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EDITORIAL | NATO Expansion Should Spur Japan's Closer Cooperation

Expanded collaboration with the now 32-member-strong NATO will strengthen deterrence of Russia and contribute to order in Europe and the world.



Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson speaks during a press conference at the government headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, February 26, 2024, after Hungary's parliament on Monday voted yes to ratify Sweden's NATO accession. (© TT News Agency/Magnus Lejhall via REUTERS)

The Scandinavian nation of Sweden will join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This marks a break from the Nordic country's tradition of maintaining strict neutrality for nearly two centuries following the Napoleonic wars. 

All NATO members were required to approve Sweden's entry. Hungary's parliament, the last holdout, just gave its approval on February 26. NATO is the world's largest military alliance. With its northward expansion now complete, NATO members surround the sea lanes through the Baltic Sea which connects Russia with the Atlantic Ocean.

Sweden's joining the alliance is a very important development. Hopefully, the now 32-member-strong NATO will strengthen its deterrence of Russia and contribute to order in Europe. It will thereby benefit order in the entire world. Continued support for Ukraine is also a crucial consideration. 

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson (left) and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban at a press conference in Budapest. (©REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo)

Change Wrought by Russian Aggression 

Although in years gone by Sweden was a neutral country, it continuously maintained a strong defensive capability. This practice was to prepare for the eventuality of an invasion by the former Soviet Union and then Russia. 

However, when directly faced with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Sweden found it needed to reorient its security policies. Two years ago in 2022, Sweden applied for membership in NATO, which is committed to the principle of collective self-defense. At the same time, its neighbor Finland also sought membership in NATO. 

On X (formerly Twitter) Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson hailed Monday as a "historic day." He added, "Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibilities for Euro-Atlantic security." 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the news, saying, "Sweden's membership will make us stronger and safer." 

Finland was able to join the alliance in April 2023. However, the approval for Sweden to join was delayed due to objections raised by Turkey and Hungary. Turkey finally gave its approval in January 2024. Ankara's decision came after agreeing that progress had been made within Sweden regarding control of individuals affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a militant, illegal organization that Turkey considers a terrorist group. 


Hungary is highly dependent on Russia for its energy supplies. Nevertheless, it changed its mind after considerable pressure from fellow NATO members and approval of its purchase of Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban votes on the ratification of Sweden's NATO membership in Budapest, Hungary, February 26, 2024. (© REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo)

Member Contributions to NATO

Donald Trump, the likely Republican candidate in the November US presidential election, recently said that he would not defend NATO members who did not spend enough on defense. NATO has established an annual target for member nations to spend more than 2% of their GDP on defense. 

In 2024, 18 member countries, including Germany, are expected to reach this target. Hopefully, the remaining alliance members will also bolster their defense efforts, including raising spending for defense, to maintain NATO unity. 

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi welcomed Sweden's effort to join NATO. He said it is an example "of how cooperation among like-minded nations is assuming greater importance." 

It is also a good time for Japan and NATO to pursue security cooperation on a global scale. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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