Sweden joins NATO as 32nd member

With horn music and stiff salutes, the Swedish flag is raised in Brussels on March 11

Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT / NTB
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg participate in the official flag-raising ceremony at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 11.

Bibiana Piene

A few minutes past noon local time, in pouring rain and to the tune of the Swedish national anthem, the blue and yellow flag was raised in Brussels and throughout the NATO countries.

“Welcome to NATO. This is a historic day,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the symbolic ceremony.

“Support from all of Sweden” 

“The flag will now hang here with support from the entire political Sweden,” said Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

Headed by Crown Princess Victoria, Sweden fielded a larger delegation in Brussels on March 11, with Foreign Minister Tobias Billström, Defense Minister Pål Jonson, and Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Micael Bydén present.

In addition to Kristersson, the leaders of the five largest parties in Sweden were also present.

“Sweden is now part of NATO—a proud member and ally, together with our closest friends and partners,” said Kristersson, who extends special thanks to Stoltenberg.

“Without your tireless efforts, we would not be standing here today.”

“Good for the alliance”

“Sweden has long been a partner. Now you are an ally and have taken your rightful place at NATO’s table,” said Stoltenberg.

“Joining NATO is good for Sweden and good for the alliance. This is a historic day.”

Including Sweden, the defense alliance now has 32 member states.

The Swedish flag will from now on wave side by side with Turkey’s flag, as if by an irony of fate.

It is well known that Turkey for months resisted Sweden’s entry into NATO.

But as the flags hang in alphabetical order, Sweden ends up between Spain and Turkey.

Nordic defense cooperation

Sweden’s entry is particularly important for the Nordic countries and also for the Baltics, the NATO chief pointed out.

“This is a big day for NATO, and not least for Nordic defense cooperation. It is the first time since the Kalmar Union in the 14th and 15th centuries that the Nordic countries have a common defense,” said Stoltenberg, who devoted a large part of his speech to again stressing the importance of continuing support for Ukraine.

The NATO chief stressed that Sweden has first-class military capabilities and a large defense industry, which they are now bringing with them into the alliance.

Sweden is also among the countries that spend more than 2% of the gross domestic product on defense and have thus achieved NATO’s 2% target.

Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT / NTB
Swedish Crown Princess Victoria arrives at NATO headquarters to participate in the flag-raising ceremony.

Russian reaction

Russia has previously threatened with retailiation if Sweden joins NATO.

“We have to be on guard. Russia will be a threat for the foreseeable future,” said Kristersson.

At the same time, Stoltenberg says that there are no immediate threats against any NATO country.

“This is for the simple reason that NATO is there,” he said.

Ukraine may become NATO’s 33rd member state.

“Ukraine wants to become a NATO member. The question is not if but when,” said Stoltenberg.

Whether Ukraine comes a step closer to membership at the NATO summit in July remains to be seen.

Had to wait

Sweden had to wait an unexpectedly long time for its NATO application to be approved, first by Turkey and then by Hungary.

Not until March 7 were all the papers signed and delivered to the United States, and Sweden could be formally declared a NATO member.

Sweden applied for NATO membership along with Finland in May 2022. On April 4 last year, Finland became a NATO member, while Sweden had to wait almost another year.


Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT / NTB
The Swedish flag is the 32nd flag to be raised at the NATO headquarters, positioned between Spain and Turkey.

Sweden’s path to NATO membership:

Feb. 14, 2022: Russia invades Ukraine.

March 30, 2022: Then Prime Minister  of Sweden Magdalena Andersson opens for Swedish NATO membership. The reason is the completely changed security situation in Europe.

May 2022: Sweden and Finland apply for membership in NATO. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan states that the country will not approve the applications.

May 23, 2022: Turkey publishes a list of requirements for accepting Swedish NATO membership.

June 28, 2022: The NATO summit in Madrid commences. Turkey drops its veto against Sweden and Finland after talks between the countries.

July 5, 2022: Sweden and Finland formally gain status as prospective members.

April 4, 2023: Finland is formally admitted as a member of NATO after Hungary and Turkey, as the last two countries, have ratified the application.

July 2023: In connection with the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Erdogan promises to submit the Swedish application to the national assembly for ratification “as soon as possible.”

Oct. 23, 2023: Erdogan presents a proposal to ratify Swedish NATO membership to the country’s national assembly. The processing takes time. Parallel to the Turkish process, Hungary states repeatedly that an approval is only contingent on “technicalities” and that the country will not be the last to ratify. Repeated statements from the Hungarian governing party Fidesz, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, show dissatisfaction with Sweden’s rhetoric about Hungary.

Jan. 23, 2024: Turkey’s national assembly approves Sweden’s NATO application. Two days later, Erdogan signs the ratification.

Feb. 26, 2024: Hungary’s national qssembly votes to ratify Sweden’s application after the ruling party Fidesz recommended to the elected representatives to do so a few days earlier.

March 5: Hungarian President Tamás Sulyok signs the ratification of the application.

March 7: Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson signs the accession protocol in Washington D.C., which is then handed over and signed by the United States. Sweden is thus NATO’s 32nd member.

March 11: The Swedish flag is raised outside NATO headquarters in Brussels.

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NTB (Norsk Telegrambyrå), the Norwegian News Agency, is a press agency and wire service that serves most of the largest Norwegian media outlets. The agency is located in Oslo and has bureaus in Brussels, Belgium, and Tromsø in northern Norway