Sweden’s role in NATO
Speech by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, delivered at the Folk och Försvar Annual National Conference in Sälen on 8 January 2023.
Check against delivery.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highness, ladies and gentlemen, soldiers and sailors.
I will talk about Sweden’s role in NATO – but first a few words on the current situation:
Europe and Sweden are living in a new and perilous reality. We are facing the greatest tests of defence, foreign and security policy since the Second World War. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine brings about a dramatic and long-term worsened state of security, both in Europe and globally.
For Sweden, the war led to a political paradigm shift. From now on, our overall security policy will be coined by greater realism. NATO membership and a heavy rearmament of Swedish defence are an immediate consequence of this insight. The new policy will be coined by clear defence of Swedish national interests.
The war in Ukraine is being fought on two fronts – a Ukrainian war of defence against Russia’s aggression and occupation, and a Russian war of attrition against Ukraine’s will to defend itself, and not least against Western unity. Everything indicates that we should stand prepared for a protracted war. Russia’s strategic goals remain unchanged, as does Ukraine’s self-evident fight for its freedom. However, it is Ukraine that has the law on its side.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has led to the EU and NATO exhibiting unity, determination and solidarity that was not to be taken for granted. On the day before the invasion – February 23 – I was at Talludden in Helsinki and spoke to the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö. There was no war as yet, but we both saw the obvious risks, and that war could lead to division – in Europe and between Europe and the United States. War indeed broke out, but it is a tremendous sign of strength that Western democracies have stuck together so far. Not least, this is confirmation of the EU’s role in foreign policy. When the EU was truly put to the test, it passed.
Putin is said to live in the belief that time is on Russia’s side. Our main contribution to peace is to demonstrate by our actions that the time is, on the contrary, on Ukraine’s side. Sweden and our allies must continue to provide extensive financial and military support to Ukraine, continue to safeguard European and transatlantic cohesion and continue to increase pressure on Russia.
The day before yesterday I spoke once more with President Zelenskyy – as Prime Minister of Sweden, but this time also as the country of Presidency of the Council of the European Union. I stressed that we have a packed EU agenda, but also that no other task is more important to us than upholding unity, increasing support for Ukraine and mounting pressure on Russia. I also confirmed that the latest Swedish military support package – which was larger than the previous eight combined – will be followed by more, and forceful, packages in the near future.
Now to Sweden’s role in NATO.
The whole of NATO’s responsibility is also Sweden’s responsibility. We will be a long-term, loyal and committed member. Like Norway and Denmark in their time, Sweden is acceding to NATO without any formal conditions. We see however – as little as other Nordic countries – that having nuclear weapons on our own territory in peacetime is in the cards.
Besides, we take with us six strengths into NATO, which will form important building blocks in our membership.
The first strength is geographical. Sweden’s membership provides a 1,600-kilometre long stretch of airspace extending from the Arctic to the southern Baltic Sea. Sweden has the longest shoreline in the Baltic Sea and important North Sea ports. Sweden is the link connecting eastern NATO countries to the Atlantic. For the first time in 500 years, the Nordics will share the same defence geography, form part of the same defence alliance and gain strategic depth for joint military forces.
Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership strengthens the alliance and bolsters our common security. Thanks to Sweden’s naval resources and strong position in the air, we can take on great responsibility in the entire Baltic region.
The second strength is Sweden’s defence capabilities. Sweden is a high-tech country and we shall have high-tech defence. We have a strong air force based on a tried-and-tested and well-armed Gripen system. We have a highly advanced submarine fleet and sophisticated surveillance capabilities both above and at sea. We have an internationally renowned and technologically strong intelligence service – and we have internationally experienced special forces. The army is once more based on brigades that are equipped and drilled to fight with combination weapons.
Sweden is now rapidly strengthening its defence. Our defence expenditure will reach the NATO standard of 2 per cent of GDP by 2026. Quality and availability are on the rise. Air defence is being reinforced by the Patriot system. The armed forces have expert permanent staff – both military and civilian. We have first-rate conscripts, a qualified home guard and broad popular commitment in the voluntary defence organisations.
Civil defence will grow in line with military defence – both to enable protecting the civilian population and to support military defence. In my Government, I have therefore, for the first time, appointed a special minister with this very responsibility. For a long time I personally have been a strong supporter of broadened total defence service.
