Thisath Ranawaka

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström, a former Selwyn MCR president, argued that NATO membership was a long time coming for Sweden, in a talk at Selwyn College on Tuesday (16/04).

Taking unscreened questions, the former Cambridge alum spoke to a packed room about Russian aggression, NATO accession and his views on international security in the future.

Billström described the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 as an “irreversible turning point for Swedish, British, European and global security” and confirmed Sweden’s accession to NATO was a “direct result” of Russia’s aggression. Asked by an audience member to rank his foreign policy concerns, he said Russia’s actions were “outstanding” against other issues like the rise of China or migration.

Billström anticipated a “prolonged confrontation with Russia”, dismissing ideas that the West should push Ukraine towards a position of negotiations. It is up to Ukraine to decide if and when the moment is right to negotiate. And it will not forget that Russia could end the war at any time by simply withdrawing its troops.” he said.

Billström described Sweden’s recent decision to join NATO, whilst appearing to be “a shift in Swedish Foreign and Security Policy”, it is a “natural and final step” of a long process of ever closer alignment with Western Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He described how Swedish forces had served in a range of NATO military operations throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, including in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Billström was keen to emphasise Sweden’s membership as an advantage to NATO, boasting about the strength of the Swedish defence industry, hitting the 2% GDP spent on defence target and private sector dominance in areas of cyber security.

The minister was keen to point out that Sweden was one of only two EU countries with the capacity to launch satellites from their own territory. He remarked, to quiet laughter in the audience’ “The other one in France, but [they have] to go to French Guiana. […] we only have to go higher up [north in Sweden]”

He dismissed suggestions from one audience member that Sweden has compromised on its policy of free speech to avoid Turkey vetoing their application to NATO. Turkey had threatened to veto Swedish membership because Sweden harboured members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).


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Billström openly admitted there was a “memorandum of understanding” with Turkey and called the PKK a “ terrorist organisation’” saying “we have come down hard on PKK activities in Sweden, and that is right and proper.” He denied there is an infringement on freedom of speech in Sweden in any way

When asked by Roger Mosey, Selwyn Master and ex-BBC journalist, if he increasingly saw the world as divided into two hostile blocs, Billström was quick to dismiss the idea. “ China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, they do not fall in a bloc in any way. They have sometimes aligned interests and they come together for certain reasons” he said.

Questioned on the threat posed by a second Trump Presidency, Billström reassured the audience reminding them that the Senate is a very powerful institution in the USA, especially on issues of foreign policy. Under the US constitution the Senate has the sole power to declare war, though this has not officially been used since 1942.