Skip to content

From partner to ally - The Swedish NATO accession and Sweden’s new space diplomacy


Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström’s during his visit to Texas 13–15 May 2024.

Check against delivery.

It is a great honor to be here today at World Affairs Council of Greater Houston. It was after all here in Houston that President Kennedy held his famous “We choose to go to the Moon speech” in 1962. 

The exploration of outer space has since continued and today we are entering a new space age. And that is why I am here today as a representative of a space nation with a vibrant space industry, developing capability to launch satellites into space, and a commitment to international cooperation on space activities and space security. 

Since the 7th of March, Sweden is a NATO ally. This is a paradigm shift in Swedish foreign and security policy. For more than two hundred years, Sweden had a policy of military non-alignment. 

Sweden is safer in NATO - but NATO is also stronger with Sweden as an Ally. Unity, solidarity, and cohesion are the guiding lights for Sweden as a NATO member. 

That means that we will share burdens, responsibilities, and risks. Sweden’s defence spending exceeds two per cent of GDP this year, with an upwards trajectory. 

But Sweden is also one of the allies that will be able to contribute with quality in all five domains of NATO operations: in the traditional land, maritime and air domains, but also in cyber - and in space. 

Sweden has joined NATO at a time when emerging technologies lie at the core of geopolitical competition and play an important role in the defence of Ukraine. We bring a strong and innovative industry in defence as well as in dual-use sectors - often working in close transatlantic partnerships - and will contribute to maintaining NATO’s technological edge.

One of the areas where we contribute with expertise and knowledge is space. That is the purpose of my visit to Houston and Texas. I want to elaborate on Sweden’s new space diplomacy and how this will contribute to our shared prosperity and security.

Sweden has a long history in space exploration, starting when the construction of the Esrange Space Center in the North of Sweden began in 1964. The center has developed at a rapid pace in recent years. 

Last year, a new chapter opened with the inauguration of a new orbital launch pad at the site. With this addition, France and Sweden are the only European Union members with a capacity to launch satellites, with Esrange as the only location within continental European Union. The capability to launch satellites will reinforce the status of Esrange Space Centre as a strategic asset for Sweden and it will also contribute to more resilient access to space for our allies and partners in NATO and the European Union. 

As you may know, Sweden is a space-faring nation. A few months ago, Swedish astronaut, Marcus Wandt returned from the International Space Station as part of the Axiom 3 mission. He became the third Swede in space, after Jessica Meir – with dual American-Swedish citizenship – and Christer Fuglesang. Sweden should not take credit for your trips to the moon, but I still would like to mention that the Swedish ancestry of Buzz Aldrin – the second man on the moon - was much highlighted in Sweden in 1969.

The development of Esrange Space Center and the participation of Swedish astronauts in international missions are the results of the strong Swedish space industrial and scientific base, which contributes to numerous missions, including by providing instruments for planetary research. 

I will share my views on the opportunities and challenges we face, how Sweden can contribute to the joint exploration of space and to promote security, safety and sustainability in space. I will also outline the Swedish space diplomacy agenda to achieve these goals. 

Space exploration was shaped – and to some extent driven – by geopolitical competition from the outset. It was a competition for strategic military advantages, but also a competition between ideologies.

With the increasing exploration of space came the realization that we needed common rules for safeguarding the peaceful use of outer space, and in 1967 the international community agreed on the Outer Space Treaty. The space-related treaties - developed at the height of the Cold War - set out that all activities in outer space must be in accordance with international law, including the UN Charter. These treaties remain the cornerstones of international space law. 

Today, geopolitical tension is on the rise and the technological development and lower costs allow for new states and private actors to acquire space capabilities. Space has become increasingly congested and contested while modern societies have become more dependent on space services, and therefore more vulnerable. 

We see that China, one of the leading space nations, prioritizes military space capabilities and utilizing its national strategy of civil-military fusion.

And we see that various actors develop and use counterspace capabilities in a manner that could threaten access to space for everyone. In November 2021 Russia conducted an anti-satellite weapon test which generated thousands of pieces of debris. This was a clear act of irresponsible behavior in outer space, resulting in long-lasting risks for space activities, including for the safety and security of astronauts at the International Space Station. Such irresponsible behavior also increases the risk of the so-called Kessler effect, with cascading collisions between space objects, that could render critical orbits unusable for generations to come. 

Against this background, it is important to reiterate that the Outer Space Treaty constitutes the bedrock for responsible behavior in space and that it is in the interest of all states that the key arms control provisions in the treaty be adhered to.

The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is a major threat to European and transatlantic security. While parts of this brutal war remind us of tactics from the First and Second World War, it has also shown the critical role of space assets in modern and future warfare. Since the start of the full invasion of Ukraine, we have seen the emergence of a coalition of actors – both public and private - who support Ukraine with space-related services. These services are critical for Ukraine’s defence efforts and for its civil defense, including satellite imagery and satellite-based communications solutions.

