WEB EXCLUSIVE: Sweden to Move Deadline Up for NATO’s 2% GDP Threshold Requirement
Stew Magnuson photo
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — In light of its pending NATO membership, Sweden will begin spending 2 percent of its GDP on defense two years earlier than planned, the nation’s minister of defense said Nov. 19.
Sweden and Finland were invited to join the alliance in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. All but two of the member nations have ratified their applications, with only Turkey and Hungary remaining.
“We're hoping of course to become full-fledged members of the alliance as soon as possible, pending on the ratification process in Hungary and in Turkey,” Sweden’s Minister of Defense Dr. Pal Jonson told National Defense in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the Halifax International Security Forum.
NATO nations are required to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense funding, but many fall short. The issue came into public prominence after former U.S. President Donald Trump during his administration chastised some NATO members for failing to reach the goal.
Sweden elected a new government in September, and Jonson was sworn in as the new defense minister about a month later. The previous government had vowed to raise its defense spending in line with the NATO threshold by 2028. Jonson said Sweden currently spends about 1.4 percent of its GDP on defense. However, with the worsening security situation in Europe, the nation will move that goal up to 2026, he said.
“This is about solidarity with other allies. The Baltic nations are at about 2 percent. Poland is way over 2 percent, and Germany is on the track to 2 percent,” he said. All eight parties in the newly formed Swedish government support meeting the threshold, although half of them want to keep the original goal of 2028, he noted. “We can find bipartisan agreement on it,” he added.
Once membership is approved, Sweden will be ready to participate as a full member, he said. Sweden and Finland were already two of NATO’s closest non-member partners, although they were not parties to Article Five of the treaty that calls for members to come to the defense of any nation that is attacked.
“It was clear after the 24th of February when Russia made this full-scale invasion of Ukraine that there was a difference between partnership and membership. Ukraine was also partner to NATO. Yeah, it didn't help,” he noted.
Sweden has participated in exercises with other NATO nations for years, and has a lot to offer the alliance, Jonson said. “When we become members of NATO, then we can be part of NATO's common defense planning. We can provide our assets and capabilities to integrate those into NATO's defense planning,” he said.
Those assets include Patriot batteries, 100 jet fighters, electric submarines, naval surface combatants with low signatures and “good intelligence capabilities, particularly on Russia,” he said.
In addition, Sweden punches way above its weight when it comes to its defense industry. “There's no other country in the world of 10 million people who can produce submarines, fighter aircraft, advanced combat vehicles and artillery pieces,” he said. “I think we can bring things to the table when it comes to innovation and technology and partner up with corporations and new starts in the United States.”
The new Swedish government is also steadfastly supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russia with its ninth military aid package, totaling some $300 million, which is more than the previous eight aid packages combined, he said. The new funding will provide cold weather gear, equipment for the winter and air defense technology, he added.
“We're 100 percent committed. This is a top priority of our government to step up to support Ukraine, for it to regain its territorial integrity and its independence. That is our objective. And by supporting Ukraine, we're also investing into our own security. Putin will not be stopped unless someone stops him,” he said.
As far as interoperability with NATO nations’ weapon systems, Jonson said Sweden doesn’t have far to go. Creating interoperable command, control and communications systems among the treaty’s allies has been a long-standing problem among members, as they go their separate ways when acquiring systems.
“We’re quite interoperable with NATO. We use Link 16 and Link 22 [radios]. Since we participate in many crisis management operations, we’re not so worried about the command structures as such. I think we're well on our way to integrate the internet since we've been participating in so many exercises,” he said.
Along with joining NATO, Sweden actively participates in exercises and keeps an eye on the Arctic region, where Russia has been continuing to aggressively advance its interests, he said. The war in Ukraine has not diminished Russia’s activity in the region, he noted.
And China has declared itself a “near-Arctic” nation and is increasing its activity there even though no other nation recognizes it as such, Jonson added. “They've been increasing their presence there as well, and we're cognizant about that,” he said. Sweden published a new Arctic strategy two years ago, which is “more precise” when it comes to some of the threats, risks and vulnerabilities there, especially with increased Russian presence, he said.
“There's going to be more focus on the Arctic in the future,” Jonson said.