HomeWorld NewsHungary approves Sweden’s NATO bid, unblocking historic expansion

Hungary approves Sweden’s NATO bid, unblocking historic expansion

BRUSSELS — Hungary’s parliament voted Monday in favor of Sweden’s long-delayed bid to join NATO, clearing the final obstacle to a historic expansion of the military alliance and putting an end to an uncomfortable standoff between members.

With Budapest at last onboard, Sweden is set to become NATO’s 32nd member, possibly within the week, completing a process that began with Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine and saw Finland join last year. The addition of the two Nordic countries will bolster the alliance’s capabilities, strengthening its position in the high north and the Baltic Sea — all while sending an important message to Moscow.

Four maps explain how Sweden and Finland could alter NATO’s security

“Today is a historic day,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “The parliaments of all NATO member states have now voted in favour of Swedish accession to NATO. Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Hungary’s vote, saying, “Sweden’s membership will make us all stronger and safer.”

Illegally annexed by Russia in March 2014

NATO countries not shown:

Portugal, Iceland, United States and Canada

map nato web Artboard 58 384

Illegally annexed by Russia in March 2014

NATO countries not shown:

Portugal, Iceland, United States and Canada

map nato web Artboard 62 640

NATO countries not shown:

Iceland, United States and Canada

Illegally annexed by Russia in March 2014

While the alliance is indeed bigger than ever and stronger than it has been in years, many months of obstruction from Turkey, followed by continued delays by Hungary, spotlighted the challenge of keeping allies together, even in the face of an aggressive, revanchist Russia.

The ratification in Budapest comes at a moment when NATO allies are struggling to stay united on aid for Ukraine and the alliance is trying to project confidence despite concern about remarks from former — and potential future — U.S. president Donald Trump.

So, when allies finally gather at NATO headquarters in Brussels to raise the Swedish flag, there will be celebration, certainly, but also exhausted sighs of relief.

After the signing of the ratification document, just a few formalities remain. NATO officials and diplomats said the alliance will try to move fast, ideally formalizing membership by the end of the week, though it could take longer.

“We certainly do welcome the vote in the Hungarian parliament today, look forward to it being finalized, and are ready to receive the instruments here in Washington and welcome Sweden as the 32nd member of NATO,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

The expansion of the NATO alliance is a tangible sign of the changes wrought by Russia’s war in Ukraine. In the aftermath of Russia’s full-scale invasion two years ago, Finland and Sweden abandoned years of military nonalignment to seek security within NATO. Their joining required unanimous support from all member countries.

Finland joins NATO, doubling alliance’s land border with Russia

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Putin’s closest ally in the European Union, had said he would not be the last holdout. But on Sweden’s bid, he was.

Orban’s main stated objection was to comments from Swedish officials about the erosion of democracy in Hungary.

His demand list wasn’t nearly as long or detailed as that of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who sought F-16 fighter jets from the United States and the lifting of arms embargoes by multiple countries, while also insisting that Sweden crack down on groups Turkey considers to be terrorists and prohibit the burning of the Quran at protests.

Even after the Turkish parliament ratified Sweden’s membership in January, concluding 20 months of back-and-forth, Orban maintained that Sweden’s joining NATO was a matter to be negotiated.

Turkey votes in favor of Sweden’s NATO membership after months of delay

He pressured the Swedish prime minister to visit him in Budapest — and wasn’t content to meet on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Brussels.

Eventually Kristersson agreed, and on Friday, in the Hungarian capital, the two signed a deal to expand Budapest’s fleet of Swedish-built fighter jets.

Orban cast the deal as part of a process to repair damaged trust.

“To be a member of NATO together with another country means that we are ready to die for each other,” he said. “So if you would like to make that kind of strong relationship, you need the proper basis for that, especially trust and mutual respect.”

He reflected that Hungary’s slowness in agreeing to Sweden’s NATO membership was “cautious and proper preparation,” conducted at the right pace.

The parliament on Monday voted 188 in favor and 6 against. U.S. Ambassador David Pressman watched from the gallery. “Sweden’s accession to NATO will strengthen the security of the United States, of Hungary, and the entire transatlantic alliance,” he said afterward to The Washington Post. “Sweden has been ready to join the alliance for almost two years. We look forward to welcoming Sweden into the alliance without further delay.”

CIA leak, sanctions highlight strained relations between U.S. and Hungary

Earlier this month, a bipartisan delegation of U.S. senators who visited Budapest to press for movement on ratification said they had been denied meetings with Hungarian officials.

Addressing Hungarian lawmakers before Monday’s vote, Orban spoke in favor of Sweden’s joining NATO. He also talked about Hungary having had a long and controversial relationship with the countries of Scandinavia — and how outsiders trying to intervene in those disputes have hindered their resolution.

Orban was on the defensive throughout his remarks. Although his party dominates the country’s politics, it has been shaken by scandal this month. President Katalin Novak resigned under pressure for pardoning a man convicted of helping to cover up sexual abuse in a children’s home. Lawmakers were also voting Monday on the election of a new president, Tamas Sulyok.

Michael Birnbaum in Washington contributed to this report.


A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the Black Sea. Sweden’s membership would strengthen NATO’s position in the Baltic Sea. The article has been corrected.

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