On 24th February 2022 Russia conducted a cyber-attack against the KA-SAT satellite communications network, ahead of the Russian full-scale attack against Ukraine. We have also seen more frequent incidents of GPS jamming in Northern Europe. Both have affected civilian users in several European Union and NATO Member States. 

Sweden and the European Union have condemned such behavior which threatens our security and our access to space. Together with our Allies and partners we are committed to defend ourselves. NATO’s Space Policy, adopted in 2019, recognizes Space as an operational domain. And at the 2021 Brussels Summit, NATO recognized that attacks to, from, or within space could reach the level of armed attack and could lead the North Atlantic Council to invoke Article 5.

In this new context, we need to address multiple challenges: 

We need international cooperation to meet the challenge of space debris - one of the largest threats to our space environment. 

We need to agree on norms, rules, and principles for responsible behavior in space. With more actors and congestion in space, the risks for misunderstandings and incidents are growing. A conflict extending into space could have catastrophic consequences for the space environment, and thereby on earth. 

We also need to increase the resilience of our own space infrastructure and our capability to detect and respond to threats in the space domain.  

Sweden intends to play a constructive and active role in addressing these challenges. Our security and our prosperity depend on access to space services, on a vibrant space industry and on international cooperation with strategic partners. I would therefore like to outline our agenda for space diplomacy in this new age of space exploration and exploitation. 

First, we will ensure that the full potential of our national assets – the Esrange Space Centre, our space industry, and our research community – contribute to our national interests, to fostering strategic partnerships and to advancing global efforts to ensure sustainable use of space. The Esrange Space Center contributes to our own research, innovation, and security, and those of our partners. Swedish access to space through this strategic resource will be a priority, that will also benefit our Allies and partners within the European Union and NATO.

Second, we will deepen and develop space cooperation with strategic partners. We will promote international cooperation of our space industry, including in areas such as the green and digital transition, a priority of the Swedish Government´s “Strategy for Trade, Investment and Global Competitiveness”.  

The United States is the leading space nation and is also a strategic Ally and partner for Sweden. A strong transatlantic link is therefore critical for our security and conducive to promoting space exploration, not the least considering our NATO membership. Sweden is committed to participating in the continued peaceful exploration of outer space together with the United States. I am therefore pleased that Sweden, on 16th of April, became a signatory to the US-led Artemis Accords. 

Cooperation with the European Union, the European Space Agency (ESA) and partners in these organizations will intensify. Sweden will actively contribute to the implementation of the European Union’s Space strategy for security and defense, a strategy recognizing the strategic importance of space and underlining the need for strengthened cooperation with partners, not least the U.S. 

As a NATO member, Sweden will contribute to Allied capabilities in the space domain and will promote closer cooperation between the EU and NATO on space security. The strategic dialogue with Nordic partners will continue, in particular with Norway, to develop a strong space ecosystem in Northern Europe. New and ambitious partnerships with strategic partners from Asia will be explored. 

Third, a rules-based international order in space is essential. Sweden is strongly committed to strengthening international security in outer space, preventing an arms race, and safeguarding the long-term use of space for peaceful purposes. 

We continue to work with partners to reduce space threats and promote a responsible use of space, both in multilateral settings and bilaterally. 

Sweden supports the efforts in the UN disarmament forums to advance norms, rules and principles of responsible behavior while not excluding a future new legally binding agreement in outer space. 

In the UN Committee on the Peaceful uses of Outer space (COPUOS), we will contribute constructively to ensuring the long-term sustainability of space activities - a prerequisite for us and future generations to reap the benefits from space activities. 

As all member states of the European Union, Sweden has made a commitment not to conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles tests. We commend the leadership shown by U.S. for initiating this process in 2022 by making a unilateral commitment not to conduct such tests. It is this kind of gradual steps that can contribute to progressively building a stronger rules-based order and reducing space threats. 

To address new challenges, the Swedish government is developing a National Defense and Security Strategy for Space. The strategy will enhance the incorporation of defense and security policy interests into our national space policies and address the new geostrategic landscape. An ambitious Swedish space diplomacy will be a critical instrument to achieve these goals. 

The Swedish Armed Forces are developing new capabilities in the space domain. This is done in close cooperation with our Allies and partners. This will contribute to NATO’s space capabilities.  

Our efforts to advance our capabilities in space is further supported by a long tradition of dual use R&D collaboration between the space industry and the private aviation industry. The new strategy for defense innovation will take dual use collaborations between defense, space, and private sector even further. Sweden is also part of DIANA, the NATO accelerator program for dual use technology innovation.

Advancements in space technology have saved and improved lives by increasing our understanding of climate change, through better response to natural disasters and through contributions to development and inclusive economic growth. 

We remain committed to working together with the United States and other Allies and partners to strengthen the security of our space infrastructure and on the further exploration of outer space. 

We also remain committed to contributing to the work to advance norms and rules for responsible behavior in space that reflect technological and political developments. This will ensure that future generations will be able to benefit from space. 

Thank you.