NATO’s civilian leader came close to offering Sweden a security guarantee if Stockholm decides to apply for membership in the bloc – even before it’s formally accepted – with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg vowing new military deployments to the Baltic Sea during the application period.
Sweden and its neighbor Finland have both considered NATO membership since Russia invaded Ukraine. However, the two countries have expressed concern that their applications could provoke a strong response from Moscow, as it could take more than a year before all member states greenlight their request. Leaders in both capitals fear the Kremlin could launch an attack in that time, before they receive the mutual defense pact promised to all members.
To alleviate the concerns, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said Wednesday that Stockholm had received assurances from the US that it would get security support during their NATO application period.
“Naturally, I’m not going to go into any details, but I feel very sure that now we have an American assurance,” she said following a sit-down with her American counterpart Antony Blinken, though noted no “concrete security guarantees” were given, as those are reserved for “full” NATO members only.
Stoltenberg took the promise a step further on Thursday, however, saying that “From the potential moment Sweden is applying, and NATO says that they want Sweden to join, there is a very strong obligation from NATO to be able to guarantee Sweden’s security.” He added that forces would be quickly deployed to the Baltic Sea region, which encompasses NATO members Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania as well as Finland and Sweden.
Moscow has warned that it would react sharply if the two Nordic states are admitted into the alliance, even suggesting new nuclear deployments to the region in retaliation.
“There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored,” Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and an ex-president and PM, said in April.