Experts: Sweden’s NATO membership simplifies Baltics security planning

After long resistance from Turkey and the end of Hungary’s stalling tactics, Sweden will become a member of NATO. Experts say this will make it easier to plan for security in the Baltic Sea, but could also leave the Baltic states on the border between the two commands.

Sweden’s accession to NATO is the final piece in the puzzle that will complete the protection of the Baltic.

“It means faster information exchange. It means it’s easier to plan with them. If we look at a geographical map, there is no gap in the Nordic countries, and we know that Sweden is with us from the beginning,” said Col. Eero Rebo, the chief of the defense staff.

“The island of Gotland is very important in this context, as it is a kind of lock in the Baltic Sea. Its strategic importance is comparable to that of Iceland in the Atlantic Ocean,” said former Estonian ambassador to Sweden Margus Kolga.

Sweden has a long tradition of a strong navy, capable of skillful action in the Baltic Sea.

Their submarines are important, too. “In military terms, submarines are a hidden resource or capability. Those who have them can conduct operations in a different way, with significantly greater coverage than others,” Kolga said.

“The Swedish navy is primarily developed to operate in the Baltic Sea region. The ships are smaller, they were never designed to operate in the North Atlantic, for example,” the security expert Martin Hurt, said.

Many have praised the Swedish Navy’s strength, but it has other important capabilities.

“Certainly, an important capability is air superiority. Sweden has, I think, 120 Gripen fighters, which is a very, very strong military force,” he said.

“Swedish airports bring more opportunities. Likewise, any dispersion of air assets is good, and it allows us to add depth to our defenses,” Rebo said.

Sweden also contributes to NATO with early warning systems. They also have a significant intelligence capability and defense industry.

“Sweden is one of the few countries in Europe that produces military platforms for all military capabilities and types of weapons. There are said to be four such countries in Europe: in addition to Sweden, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. These are also historically well-established and high-tech solutions,” he said.

However, Sweden’s ground forces have become fewer over the past decade. According to Hurda, the focus after the Cold War was only on deployments and field operations.

“When, after the occupation of Crimea in 2014 and the launch of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Swedish Defense Forces were strengthened, clearly too little money was allocated for this, so this defense capability is certainly still in the process of development,” he said.

“If we look at Sweden’s annual defense budget of €12 billion, this will allow them to develop very rapidly in the future. All the more so because they have an industrial base,” Rebo said.

Although NATO’s Baltic jigsaw puzzle is officially complete, it is a question of how well the various pieces fit together. The Alliance’s military command and planning is divided among the various joint military commands. Denmark and Finland are under Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum in the Netherlands, while Norway is under Norfolk in the US. The Swedes are now also looking to the Americans. This has raised fears that the Baltic states will be caught between two command and planning divides.

“Sweden is a Baltic country, but it is also an Arctic country – it faces north. So the Swedes have somewhat different interests than Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. Where the various borders between the various NATO joint commands are going to be, those decisions are not being made,” Hurt said.

“These borders are notional and so additional plans or solutions could be generated by which Sweden can also support the Baltic States,” Rebo said.

Rebo said it was clear that Sweden’s membership would make NATO’s defense activities more effective and also reduce the Russian threat.

“When it comes to Kaliningrad, the Russians’ chances of success at sea and in the air decrease, making the defense of the Suwalki corridor an increasingly significant concern for them,” Rebo said.

“Supplying Kaliningrad is already difficult in peacetime, but in wartime Sweden would not just passively watch Russia’s attempts to supply Kaliningrad,” he said.

Hurda said that there would be no major military-technical revolution in Sweden as a result of joining NATO.

“Rather, it is a shift in the way people think that is important, which could take years. Sweden has been used to being non-aligned, which means that for a long time, it thought that it would keep out of military conflicts,” Hurt said.

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