'a new era begins'
Sweden's ruling Social Democrats on Sunday said they now support joining NATO, hours after Finland's leaders affirmed their intention to get parliamentary approval for membership as early as Monday. "For us Social Democrats, it is clear that the military non-alignment has served Sweden well, but our conclusion is that it won't serve us as well in the future," Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said. "We're now facing a fundamentally changed security environment in Europe."
Public opinion in Sweden and Finland swung sharply toward NATO membership after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Andersson said Sweden would be left in a "vulnerable position" if it were the only country in the Baltic region that was not part of the military alliance. She also said the Social Democrats oppose Sweden hosting NATO bases or nuclear weapons.
Sweden has steered clear of military alliances for 200 years, since the Napoleonic Wars, and Finland has remained neutral since battling Soviet Russia — and losing 10 percent of its territory — in World War II. "This is a historic day," Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Sunday. "A new era begins."
NATO foreign ministers, meeting in Berlin, reiterated that both Nordic countries would be welcomed if they apply and suggested security guarantees could be provided for the period between application and accession. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Sweden and Finland's applications would be fast-tracked, but it could still take up to a year.
Every NATO member state would have to ratify the memberships, and only Turkey so far has voiced reservations. But in Berlin, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the issue is not NATO expansion but rather what he called Sweden and Finland's support for Kurdish rebels in the PKK, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization, and also "unacceptable" restrictions both countries have placed on weapons sales to Ankara. Turkey is not issuing any threats or seeking leverage, he added. "Turkey has made it clear that their intention is not to block membership," Stoltenberg said.