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Sweden hoists its flag at NATO and will join Canadian brigade in Latvia

A Swedish flag is raised outside NATO's office in Brussels on Monday, March 11, 2024. (Reuters - image credit)
A Swedish flag is raised outside NATO's office in Brussels on Monday, March 11, 2024. (Reuters - image credit)

Under a heavy, rain-soaked Belgian sky, Sweden's flag was raised Monday at NATO headquarters in Brussels to formally mark its new status as a full member of the western military alliance.

The event was witnessed by Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, who led a delegation in Brussels that included cabinet ministers, Sweden's military commander-in-chief and the nation's Crown Princess Victoria.

Joining NATO was the "only reasonable choice" after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Kristersson said in prepared remarks delivered in front of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

"After more than 200 years of military non-alignment, this is a historic step. But also, a very natural step," Kristersson said. "We have been preparing for decades, and in detail the last two years.

"With this membership, Sweden has come home."

Jess Rapfogel/The Associated Press
Jess Rapfogel/The Associated Press

Sweden's official entry into NATO last Thursday — making it the 32nd member of the alliance — was held up for almost two years by Turkey and later Hungary, both of which presented a variety of objections.

Its neighbour, Finland, applied at the same time as Sweden and was accepted into the alliance last year.

Following the flag-raising ceremony, NATO released an in-house video showing Finnish Army tanks and Swedish Army mechanized infantry taking part in the alliance's exercise Nordic Response 2024, which is taking place in Norway and is meant to showcase NATO's ability to move forces rapidly across allied borders.

More than 20,000 troops from 13 NATO countries are taking part in the training.

Swedish Minister of Defence Pål Jonson was quoted in the alliance video saying his country brings a lot to the table, not only in terms of land power.

"I think we have unique competence in operating on the Baltic Sea. We have submarines. We have surface combatants," Jonson said. "We have this sub-Arctic capabilities. I think with Sweden, Finland and Norway cooperating, we're going to keep the alliance stronger here."

The formal acceptance of Sweden has military significance for Canada.

The Nordic country plans to send a reduced battalion to join the Canadian-led multinational brigade in Latvia, part of NATO's mission to deter Russia in eastern Europe.

The head of the Canadian military's operational command told CBC News last December that planning was underway for the Swedes to become part of the formation.

Sweden's top military commander, Gen. Micael Bydén, recommended to the government in Stockholm in 2022 that the country commit troops to one of the NATO battle groups once the process of joining NATO was completed.

CBC News/Brian Mackay
CBC News/Brian Mackay

A think-tank, the Stockholm Free World Forum, conducted a detailed analysis. In a report presented last summer, the forum said that there would be a "strategic benefit to placing Swedish troops under the Canadian-led force based on the common interests of Sweden and Canada."

In a speech in January, Kristersson outlined plans to deploy a "reduced battalion" to the brigade, which is expected to be fully operational next summer.

In a statement, the Swedish Armed Forces said that Sweden and Denmark will take turns leading a battalion that will form part of the Canadian-led brigade in Latvia.

The Danish and Swedish troops will replace each other every six months, Janes Defence News reported in January, noting that the first Swedish unit — of 600 soldiers — had been designated already and will deploy in 2025.