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Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson speaks during a press conference at the government headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, February 26, 2024.

TT News Agency/Magnus Lejhall

Sweden joins NATO: what has the alliance gained?

On Monday, after stalling for 19 months, Hungary voted in favor of Sweden joining NATO. The vote completes the alliance’s Nordic expansion in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Why does Sweden want in? Sweden was caught with its pants down when Russia ended the European peace party.

After remaining heavily armed but neutral through the Cold War, its military has waned in recent years. Its army has shrunk by 90% in terms of manpower, and defense spending has dropped to barely 1% of GDP. Russia's invasion was a wake-up call that it needed NATO's protection.

In contrast, Finland maintained a strong military, in no small part because it shares a 1,300-kilometer-long border with Russia.

So what does NATO want with Sweden? An underfunded military full of peaceniks?

Not exactly. Despite military budget cuts, decades of armed neutrality left Sweden with a robust and advanced arms industry, most of which is fully compatible with NATO standards. It is one of the world’s largest arms exporters and builds advanced jets, tanks, warships, and more – all of which European allies need after draining reserves to support Ukraine.

NATO now dominates the Baltic Sea. All of the surrounding countries besides Russia are now NATO members, insulating Baltic allies like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which worry they could be the next targets of Russian aggression.

Two years of war in Ukraine: Power players at the Munich Security Conference weigh in

Listen: It’s been two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. While Ukrainians remain steadfast in their fight, political battles and crisis fatigue in the US and EU make a victory much more elusive. How long can Western allies remain united in their support for Kyiv? Does Ukraine have any chance of winning in this environment? On the GZERO World Podcast, Ian Bremmer sits with NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoanǎ for a hard look at progress on the battlefield and Ukraine’s future in NATO, just as news broke of the death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. Later, Ian talks with another power player at the conference and on the continent, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, about European security, the threat of AI-generated misinformation, and Greece's landmark LGBTQ+ rights law.

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NATO membership for Ukraine?
NATO membership for Ukraine? | World In: 60 | GZERO Media

NATO membership for Ukraine?

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week on World In :60.

Sweden will join NATO. Is Ukraine next?

Well, sure, but next doesn't mean tomorrow. Next means like at some indeterminate point, which makes President Zelensky pretty unhappy and he's made that clear, but he has massive amounts of support from NATO right now, and he needs that support to continue. So, it's not like he has a lot of leverage on joining NATO. As long as the Americans are saying it's not going to happen, that means it's not going to happen. No, the real issue is how much and how concrete the multilateral security guarantees that can be provided by NATO to Ukraine actually turn out to be. We will be watching that space.

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Biden attends NATO Summit
Biden attends NATO Summit | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Biden attends NATO Summit

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hey, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and a happy Monday to you. A Quick Take to kick off your week.

And this week the big news is coming from NATO, the summit that will start within a day in Vilnius. Heads of state from all the key NATO countries, including of course President Biden. And the big topic will be Ukraine. Not the only one big question about Sweden, whether or not they're joining NATO or not. Erdogan can always decide to change his mind and cut a deal at the last minute. But the big news is what's going to happen with Ukraine, with continued military support for Ukraine that we still see expanding pretty much every week. And all, both in terms of the amount and also the types of armaments, and I'll get into that in a moment. And also as to where we stand on NATO membership and a pathway to that for Ukraine itself. Erdogan interestingly very strongly supporting Ukraine to get into NATO, also providing directly some Asov battalion leaders to the Ukrainians that, you know, he had told the Russians he wasn't going to do. This is a couple of indicators and there are many that the grain deal between the Ukrainians, the West and the Russians is not going to get extended in another week's time. Erdogan was critical to that deal. That relationship with Russia is getting more brittle by the day. At the same time, Ukraine is not about to get an immediate pathway into NATO, and Biden made that clear with my friend Fareed Zakaria. Over the weekend, Biden's perspective is, "Hey, we're fighting a war in Ukraine by proxy. We're giving all of the equipment, all the weapons, but we don't want the Americans directly fighting on the ground."

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David Himbert / Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect

Podcast: NATO’s Russia problem: the increasing danger of military confrontation between nuclear powers


Listen: As tensions between Russia and NATO continue to escalate, the world is once again on the brink of a potential nuclear confrontation. On the GZERO World podcast, Ian Bremmer sits down with Ivo Daalder, former US Ambassador to NATO and current President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, to discuss the complex geopolitical landscape and the challenges faced by nations caught between Russia and the West

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Putin looks on during his meeting with the Lebanese president at the Kremlin in Moscow.

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Is NATO expansion bad for Russia?

For the first time in nearly two decades, NATO just got a lot closer to Russia’s borders. At a summit in Madrid on Wednesday, alliance leaders formally invited Sweden and Finland to join, ending more than half a century of neutrality by both countries.

At the same time, the alliance adopted a new strategic plan in which Russia has gone from being the West’s “strategic partner” to its “most significant threat.” And to underscore the point, NATO is putting more than 300,000 troops on high alert against Russian aggression.

Looks pretty bad for Vladimir Putin, wouldn’t you say? Well, let’s consider a few perspectives.

Yes, of course it’s very bad. NATO’s border with Russia has just doubled to more than 1,600 miles, and those two new members are no strategic slouches. Sweden and Finland are both highly advanced militaries with decades of experience keeping a close eye on Russia, especially the Finns.

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