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Sweden formally joins NATO military alliance, ending centuries of neutrality

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A JAS 39 Gripen C/D fighter aircraft takes off from Lulea-Kallax Airport, Sweden on March 4, 2024 during the NATO Nordic Response 24 military exercise, a Norwegian national exercise carried out in northern Sweden, Norway and Finland with associated airspace and waters.
Anders Wiklund | AFP | Getty Images

Sweden officially joined NATO as its 32nd member on Thursday, almost two years after first applying to the military alliance.

Earlier on Thursday, the Swedish government said in a statement it was holding an extraordinary meeting to vote on joining NATO after all current members had approved its accession to the military alliance.

The news was then confirmed later Thursday with a statement from NATO, with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg saying the country was “taking its rightful place at our table.”

“Sweden’s accession makes NATO stronger, Sweden safer, and the whole Alliance more secure. I look forward to raising their flag at NATO HQ on Monday,” he added.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to hand over the final documents. The country first applied to join NATO in May 2022, not long after Russia’s war on Ukraine began. This marked a significant change in Sweden’s previous policy of military non-alignment which stretches back to the Napoleonic Wars.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken receives the NATO ratification documents from Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson during a ceremony at the US State Department, as Sweden formally joins the North Atlantic alliance, in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024. 
Andrew Caballero-reynolds | Afp | Getty Images

Finland became an official member of NATO last April, also prompted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. Authorities in both Helsinki and Stockholm decided that in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, their nations were no longer safe on their own and applied to join the alliance a few months later. 

NATO members Hungary and Turkey delayed the process of Sweden’s accession, with both countries only voting in favor of it this year. All existing members must approve a new country joining the alliance, whose key principle is that an attack on one of them is an attack on all of them.

Hungary’s governing party, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, long opposed Sweden’s NATO membership amid Sweden’s criticism of the state of democracy in Hungary. The prime ministers of both countries met in Budapest, Hungary, last month and committed to work through differences, saying they would “die for each other.”

Turkey, meanwhile, ratified Sweden’s NATO membership in January. It had previously said that Sweden was too tolerant of group’s that Turkey’s government views as security threats. Anti-Muslim protests in Sweden last year further soured relations.

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