How the PLA Views Sweden’s Accession Into NATO

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On March 7, 2024, Sweden officially joined NATO, primarily in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This development has predominantly been analyzed through the lens of its impact on regional geopolitics involving Russia, which has vocally opposed the move and threatened various retaliatory measures, whether it be diplomatically or militarily. Sweden’s accession, as well as Finland’s, has opened up a new front between NATO and Russia in the Baltics, a region often overlooked, but strategically important.

While much attention has focused on Russia’s perspective, China has also been closely monitoring the situation.

Strategic Capabilities and Location

In an article published in the PLA Daily, Kong Gang of the National University of Defense Technology argues that Sweden’s accession to NATO paves the way for increased American military presence in the region, which will “reshape the regional map and intensify the confrontation” with Russia.

Gang highlights Sweden’s substantial military strength, noting its active army, navy, and air force capabilities, along with its capacity to independently develop key combat equipment, such as the Gripen fighter jet and Gotland-class submarine. He asserts that Sweden’s NATO membership will bolster the alliance’s military power in Northern Europe, constrain Russia’s strategic space, heighten regional confrontations, and exacerbate the European security situation.

Gang adds that Sweden’s extensive coastline will significantly enhance NATO’s strategic positioning and its ability to bolster regional resources. By fully utilizing Sweden’s ports and air bases, NATO can ensure a steady flow of supplies from Norway to Finland. He also mentions that the Baltic Sea will effectively become an “inner lake” for NATO, further isolating Russia’s Kaliningrad and weakening its connection to the Russian mainland.

“Nordic Balance”

A critical dynamic discussed is the “Nordic balance,” described by US Army Col. Albert L. Romanesii as “a theory of regional equilibrium maintained by the Nordic nations between the major power blocs of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, influenced by geography, political, military, and economic factors, and most importantly, by the roles of the Nordic countries themselves.”

Gang argues that this balance is now irreversibly altered with Sweden and Finland joining NATO, creating the longest confrontation line between Russia and NATO, particularly relevant amid growing contentions over the Arctic.

The article concludes by saying that Sweden’s accession into NATO, while framed as NATO expansionism, seeks to achieve lasting peace. However, it increases the risk of confrontation between Russia and the West.

The So What

It is important to note that the publication of the article can be viewed as an authoritative viewpoint of China’s assessment of the topic due to its publication in the PLA Daily. With that being said, China is likely focused on the strategic shift in geopolitical dynamics of the Baltics with Sweden’s accession into NATO.

Sweden’s role can be seen in three key aspects:

  • A major logistics hub and gateway for NATO and American military resources to the Baltic and Arctic regions
  • A regional stronghold with significant military capabilities and the ability to produce weapons for partner nations
  • A strategic geographical position to control the Baltic Sea

For China, each of these points increases pressure on Russia and the risk of confrontation. In recent years, China and Russia have sought to strengthen their alliance politically, economically, and militarily. As great power competition shifts to the Arctic, with prospects of oil and gas exploration, China and Russia will likely work to counterbalance NATO’s (primarily the United States’) expanding presence in the region. However, China may remain cautious about fully partnering with Russia for its own Arctic ambitions. It is evident that China is closely monitoring developments in the Baltic region and how they will influence its future strategies.