SINGAPORE — Sweden has been enjoying peace for over 200 years but the war in Ukraine has shocked the Nordic country into reassessing its long-term security, said the Swedish ambassador to Singapore, Kent Härstedt.
In a recent interview with Yahoo News Singapore, Härstedt said that the Ukraine conflict has rattled the confidence of Swedes in Europe’s geopolitical future. Consequently, the overwhelming majority of Swedes support their country’s application to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), according to Härstedt.
“People were worried about safety, their well-being, so I think that (the Ukraine conflict) has changed the people's mindset and made them concerned about war and peace,” the 57-year-old diplomat added.
The last time that Sweden fought a war was in 1814 after neighbouring Norway declared its independence. The two countries subsequently fought a brief war and signed a ceasefire agreement on 14 August 1814, ushering in the unprecedented long period of peace for Sweden.
The developments in Ukraine since 24 February – the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbour – were received with “shock and great regret” and galvanised Swedish political parties due to the long-term deterioration of the security environment in Europe, said Härstedt, who had previously served as a Swedish Member of Parliament and on the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees for about two decades.
Six out of eight political parties in Sweden have expressed support for NATO membership while a Swedish parliamentary committee has presented a report on how the Nordic country should respond to the Ukraine war, according to the ambassador.
“One other thing that is important for us is the Finnish decision to apply for membership in NATO. That also has an impact on us,” Härstedt said.
The applications by Finland and Sweden on 18 May to join NATO are awaiting approval, and must be unanimously approved by all 30 NATO members before the Nordic countries can join the alliance.
In a separate interview with Yahoo News Singapore, Finland’s ambassador to Singapore Antti Vänskä also said Russia’s “blatant” invasion of Ukraine had caused a “very profound change” in his country’s security assessment and fuelled its desire to join NATO.
When asked what Sweden would bring to the alliance, Härstedt pointed out that the country is modern and democratic, and has a technologically driven conscription system that deploys fewer military personnel than in the past.
Sweden had military conscription for over 100 years until it abolished the system in 2010. It reactivated conscription in 2017 in response to emerging threats to national security.
In a parallel development in recent years, Sweden moved away from a policy of neutrality that was in effect from 1814 until 2009, and has signed various defence treaties with a number of European Union and other Nordic countries.
The applications by Sweden and Finland to join NATO are objected by Turkey, who accuses them of harbouring individuals whom it claims to be “terrorists”, including those from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Härstedt said Stockholm and Ankara are having a dialogue about the issue and declined to reveal further details, but he hoped that the situation would be resolved soon.
Meanwhile, Russia has been sending mixed signals about the possible inclusion of Sweden and Finland in NATO. Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to have softened his opposition on the issue but warned last month that "expansion of military infrastructure into this territory will certainly cause our response”.
When asked about Russia’s ambivalent stance, Härstedt said, “We are an independent country, and we make choices that are best for our country. Collective security guarantee is something that would serve us well in this situation.”
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