US Defence Secretary Forecasts Sweden Will Join NATO by Mid-July

Foreign Affairs

Musko Naval Base (Sweden): In its bid to join NATO, Sweden may cross the finish line in time for the transatlantic alliance’s next summit in mid-July, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the start of a bilateral meeting with his Swedish counterpart here.

Sweden has lobbied for admission to NATO for nearly a year amid objections from member countries Turkey and Hungary. Many US and allied officials believe its inclusion would strengthen the alliance. Securing a spot as the 32nd ally would also offer Sweden protection under NATO’s collective defence clause, should Russia target the Nordic nation, with which it shares the Baltic Sea.

“We look forward to continuing to advocate for your swift admission to NATO, and we’ll work hard to get that done before the summit,” Austin told Swedish Defence Minister Pål Jonson. Austin was in Stockholm to show support for the country’s NATO application in the first leg of a four-day visit to Europe.

Austin, Jonson and Swedish defence chief Gen. Micael Bydén, among other American and Swedish dignitaries and military officials, hashed out the next steps in their military partnership from a wood-panelled conference room inside Muskö’s rocky island cave complex.

After the hour-long bilateral talks, the US defence secretary toured the subterranean base’s Maritime Operations Centre and visited Muskö’s docks ahead of a joint press conference with Jonson.

“Sweden’s membership in NATO is going to mean a stronger alliance and a more secure Europe,” Austin said against the backdrop of a Visby-class stealth corvette and an anti-ship missile system on a bright spring day in south-eastern Sweden. “As I’ve seen first-hand on this trip, the Swedish armed forces are an exceptionally capable and highly professional fighting force. And Sweden’s troops and capabilities will enhance NATO’s operations to deter conflict, including in the Baltic Sea region.”

He also hailed progress toward a new defence cooperation agreement between the two countries that will allow them to forge closer ties.

Sweden already participates in several international military exercises with the United States and NATO, including the US Army’s massive Defender Europe event, and is currently hosting “Aurora 23,” its largest military drill in over 25 years with more than 26,000 soldiers from 14 countries. The US has supplied Sweden with military equipment for years, and both countries are part of the global effort to defeat the Islamic State group.

Austin and Jonson reiterated their support for Ukraine in its 14-month war with Russia, and pledged to continue a burgeoning rotation of US Navy ships, Air Force bomber task forces and high-level visits to Sweden.

The delegation then set out on the corvette to watch Swedish naval and air demonstrations from the water.