Austin envisions NATO membership for Sweden before summertime summit
Stars and Stripes April 19, 2023
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday that he expects a breakthrough in Sweden’s stalled NATO bid that will enable the country to gain full alliance membership in time for a major summit this summer.
“You have made the bold and historic decision to apply for NATO membership, and you have the full and firm support of the United States,” Austin said during a stop in Stockholm.
Austin met with Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson and said he thinks the approval process will be wrapped up by the time heads of state gather in July in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Sweden’s quest for NATO membership has been delayed by opposition from Hungary and Turkey, which are at odds with Stockholm over various diplomatic issues.
“It’s important for all of us that (the Hungarians and Turks) make their decision sooner versus later because we all look forward to having a very capable Sweden sitting at the desk beside us in Vilnius this summer,” he said.
Sweden would be NATO’s 32nd member.
Initially, allies hoped it would join alongside Finland, which became part of NATO earlier this month. However, Turkish opposition revolving around allegations of Kurdish militants living in Sweden has complicated matters.
Meanwhile, Hungary has delayed approval over grievances related to Swedish criticism of Hungarian President Viktor Orban’s policies, which have been labeled as authoritarian by outside critics.
Austin’s stop in Stockholm comes ahead of a meeting at Ramstein Air Base on Friday, where he will meet with allies and partners on how to further support Ukraine in its war against Russia.
During those talks, Austin is likely to face questions from partners over a voluminous leak of highly sensitive classified Pentagon material.
A 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guardsman, Jack Teixeira, is accused of violating the Espionage Act by posting scores of classified documents on social media.
The leaked material included a wide array of military secrets, ranging from the war in Ukraine to security matters related to China and the Pacific region.
When asked during a news conference Wednesday whether he had concerns that such a young service member had access to such high-level material, Austin said he doesn’t consider age a factor in the matter.
“The vast majority of our military is young, and so it’s not exceptional that young people are doing important things in our military. That really is not the issue,” Austin said. “The issue is how you responsibly execute or carry out your duties and how you protect information.”