Sweden joining NATO bolsters Northern Europe’s defense, ex-PM says

Carl Bildt adds that Ukraine accession to alliance is a question of ‘when, not if’.

TOKYO — Sweden’s successful bid to join NATO will increase cooperation between the EU and the military alliance, the country’s former Prime Minister Carl Bildt said in an interview during a trip to Tokyo.

Bildt spoke to Nikkei while he was in Japan after visiting Kyiv in late February to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“They are very determined to continue to fight,” he said of the political leaders and soldiers he met in the Ukrainian capital.

While some analysts have pointed to “Ukraine fatigue” growing in some Western countries over the prolonged conflict, Bildt said, “I don’t see any Ukraine fatigue in Europe, really.”

“There’s a lot of determination to do whatever we can in order to support Ukraine,” he said.

Sweden’s NATO membership was approved by Hungary’s parliament on Monday, the last hurdle to membership. With the addition of Finland, which had also maintained a neutral stance, security cooperation between the West and the Baltic Sea area will be strengthened.

The joining of Sweden and Finland “gives a new strategic depth to the north of Europe and increases the defense potential of the three Baltic States,” Bildt said.

Bildt commented on Sweden’s ability to help deter Russia, including plans to send a battalion to Latvia. “While Sweden in the past, our defense has been sort of purely national within our borders…now it’s going to be within a broader framework,” he said.

In his annual address to the Federal Assembly on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “We need to shore up the forces in the western strategic theatre in order to counteract the threats posed by NATO’s further eastward expansion, with Sweden and Finland joining the alliance.”

Some analysts have warned that expanding NATO could provoke Russia. Bildt rejected this, saying, “This war is also going to weaken Russia for quite some time to come.”

“Their army has taken a lot of casualties and a lot of losses,” he added. “So, we are going to deal with a militarily significantly weaker Russia for quite some time to come.”

He said Sweden and Finland joining NATO was “a significant strategic setback” for Putin.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that nothing should be ruled out concerning a future deployment of troops to Ukraine.

“I don’t know what happened,” Bildt said of Macron’s comments. “I think that was profound misunderstanding and miscommunication on that issue, because I mean, that issue has never been on the agenda,” he added, indicating that mobilizing troops was not Europe’s consensus.

Regarding Ukraine’s potential addition to NATO, Bildt acknowledged some hesitation in the U.S. as the November election approaches, but said Ukraine’s accession was “a question of when, not if.”

Ukraine has also applied to join the European Union. Concerning the timing, Bildt said that if the political will is there, “within five years should be possible.”

He also spoke about the challenges that would come should Donald Trump win a second presidential term in the U.S.

“I think the biggest danger is to the Americans themselves, that they will have a presidency concentrated on domestic revenge,” he said.

Pointing specifically to Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Bildt said, “If you listen to what he says in his speeches and his interviews, it’s all about backward-looking things.”

Regarding a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan, Bildt said that while he doesn’t see any big risk for now, “things could change.”

“We will see what the new president [of Taiwan Lai Ching-te] says when he has his inauguration speech in May,” he said, adding that “Beijing’s reaction in this election has been fairly muted, which is a good sign.”

While Europe faces challenges regarding relations with China in areas like economic and trade competition, as well as human rights in Hong Kong, Bildt said there is a need to build a constructive relationship with China on things like climate change and artificial intelligence.

Read the article on the website of NIkkei Asia