By C. Todd Lopez
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (April 19, 2023) -- Following a meeting today at the headquarters of the Swedish navy on Musko Naval Base near Stockholm, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III acknowledged the efforts taken by Sweden in the last year to enhance its already strong alliance with the United States.
"The ties between Sweden and the United States run strong, and they run deep," Austin said during a news conference following the meeting. "And the partnership between our two democracies continues to flourish. During the turbulence of the past year, Sweden has taken two major steps to strengthen our relationship even further."
The first of those steps, Austin said, is that Sweden has applied for membership in NATO. It's something its neighbor, Finland also did. Finland's membership in NATO became official earlier this month. Now, it's Sweden's turn to join the alliance, and it's something Austin said the United States supports wholly.
"You have the full and firm support of the United States," Austin said. "We recently welcomed Finland as the 31st member of NATO, and we look forward to soon welcoming Sweden as the 32nd."
Austin said he hopes that Sweden will have become a member of NATO before the July NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The U.S. defense secretary also said U.S. support for Sweden's membership is demonstrated by the continued and ongoing security cooperation activities between the two nations.
"To underscore our deep support, the department has increased the number of ship visits and bomber task force missions and high-level engagements with Sweden," Austin said. "We are doing all of this for a simple but important reason: Sweden's membership in NATO is going to mean a stronger alliance and a more secure Europe."
The second thing Austin said Sweden has done to enhance its military relationship with the United States is embark on development of a U.S.-Sweden Defense Cooperation Agreement.
"We're looking forward to completing the negotiation of our U.S.-Swedish defense cooperation agreement, and once that agreement is finalized, it will allow for closer and deeper defense cooperation between our democracies," Austin said.
Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson thanked Austin for the support the U.S. has lent to Sweden's bid to join NATO and for the ongoing security partnership the two nations enjoy.
"We are very grateful for the continued support from the United States for Sweden's application to NATO and the clear message from you on the importance of a quick ratification for Sweden's bid to join the alliance and become a full-fledged member of NATO," Jonson said. "Your visit to Stockholm today, together with the United States' very frequent military presence through training exercises and other activities in Sweden and in our neighborhood, is also very much appreciated."
Jonson also thanked Austin for his leadership of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.
"I always say that supporting Ukraine is the right thing to do, but it's also the smart thing to do when it comes to the military support that we provide for Ukraine," Jonson said. "It is needed so that Ukraine can reclaim lost territory and regain its freedom. And by supporting Ukraine, we're also investing into our own security, as Ukraine is, of course, fighting for its freedom, but it's also fighting for a safer and more secure Europe. It's a top priority for the Swedish government to continue support for Ukraine ... for as long as needed."
Later this week, Austin will host the 11th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.