The third strength is our economy. The collective Nordic economy is, in terms of size, on a par with that of Russia – but is far more sophisticated. Our business sector is technologically advanced, with numerous global companies. We are an integral part of world trade. The Nordic region is ranked at the top in terms of free enterprise, capital formation, innovation and competitiveness. The industrial base is strong. Sweden has large companies, the largest port and the largest financial market in northern Europe. This is a strength that is directly linked to our defensive power.
The fourth strength is the Swedish defence industry. Continuing development of defence technology is needed to build stronger collective defence of the free world. The Swedish defence industry is a vital element of our commitment to NATO. New threats must be tackled with the development and application of new technologies. Through NATO membership, products developed in the business sector and in the Swedish defence industry in particular will bolster the entire defence alliance. Those working for Saab and other Swedish defence companies can be proud of what they do – let me be clear on that.
In the same way that Sweden depends on other countries, our competence, capabilities and – not least – our exports are important building blocks in the value chains that enable our partners and future allies to develop military capabilities. We will help to ensure that both the EU and NATO can jointly continue to build a cutting-edge defence industry to counter the threats of today and tomorrow.
The fifth strength is our values. Sweden and the Nordic countries are coined by strong libertarian and individualistic values. Freedom, justice and democracy are part of our DNA. We are prepared to defend these values together with NATO allies.
Another strong value is internationalism and commitment to peace, justice and global security. We have long demonstrated this through international military operations, but also through our commitment to universal freedoms and rights, aid and free trade. Sweden’s and NATO’s values are largely aligned.
Sweden has a longstanding tradition of a will to defend itself. This is also a strong value, and we have had our own fleet for half a millennium. The Swedish Air force was among the strongest in the world in the decades after the Second World War. Not so long ago we were able to mobilise 800,000 people. Once more, Sweden is now taking defence very seriously indeed.
The sixth strength is our national unity. Sweden’s NATO membership is very broadly supported in the Riksdag. The previous government built alliances with like-minded countries, particularly with Finland, the United States, the United Kingdom and France. After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the Social Democrats also assumed a pro-NATO position, led by my predecessor Magdalena Andersson. I value that unity. The ability to change position, and put the country first in a new situation, is commendable.
The new Government is now following through with this joint process. We do so with strong support in public opinion and with very strong support in the NATO community. 28 out of 30 countries have already made us members, and the most frequent question I get from other prime ministers at EU summits is: What can we do to help?
Sweden’s more detailed role in NATO will be determined by the forthcoming joint planning. As an ally, Sweden will – over time and with a 360-degree approach (as it is called in NATO speak) – take part in the alliance’s joint planning, exercises, operations and initiatives.
However, I would like to point out already at this stage a few concrete measures that are a natural consequence of Sweden’s membership and which I am sure also enjoy broad support:
- The first is that Sweden will join the 15-country joint missile defence initiative launched at the Meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence in October – the European Sky Shield Initiative. The war in Ukraine demonstrates the importance of having a modern air defence system to protect the civilian population and infrastructure. Sweden will contribute new capabilities, with our air force, our air defence system and with our sensors like the Global Eye. On land, at sea and in the air, we have a solid understanding of status in our neighbourhood.
- The second concerns Sweden’s intention, using Gripen aircraft, to assist with incident contingency for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, through NATO’s Baltic Air Policing. We are also prepared to assist in NATO’s Air Policing in the Black Sea and in Iceland. These are joint commitments for all members.
- The third is that Sweden – just like Norway and Denmark and a number of other NATO countries – stands prepared to provide ground combat units in NATO’s defence of the Baltic states in particular. Under the leadership of the UK, Canada, Germany and the United States, NATO reinforced the Baltic countries and Poland already in 2017. After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the same was done in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. This commitment demonstrates the determination of NATO as a whole to resist every instance of aggression. Sweden must also be part of this determination.
To put it in the clearest way in the context of international solidarity – an attack on one member is an attack on all of them. Or, to use another well-known saying – all for one and one for all.
To all of you now serving in the Swedish armed forces – civilian and military, conscripts and staff – thank you so much for everything you are doing.
I myself have one daughter serving as a conscript in Ledningsregementet in Enköping and one in Trängregementet in Skövde. Of course, like thousands of others, they are only doing their duty. Yet, what they – and all other soldiers and sailors – are actually and ultimately doing is defending the freedom of our country. This is tremendous, and we see the contribution you are making. Thank you.