Sweden, Finland and Switzerland are considering security links with US National Guard, general says

Jul 27, 2023, 5:21 AM | Updated: 7:26 am

President Joe Biden speaks with Nordic leaders from left, Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, ...

President Joe Biden speaks with Nordic leaders from left, Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Biden, Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir and Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Thursday, July 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Switzerland, Finland and Sweden are considering joining the U.S. National Guard’s security partnership program in a further expansion of American military ties across Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The chief of the National Guard, Gen. Dan Hokanson, announced the discussions with each country, which had not previously been reported, in remarks at the National Press Club on Thursday.

Interest by the three countries in the program is the latest indication of how Russia’s war has led each of those nations to take steps that consider ending long-standing policies of military nonalignment.

“I’m pleased to announce that we will soon deepen and expand our security cooperation relationships throughout Europe,” Hokanson said

Finland and Sweden “are currently in discussions for partnerships,” he said, while “Switzerland is currently reviewing the relationships that other nations share with the National Guard and assessing the possibility of the program in their future.”

Finland and Sweden were the most recent countries to seek NATO membership; Finland joined in April and Sweden is waiting for approval. Longtime-neutral Switzerland began considering easing export controls on sending weapons to active war zones earlier this year.

The National Guard’s State Partnership Program is a lesser-known but key military instrument for U.S. troops to build relationships with foreign militaries by conducting regular training and education exchanges with young officers. It partners National Guard units with host nations.

The program can help foreign military better shape their own operations to reflect Western military organization and equipment. That is something seen as key to getting a host of Eastern European nations on NATO standards to ease how multinational armies could conduct operations.

The National Guard program began 30 years ago after the collapse of the Soviet Union as former Soviet states looked for ways to move away from their communist-styled military organization. Ukraine was one of the first to join the National Guard program, partnering with California’s National Guard. From the earliest days of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s air force has reached out for support to the California National Guard partners it trained with.

Sweden and neighbor Finland ended their policy of military nonalignment after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Both applied for NATO membership, seeking protection under the organization’s security umbrella.

Finland, which shares a more than 800-mile (1,300-kilometer) border with Russia, joined NATO in April. But Sweden, which has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, had previously been delayed due to objections from Turkey. But earlier this month, Turkey agreed to remove one of the last major roadblocks to Sweden’s membership.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey had agreed to support Sweden’s NATO bid –- by putting the issue to a vote in parliament — in return for deeper cooperation on security issues and a promise from Sweden to revive Turkey’s quest for European Union membership.

The war in Ukraine has also prompted Swiss government officials to grapple with their country’s longtime conception of neutrality, which is enshrined in the constitution and prohibits exporting weaponry to active war zones.

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