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Will Sweden finally join Nato after Hungary approves membership bid?

A Nato flag flies at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels (REUTERS)
A Nato flag flies at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels (REUTERS)

Hungary’s parliament overwhelmingly ratified Sweden’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) on Monday (February 26), striking a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin's geopolitical standing.

The parliament voted 188 to 6 in favour of the resolution.

Nato is an intergovernmental military alliance established in 1949. Its founding members include the United States, Canada, and several European countries. Its primary purpose is to ensure the collective defence and security of its member states.

Sweden’s prime minister Ulf Kristersson travelled to Budapest on February 23 to discuss defence and security cooperation with his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban.

They agreed for Hungary to purchase four brand-new Gripen fighter aircraft manufactured in Sweden.

Turkey had previously given the green light for Sweden to join Nato after months of deliberation.

Sweden’s prime minister Ulf Kristersson travelled to Budapest on February 23 to discuss defence and security cooperation with his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban (AFP via Getty Images)
Sweden’s prime minister Ulf Kristersson travelled to Budapest on February 23 to discuss defence and security cooperation with his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban (AFP via Getty Images)

The Turkish parliament approved the application by 287 votes to 55 after more than four hours of debates on Tuesday, January 23.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the bill into law on January 26, ending 20 months of toing and froing since Sweden applied to join in 2022.

Here is a comprehensive look at Sweden’s Nato journey so far, including when it could join the alliance and the countries that have been hesitant about welcoming the nation.

When and why did Sweden’s journey to join Nato begin?

Sweden and Nato have had a close relationship over the decades, carrying out exercises together, cooperating in operations, and sharing information.

Sweden is one of the five EU countries not part of the alliance, along with Austria, Cyprus, Ireland and Malta. However, it has been a member of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) since 1994. This aims to build trust and cooperation between Nato and non-member countries in Europe and the former Soviet Union.

In 2022, after Russia invaded Ukraine, Sweden decided to change its stance on the matter and join the alliance. While most countries quickly ratified Sweden’s accession protocol, some were apprehensive about its membership bid.

AP reported that Sweden and Finland had already developed strong ties with Nato after the end of the Cold War. However, public opinion in both countries remained firmly against full membership until the war in Ukraine.

In 2022, after Russia invaded Ukraine, Sweden decided to change its stance on the matter and join the alliance (AP)
In 2022, after Russia invaded Ukraine, Sweden decided to change its stance on the matter and join the alliance (AP)

AP said nonalignment was seen as the best way to avoid tensions with Russia, their powerful neighbour in the Baltic Sea region. But when Russia waged war on Ukraine, showing a surge in support for Nato membership.

Russia has reacted negatively to Sweden and Finland’s decision, warning of unspecified countermeasures.

It said the move jeopardised the security situation in Northern Europe, which it said ”had previously been one of the most stable regions in the world”.

How long will it be before Sweden joins Nato?

Before any new country can join Nato, all member states need to ratify the request. Now that Turkey and Hungary have approved Sweden’s membership, the Nordic country is free to join.

Politico reported on February 26 that a flag-raising ceremony was expected at Nato headquarters in Brussels later this week. This is less than a year after fellow Nordic country Finland became the 31st country to join the alliance.

Why did some countries oppose Sweden’s bid?

Turkey was originally the main state unwilling to approve the request, saying that Quran burnings and Islamophobic protests in Sweden were unacceptable. In response, Sweden introduced an anti-terrorism law; promised to help update the EU-Turkey Customs Union and secure visa liberalisation; and support Turkey’s effort to restart EU membership negotiations.

On October 23, 2023, President Erdogan approved Sweden’s membership, sending it to the Turkish parliament for ratification.

Hungary had insisted that it would not approve Sweden’s request until Turkey had decided.