion for 2024 in comparison with the appropriation for 2023. This means that Sweden’s total defence expenditure according to NATO’s definition will reach an estimated two per cent of GDP in 2024.  

There is broad political consensus in Sweden that the appropriations for military defence, i.e. appropriations 1:1–1:13 of expenditure area 6, should continue to increase and reach two per cent of GDP as soon as practically possible. This is exemplified by the political agreement between all parties in the Riksdag on 16 March 2022 and by the Defence Commission Review in 2023 (Ds 2023:12). 

The Government’s approach is to successively increase military defence appropriations to reach two per cent of GDP by 2028 and then remain at that level over time. This approach means that Sweden’s total defence expenditure according to the broader NATO definition will be slightly more than two per cent of GDP. 

More information about defence expenditure according to NATO’s definition and what this may entail for Sweden is provided in the Defence Commission Review in 2023: Defence Commission Review 2023 (in Swedish)

With NATO membership, Sweden’s defence capability will become part of NATO’s collective defence of the entire Alliance. Sweden’s forthcoming contribution to NATO will enhance the Alliance’s overall defence capability. As a member, Sweden will participate extensively in NATO activities, operations and interventions within the framework of NATO’s measures for deterrence and defence of the entire Alliance in accordance with its 360-degree perspective. Ways in which Sweden can contribute to NATO include:

  • Sweden’s geostrategic position, which is vital for enabling reinforcements to reach Europe from North America.
  • Sweden’s capability of supporting other Allies (including through Host Nation Support), which is essential for the Alliance’s ability to operate in our part of Europe. Sweden is expected to be able to provide access to Swedish territory, for example by serving as a staging and base area for allied ground, sea and air combat forces, and providing supply and transit areas for Allied forces.
  • The Swedish Armed Forces will be a major asset to NATO. Sweden can contribute regional expertise and military resources suited to Nordic conditions. For example, Sweden has a unique capability of operating with navy forces in the demanding and unique environment of the Baltic Sea region.
  • Specific Swedish contributions may include support to NATO Air Policing, NATO’s Standing Naval Forces, NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence and within the framework of the 360-degree perspective on deterrence and defence.
  • Sweden can offer Allies exercise and training opportunities for ground, naval and air units on Swedish territory. Exercises improve interoperability within the Alliance and thus the ability to collectively defend Sweden.

Since the 1990s, the Swedish Armed Forces have enhanced their capability to cooperate with NATO. This has taken place, for example, through joint exercises and training, and Swedish participation in NATO-led international operations. Since the 2022 Madrid Summit, when Sweden was granted Invitee status, the Swedish Armed Forces have made preparations to be ready for NATO membership through various types of analysis in close collaboration with the Government Offices. This preparatory work concerns Sweden’s future participation in NATO’s deterrence and defence, and forthcoming staffing of NATO military structures at different levels.

The Swedish Armed Forces have also made concrete preparations for military integration into NATO. These include administrative preparations, recruitments and reinforcements, development of increased interoperability with NATO and allied forces, and initial investments in command and control systems.

Sweden is also in an ongoing dialogue with NATO on its future contributions to the Alliance’s new forces structure. On 8 June 2023, the Government gave the Swedish Armed Forces the mandate to make preparations with NATO and NATO member countries to enable future joint operations. The aim is to have a deterrent effect in the neighbourhood and strengthen the defence of Sweden. This decision allows temporary deployment of foreign equipment and personnel on Swedish territory. 

More about the government decision: Additional steps for Sweden's integration into NATO (in Swedish)

NATO does not have its own military forces. Each member country decides over its own defence resources and military forces. The Allies decide for themselves which resources and units can be made available to NATO. The Alliance’s collective defence is based on military forces from individual member countries being placed under NATO’s command. NATO has a joint command structure, planning resources and means of communication that enable swift action when the situation requires it. Thanks to NATO’s permanent command structure, the Alliance has capability and resources to plan and lead demanding territorial defence and crisis management operations. These are resources and capabilities that the UN and the EU do not have to the same extent.

NATO is a defence alliance based on collective defence obligations. As a member, Sweden will be covered by the collective defence obligations set out under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. This means that an armed attack against Sweden would be considered an attack against all NATO members. The other members would then be obliged to assist Sweden with the measures deemed necessary. This strengthens Sweden’s security. 

Just as other Allies would be obliged to support Sweden, so too would Sweden be obliged to consider an armed attack against another member an attack against Sweden, and assist Allies with the measures deemed necessary. 

