BUDAPEST/STOCKHOLM: Hungary’s parliament approved Sweden’s Nato accession on Monday, clearing the last hurdle before the historic step by the Nordic country whose neutrality lasted through two world wars and the simmering conflict of the Cold War.

Hungary’s vote ended months of delays to complete Sweden’s security policy shift and followed a visit by Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Friday during which the two countries signed an arms deal.

“Today is a historic day,” Kristersson said on X. “Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security.” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has faced pressure from Nato allies to fall in line and seal Sweden’s accession to the alliance.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg immediately welcomed Hungary’s move. “Sweden’s membership will make us all stronger and safer,” he said on X. Stockholm abandoned its non-alignment policy for greater safety within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Ratification ends long military non-alignment of the Nordic country

With Sweden following Finland into Nato, President Vladimir Putin has effectively achieved the very thing he sought to avert when he launched his war in Ukraine — an expansion of the alliance, Western leaders have said.

The accession of Sweden, which has not been at war since 1814, and Finland is the most significant expansion of the alliance since its move into Eastern Europe in the 1990s.

While Sweden has ramped up cooperation with the alliance in recent decades, contributing to operations in places such as Afghanistan, its membership is set to simplify defence planning and cooperation on Nato’s northern flank.

“Nato gains a member that is serious and capable and it removes a factor of uncertainty in Northern Europe,” said Robert Dalsjo, senior analyst at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, a government think tank.

“Sweden gains security in a crowd … supported by American nuclear deterrence.” Sweden also brings resources such as cutting-edge submarines tailored to Baltic Sea conditions and a sizable fleet of domestically produced Gripen fighter jets into the alliance. It is hiking military spending and should reach Nato’s threshold of 2 per cent of GDP this year.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked a surge in support in Sweden for joining Nato, especially as neigbouring Finland, with which it shares strong historic ties, quickly moved to join.

“It’s been a long journey,” Josefine Wallbom, 23, a political science student, said in Stockholm. “Me and everyone else was maybe a bit sceptical in the beginning, but now I feel like it’s the right decision.”

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2024

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