Joining NATO Sweden’s ‘top priority,’ defense chief declares

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson speaks to The Yomiuri Shimbun in Berlin on Dec. 1.

BERLIN — As Sweden seeks to join NATO, the Scandinavian nation will increase its defense spending to 2% of its gross domestic product earlier than planned, taking into consideration the alliance’s guideline, according to Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson.

The 2% target is being moved up two years to 2026, Jonson said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun in the German capital during the Berlin Security Conference.

He also expressed Sweden’s willingness to send troops to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s multinational battle groups deployed in Eastern Europe in its defense posture against Russia, should the previously nonaligned country become a NATO member.

“We think we have assets and capabilities that make NATO stronger,” Jonson said.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden reversed its 200-year-old nonalignment defense policy and applied for NATO membership in May along with Finland. The accession process requires ratification by all 30 current member states. As of Dec. 1, 28 have done so, with Hungary and Turkey the exceptions.

Jonson said becoming a “full-fledged” NATO member is the “top priority right now” for Sweden’s new administration formed after elections in September.

The 50-year-old defense minister said NATO’s principle of collective defense, which considers an attack against one ally as an attack against all allies, is “absolutely necessary.”

“We are very much aware that Russia is willing to take bigger political and military risks than many thought were likely before,” Jonson said. “And it has a low threshold for the use of military force. Thus, we need to be part of NATO as an ally.”

Jonson clearly stated, however, that neither foreign troops nor nuclear weapons will be deployed to Sweden even after joining NATO.

“We don’t see any need for doing that,” he said.

Sweden’s previous administration had aimed to achieve the 2% of GDP defense spending target by 2028.

“We pushed that to 2026 because this is a matter of cohesion within the alliance and for solidarity within the alliance,” Jonson said.

NATO calls for its members to reach the 2% guideline by 2024.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Sweden’s defense spending in 2021 was about $7.9 billion, or 1.3% of its GDP.

As for China’s continued hegemonic behavior, Jonson pointed to Beijing’s increased foreign direct investment into critical infrastructure in Europe and activities in the Arctic. The Swedish government has already banned the use of 5G network products by major Chinese producers.

“China is a factor also for European security,” Jonson said.

NATO, in its June 2021 Brussels Summit Communique, said that “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security.”

Jonson concurred, saying, “We are very much in line with the NATO policy.”