The North Atlantic Treaty is included in Swedish and English in the NATO bill: Sweden's NATO membership, Bill 2022/23:74

NATO is a defence alliance based on collective defence guarantees, which means that Swedish personnel may take part in defence operations beyond Sweden’s borders, just as personnel from other Allies may need to take part in operations to defend Sweden.

If Sweden is at war or at risk of war, Swedish citizens who have completed basic training in national military service and are assigned to wartime postings will be called to serve in accordance with the Total Defence Service Act. This applies whether Sweden is a NATO member or not.

The extent to which conscripts are obliged to serve, including beyond Sweden’s borders, is a matter that will be analysed more closely in light of Sweden’s NATO membership. 

NATO does not own any nuclear weapons. Three Allies (the US, the UK and France) have nuclear weapons and those are national assets. According to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), only the five recognised nuclear-weapon states – the US, the UK, France, China and Russia – are allowed to have nuclear weapons.

The NPT is an international treaty that entered into force in 1970. It is a cornerstone of the multilateral framework for global disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. 

More about the NPT: Disarmament, non-proliferation and arms export control (in Swedish)

As indicated earlier, the Government does not find any reason to have nuclear weapons on Swedish territory in peacetime. It is up to each individual Ally to determine whether to allow deployment or storage of nuclear weapons on its territory. Any potential deployments take place following national decisions and in agreement with individual Allies.

Sweden’s commitment to disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons will continue as a NATO member. NATO as an organisation has the stated objective of working to create conditions for a world that is free of nuclear weapons and is strongly committed to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. 

All Allies are party to the NPT and several Allies work actively for disarmament and non-proliferation. Sweden will continue to work for nuclear disarmament within the framework of the NPT, which is the cornerstone of global disarmament and non-proliferation efforts and the only treaty under which the five recognised nuclear-weapon states have committed to get rid of their nuclear weapons. 

More about NATO’s nuclear weapons policy: NATO’s nuclear deterrence policy and forces

More about disarmament, non-proliferation and arms export controls: Disarmament, non-proliferation and arms export control (in Swedish)

NATO is a defensive Alliance whose foremost tasks are collective defence and preservation of the peace and security of its member countries. NATO’s measures for deterrence and defence aim to prevent war and thus build peace. 

NATO promotes democratic values and encourages consultation and cooperation on defence and security issues between Allies and NATO partner countries. This cooperation aims to build trust and, by extension, prevent conflicts. Through the North Atlantic Treaty, the Allies have committed to resolve international disputes peacefully in accordance with the UN Charter and, in their international relations, refrain from threats and use of violence in any way that is inconsistent with the purposes of the UN. The Allies must also contribute to the continued development of peaceful and friendly international relations.  

In addition to the traditional duty to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Allies, NATO’s activities now comprise several different areas. Together with its many partner countries, the Alliance participates in international crisis management. NATO also works on Defence Capacity and Defence Institution Building in many partner countries. This may involve support for reforms in the security sector, military medical training and Counter-Improvised Explosive Device training (C-IED). The Allies have also committed to strengthen national and collective resilience.

Sweden has cooperated with NATO for decades and participated in many NATO exercises, NATO-led operations and capacity-building missions beyond NATO territory. Sweden has contributed peacekeeping forces in the framework of the NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) in Kosovo, the NATO-led peacekeeping Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan under NATO leadership and Operation Unified Protector in Libya. Sweden also contributes to the NATO Mission Iraq (NMI), a capacity-building mission aimed at strengthening Iraqi security institutions and Iraqi defence forces’ possibilities to stabilise the country, combat terrorism and prevent the return of the Islamic State. Sweden also contributes to NATO’s Comprehensive Assistance Package (CAP) to Ukraine, which aims to strengthen the resilience of Ukraine’s armed forces, facilitate the defence reform process and bring Ukraine closer to NATO standards.

With Sweden and Finland as NATO members, NORDEFCO will become a cooperation among Allies. This creates conditions for even deeper and closer Nordic defence and security cooperation, which may include joint operations planning and operations in peace, crisis and war.

The Baltic Sea region and the Cap of the North are part of a single defence and security policy context. Finland’s NATO membership and Sweden’s forthcoming membership change the military-strategic situation in northern Europe.

Swedish and Finnish territory become part of the Alliance’s collective defence solution within the framework of both national operations planning and NATO’s collective operations planning.

The parties to the North Atlantic Treaty are obliged to contribute to each other’s security. This also affects Allies’ defence and security relations in cooperation formats outside NATO, such as NORDEFCO.

Bilateral and multilateral agreements and preparations among Allies complement NATO obligations and are often a prerequisite for a single member country or NATO as a whole to be able to benefit from its capabilities and conduct operations in peace, crisis and war. Established bilateral and multilateral forms of defence cooperation can complement NATO, particularly at the onset of a crisis or conflict. NORDEFCO and the UK-led rapid-reaction JEF are examples of cooperation distinguished by a regional focus and their increasingly operational nature.

