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Rocket launched from Esrange. Photo: Esrange

Sweden joins NATO’s space alliance

Even though Sweden is currently stopped from joining the defense alliance NATO after Turkey's obstruction, Sweden has nevertheless continued to tie itself politically and militarily to NATO. Sweden has now joined the space defense alliance APSS, which is run by NATO – a sign that NATO sees Sweden's entry into the alliance as a given.

Published: February 18, 2023, 7:00 am

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    It was on Wednesday, during NATO’s ongoing defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels, where Sweden, despite not being an official member, had nevertheless been granted access to the organisation. Sweden chose to join the space defense alliance APSS (Alliance Persistent Surveillance from Space). The space defense alliance is run by NATO and only NATO members – and now Sweden and Finland – may join the alliance.

    Spy balloons?

    According to the defense alliance, the cooperation project should contribute to better communications, expanded navigation possibilities and a better ability to detect enemy missiles, but spy balloons were also mentioned by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a press meeting on Monday before the ministerial meeting that took place on Tuesday and Wednesday.

    “This project is also a good example of civil-military cooperation, providing a powerful access to our intelligence toolbox,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană said during a press briefing ahead of the meeting.

    But Sweden’s role has become more than just nominal, and downright necessary because they are the only country in Europe with the capacity to send satellites into space.

    Surveillance operations from space

    Another goal is that the member countries of APSS will aim at supporting ongoing operations in a faster way by sharing space intelligence from the participating countries’ military space sensors. Civilian and commercial satellite sensors will also be able to be included in the project.

    “This is an initiative to merge and collaborate around space imagery, that is, information from space, and it can be used both to identify different types of natural disasters, but it can also be used for defense intelligence and to follow situational images on the ground. What can be ascertained from the war in Ukraine is that sensors and space location data are very important for the modern battlefield and it feels good that Sweden is now entering into this cooperation,” said Defense Minister Pål Jonson (Moderate Party), on the phone from Brussels to Swedish daily Aftonbladet.

    The participants in the APSS project are initially, according to NATO’s press department, Sweden and Finland as well as the NATO countries Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, Great Britain and the United States.

    Sweden’s role is important in the space alliance because of Esrange

    Sweden will also have a prominent role in the cooperation because Sweden and Norway are the only two countries in Europe that currently have the capacity to launch rockets. Sweden’s Esrange and planned rocket base in Kiruna mean that they have by far the largest capacity in the matter. Sweden is the only nation in Europe that can launch satellites into orbit without, for example, like France, using bases at the equator.

    The APSS meeting with NATO’s defense ministers and Finland and Sweden as invited parties. Photo: NATO


    Pål Jonson hoped that the new NATO cooperation would lead to more launches from Swedish soil, he told Aftonbladet.

    “We work hard on that ability. Investments have been made at Esrange and the government invited the EU Commission there in connection with the inauguration where that dimension was included. This will create better conditions for Sweden to cooperate with NATO allies in the space area.”

    The decision to join the space alliance and that Sweden is allowed as a member gives a clear indication of how the Swedish government, but also NATO, reason about Sweden’s future role as a NATO member. It is clearly seen as inevitable, even if Turkey is currently preventing its membership, and Sweden is still being prepared for a place in the defense alliance. Becoming part of a sub-alliance is a clear step towards that goal.

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