Sunday, April 21, 2024

Map Update: Sweden Joins NATO

Map of NATO allies in 2024, with all members color-coded in dark blue including the newest country to join, Sweden.  Also labels Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine led to Sweden and neighboring Finland choosing to join. The map is projected to appear as if the viewer is looking at a globe, with the North Atlantic Ocean in the center. The left side is dominated by large NATO members the US and Canada, while on the right side the smaller continent of Europe is mostly made up of blue NATO member countries, with a few noticeable gaps. Sweden is located near the upper-right corner, filling in what was previously a large hole in the NATO area, surrounded by member countries Finland, Norway, and (across a narrow strip of sea) Denmark, Germany, Poland, and the Baltic countries. Colorblind accessible.

Graphic modified by Evan Centanni from this map by Wikimedia user Addicted04 (CC BY-SA).

New NATO Ally: Sweden

Northern Europe's Kingdom of Sweden was admitted last month as a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance of countries in Europe and North America, famous for its opposition to the Russia-led "Communist Bloc" in the 1947-1991 Cold War. Sweden's NATO membership officially went into effect on March 7 after the final paperwork and exchange of documents were completed. Sweden is the 32nd country to join NATO.

Sweden, which had positioned itself as a more-or-less neutral country in the Cold War, chose to join the historically anti-Russia alliance after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Sweden applied for membership in 2022 at the same time as neighboring Finland, but took almost a year longer to overcome objections from existing NATO members Türkiye (formerly Turkey) and Hungary.

Organization Name:

• North Atlantic Treaty Oganization (English)
• Organisation du traité de l'Atlantique nord (French)
• NATO (English)
• OTAN (French)
Membership: 31 independent countries
Founded: 1949 in Washington, DC, United States
Headquarters: Brussels, Belgium

What is NATO?

Created by Western European and North American countries after World War II, NATO is a military alliance that guarantees cooperation between all its members at times of war. Though NATO is famous for the "collective defense" clause in its founding treaty, which legally obligates member countries to help each other if one of them is attacked on home soil, it also coordinates lots of other kinds of military cooperation.

Member countries participating in NATO's military command structure have joined forces in quite a few international operations over the last few decades, but the obligation to defend each other from attack has only ever been activated once. That was in response to the 9/11 attacks in the US, when fellow members provided military support to help prevent any more attacks. NATO's participation in the war in Afghanistan came soon after, but wasn't directly triggered by the collective defense clause.

During the Cold War, NATO was seen mostly as a unified defense against potential attacks by the Russia-led Soviet Union (USSR) and countries under its influence, leading to the creation of the rival Warsaw Pact between the USSR and its communist allies in Eastern and Central Europe. But after the fall of the European communist governments at the end of the 1980s, along with the breakup of the USSR in 1991, NATO has expanded eastward. Today, most of the former Warsaw Pact countries have joined NATO, though so far the countries that emerged from the USSR itself haven't (except for the Baltics - Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - which consider themselves to have been Soviet-occupied independent countries the whole time).

In recent decades, NATO has continued to be seen as a counterbalance to Russia, which is still a nuclear-armed country not allied with Western Europe. And Russia 's government has often criticized NATO for expanding into its neighborhood, claiming that was one of the reasons it chose to invade Ukraine, which had been hoping to join the alliance. But that invasion in turn has led to a new NATO expansion: Finland and Sweden, which both had been more or less trying to stay neutral in the NATO-Russia rivalry, chose to join after the war in Ukraine sparked a surge in support for NATO membership among their people.

See Also: Map of Russian Control in Ukraine (October 2023)

Flag of Sweden (Swedish flag): A thick, golden cross with its two axes oriented horizontally and vertically, with the horizontal axis longer and the vertical axis to the left of center, over a blue background. Short Name:  
• Sweden (English)
• Sverige (Swedish)
Official Long Name:  
• Kingdom of Sweden (English)
• Konungariket Sverige (Swedish)
• Stockholm

Recent and Future NATO Expansion

NATO was founded in 1949, and many countries have been members ever since then, or since soon afterwards. Twelve ex-communist countries joined the alliance in the decade from 1999 to 2009, but over the next 14 years there were only two more additions: Montenegro in 2017, and North Macedonia in 2020.

Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in early 2022, and about a year later Finland had become the next member of NATO. Finland was the last new member to join until Sweden.

Any European country is technically eligible to join NATO if the existing members all agree to invite it, though the rules are usually interpreted to exclude countries that aren't democracies. There are currently three countries in negotiations to join the alliance: Ukraine, Bosnia, and Georgia.* Only Ukraine has actually submitted an application to join, though the other two countries have been labeled by NATO as "aspirant members" since several years before Ukraine was.

See also: Finland Joins NATO (2023)

*Georgia is sometimes considered to be in Asia rather than Europe, with different geographers using different versions of the line dividing the two continents, but politically it more often groups with Europe. Since Asia and Europe being separate continents is a completely made-up idea and not regulated by any laws, there's no right or wrong interpretation.

For past and future updates on NATO membership, view all NATO articles on PolGeoNow.

Graphics of the NATO flag (source) and the Swedish flag (source) are in the public domain.