“Military non-alignment is a policy in retreat,” and no longer compatible with the harsh new reality in Europe brought about by President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, declared Sweden’s defence minister.

Speaking to Iain Martin at the London Defence Conference, Pål Jonson confirmed that Sweden’s objective is to be a fully-fledged member of NATO by the alliance’s Vilnius summit in mid-July. “I’ve been working for Sweden to join NATO for 30 years,” he added.

Why has it taken so long? Because the concept of military non-alignment was “very much engrained into Swedish identity,” Jonson explained. There was a strong cultural perception of neutrality as “a position of moral high ground.”

But the mood in Stockholm has changed. Following Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Swedes – much like their Finnish neighbours – have “adapted to the new strategic reality.”

Finland and Sweden’s move to join NATO “is the mother of all unintended consequences [for Russia],” said Jonson. “It has completely redrawn northern Europe.”

During today’s discussion, the Swedish defence minister also called on Switzerland – a European holdout still clinging to nonalignment – to review what it wants its level of interaction with NATO to be.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the UK’s Chief of the Defence Staff, and a fellow speaker at the LDC, insisted: “We must be really strong supporters of Finland and Sweden,” as they proceed on their journeys to join what he labelled “the world’s largest and most powerful military alliance ever.”

Radakin highlighted the benefits that all NATO members will reap from the additional defence investment coming from these Nordic nations. He added that there is a lot about Ukraine which has been “affirmative in terms of UK defence policy” – most of all, it has highlighted the “importance of continuing to be such a strong partner within NATO.”

The Admiral was equally keen to point out that the British army has proven itself to be first class in its training of soldiers for Ukraine: it trained 10,000 last year – more than any other nation – and hopes to double that number this year. 

But, above all, Radakin stressed the importance of collective security, describing it as “the foundation of why the UK is safe.” Collective security, he added, “is something that has been affirmed by Ukraine.” 

Again, this ties to a wider point made by numerous speakers at the conference which again points to why neutrality for European countries feels increasingly obsolete. Sweden’s defence minister mimicked the Polish President yesterday in arguing that defending Ukraine is defending Europe more generally. 

“Ukraine is the shield for Europe right now. They’re not just fighting for their own freedom, they’re fighting for our freedom,” said Jonson. This means supporting Kyiv is “both the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do”.  

Jonson employed the exact phrase used at the conference yesterday by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak: Sweden will stand by Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”

Write to us with your comments to be considered for publication at letters@reaction.life