Pentagon chief: Sweden in NATO would make alliance better at defending itself

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is shown in a Sept. 29, 2021, file photo.

Should Sweden join NATO, the addition would make the alliance “better at defending ourselves,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday 

“Our two militaries routinely exercise together. Your capabilities are modern, relevant and significant. And your addition to the alliance will make us all better at defending ourselves… that’s especially important at this crucial time,” Austin said ahead of a meeting with his counterpart, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, at the Pentagon. 

Sweden along with fellow Nordic country Finland this week formally applied to join the 30-member organization following Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine in late February.  

Created in the aftermath of World War II, NATO has become a focal point of international discussion since the Kremlin’s invasion, as the conflict has threatened to spill over into countries near Russia’s and Ukraine’s borders.  

Article 5 of the NATO treaty states that an attack on one member will be interpreted as an attack on all members, providing some protection for neighboring nations of Ukraine such as Poland. 

Since the war began, Russian jets have violated Swedish and Finnish airspace, prompting the two countries to seek the backing and protection of the alliance.  

The two new bids have garnered the full support of the Biden administration, with top national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday saying the U.S. is “confident” that Sweden and Finland will have a successful NATO ascension.  

“Unanimously, President Biden’s national security team emphatically supported the entry of Finland and Sweden into the NATO alliance on the grounds that they have already proven themselves as highly capable security partners … they give a heck of a lot more than they take when it comes to a security partnership or an alliance,” Sullivan told reporters at The White House. 

Austin reiterated that message at the Pentagon and praised Stockholm for its support of Kyiv since the war started.  

“Sweden has joined the United States and our allies and partners in rushing urgently needed security assistance and humanitarian aid to the brave people of Ukraine,” Austin said. “And your leadership has helped bring renewed resolve and resolve to the Swedish defense and security establishment.” 

Hultqvist, meanwhile, said though the U.S. and Swedish militaries have worked together in the past, Russia’s invasion has caused things to change.  

Moscow “seeks to change the European and global security order,” and its attack on Ukraine “constitutes a structural, long-term threat to European security,” he said.  

“This is a time when the democracies of Europe and North America must stand together against Russia’s naked aggression,” Hultqvist added. 

President Biden is set to welcome the president of Finland and the prime minister of Sweden at the White House on Thursday to “coordinate on the path forward” to the two countries joining NATO. 

Though Article 5 protections do not kick in until a country officially becomes a member of NATO, Sullivan said the U.S. and its allies “will not tolerate an aggression” toward Finland and Sweden during that process.   

“The United States is prepared to send a very clear message, as are all of our European allies, that we will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden during this process. And there are practical measures that we can take along those lines that Secretary Austin will coordinate with his counterparts of Finland and Sweden,” Sullivan said. 

Asked about what that would entail, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby could not offer details but said the U.S. military would be happy to have a discussion with Sweden and Finland “about security and capability needs that they might have to help assure them and to deter Russia shall that be necessary,” during the NATO application process.

Tags Jake Sullivan Joe Biden Lloyd Austin

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