More about NORDEFCO: Nordic Defence Cooperation

Questions about civil defence and NATO’s work on resilience, civil preparedness and crisis management

Within NATO, issues concerning resilience and civil preparedness are a national responsibility but at the same time considered a collective commitment. This focuses on three core functions:

  • continuity of government and critical government services, 
  • essential services to the population, and
  • civil support to the military. 

Resilience and civil preparedness are rooted in Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Article 3 gives NATO the tools to carry out its core tasks – particularly collective defence. Each individual Ally’s measures to maintain and strengthen national resilience reduce the vulnerability of the Alliance as a whole and raise the threshold for a potential attack. 

In NATO, this means the measures that Allies take to strengthen and build up their resilience. There is no generally accepted Swedish definition, but resilience means society’s basic robustness, strength and adaptability.

The North Atlantic Treaty is included in Swedish and English in the NATO bill: Sweden's NATO membership, Bill 2022/23:74

Based on the three core functions of civil preparedness, NATO has identified seven Baseline Requirements for national resilience that will contribute to maintaining the Alliance’s collective defence capability and meeting threats that challenge the collective security:

  1. assured continuity of government and critical government services;
  2. resilient energy supplies;
  3. ability to deal effectively with the uncontrolled movement of people;
  4. resilient food and water resources;
  5. ability to deal with mass casualties and disruptive health crises;
  6. resilient civil communications systems; and
  7. resilient transport systems.

As a previous partner country and current Invitee, Sweden already takes part in NATO’s work to strengthen societal resilience. Membership will provide further possibilities for international cooperation on efforts to develop civil defence and national crisis preparedness. The seven Baseline Requirements for national resilience identified by NATO are dealt with in the framework of the Swedish structure for civil defence and the government agencies’ various areas responsibility Several Swedish government agencies have taken part in the work coordinated by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency for many years.

The Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) is NATO’s principal civil emergency response mechanism in the event of civil emergencies. The EADRCC plays a facilitating role in coordinating offers of support and requests for assistance between NATO Allies and partner countries. This means that Sweden can both provide and receive support via NATO in the event of an emergency.

Since March 2020, the EADRCC has coordinated requests for and offers of international assistance from NATO Allies and partner countries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The EADRCC has helped to facilitate the transfer of medical necessities to countries that have requested assistance. The mechanism was also used in connection with the earthquakes in Türkiye in February 2023.

The EADRCC’s tasks are carried out in close cooperation with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), which retains the primary role in the coordination of international disaster relief operations. The EADRCC aims to function as a regional coordinating mechanism that supports and complements UN and EU operations.

Read more about the EADRCC: Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre

Legal questions

NATO membership means that Sweden becomes party to the North Atlantic Treaty. As a member, Sweden will also be expected to enter into additional agreements within NATO concerning military operations. These involve, for example, the legal status of certain categories of personnel and protective security. These agreements will be analysed from a legal perspective prior to Sweden becoming a NATO member. An Inquiry Chair has been tasked with reviewing certain legal issues ahead of Sweden’s membership and represents the Government Offices (Ministry of Defence) in this analysis. The Inquiry is being carried out internally in the Ministry of Defence with the designation Fö2022:A. The Inquiry Chair’s mandate is described in greater detail in a memorandum. In an initial phase, the Inquiry Chair has analysed which potential constitutional amendments may be required for Sweden to accede to the aforementioned agreements as is expected of NATO members. These agreements concern various aspects of the defence cooperation. In a second phase, the Inquiry Chair will examine which constitutional amendments NATO membership should necessitate to enable Sweden to take part effectively in the Alliance and receive appropriate support from NATO and its member countries. This part of the Inquiry findings will be presented in December 2023.

More about the mandate: Inquiry with instructions to review certain legal issues ahead of NATO membership (in Swedish)

The referred memorandum: Sweden's accession to certain NATO agreements (in Swedish)

The activities of government agencies in NATO will be governed by framework instructions. The framework instructions will apply for the work of relevant government agencies in NATO committees and working groups, and their appointments to certain positions and secondments within NATO structures once Sweden becomes a member of the Alliance.

The framework instructions set out guidelines for Sweden’s work in NATO committees and working groups as a NATO member. These instructions also specify principles for division of responsibilities, working methods and appointments to certain positions and secondments. Moreover, the instructions include a special mandate for the Swedish Armed Forces to negotiate and conclude necessary agreements and appoint staff to military posts in NATO’s strategic headquarters, personnel and agencies.