This will probably be the fastest NATO enlargement ever and the one that will redraw the security map of Europe. Finland’s leaders on Thursday announced their belief that Finland should join the world’s largest military organization because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Sweden may soon follow suit.
Should they apply for membership, this decision would have far-reaching ramifications for Northern Europe and transatlantic security.
Undoubtedly, it will also anger their larger neighbor Russia, which attributes, at least in part, its war in Ukraine to NATO’s continued expansion closer to its borders. It’s unclear how Russian President Vladimir Putin might retaliate. The Kremlin said on Thursday that would certainly not improve European security.
What follows is a brief overview of what Finland and Sweden could join the 30-nation NATO alliance, with the Nordic partners expected to announce their intention to join in a few days.
Why do Finland and Sweden want to join NATO?
Not neutral like Switzerland, Finland and Sweden traditionally consider themselves militarily “non-aligned”.
But Russia’s war in Ukraine and Putin’s apparent desire to establish a “sphere of influence” centered on Moscow have deeply shaken their notions of security. Just days after ordering the February 24 invasion, public opinion changed dramatically.
Finland’s support for NATO membership has hovered around 20-30% for years. It now stands at more than 70%. Both are NATO’s closest partners, but maintaining good ties with Russia has been an important part of their foreign policy, especially for Finland.
Now they are hoping for security support from NATO states – mainly the United States – in case Moscow retaliates. Britain pledged on Wednesday to come to their aid.
What impact would this have on the security of the Nordic countries in the Baltic Sea region?
NATO membership for the two, joining their regional neighbors Denmark, Norway and Iceland, would formalize their joint security and defense work in a way that their Nordic defense cooperation pact does not. did not.
NORDEFCO, as it is called, focuses on cooperation. Working within NATO means putting forces under joint command.
Membership would strengthen the Nordic countries’ strategic hold on the Baltic Sea, Russia’s maritime access point to the city of Saint Petersburg and its enclave of Kaliningrad.
Finland and Sweden also join them, along with Iceland, in the heart of the triangle formed with the North Atlantic and the Arctic maritime zones, where Russia projects its military power from the north of the Kola Peninsula. NATO’s integrated military planning will become much simpler, making the region easier to defend.
How long will it take for Finland and Sweden to become official members of NATO?
Finland and Sweden are NATO’s closest partners. They contribute to alliance operations and air policing.
More importantly, they already meet the criteria for NATO membership, in terms of functioning democracies, good neighborly relations, clear borders and armed forces in line with allies. After the invasion, they formally reinforced the exchange of information with NATO and attend all meetings on war issues.
Both are modernizing their armed forces and investing in new equipment. Finland buys dozens of high-end F-35 warplanes. Sweden has superior fighter planes, the Gripen.
Finland claims it has already met NATO’s defense spending guideline of 2% of gross domestic product. Sweden is also increasing its military budget and hopes to reach the target by 2028. The NATO average was estimated at 1.6% last year.
What is Russia’s response?
Putin demanded that NATO stop expanding and in his May 9 speech blamed the West for the war.
But public opinion in Finland and Sweden suggests he pushed them into the arms of NATO.
If Finland joined, it would double the length of the alliance’s border with Russia, adding another 1,300 kilometers (830 miles) for Moscow to defend.
Putin has promised a “military, technical” response in the event of membership. But many troops from Russia’s Western District near Finland were sent to Ukraine, and those units suffered heavy casualties, according to Western military officers.
So far, Moscow isn’t doing anything obvious to deter the two – apart from possibly a few incidents of Russian planes entering their airspace. The Kremlin said Thursday that its response could depend on how close NATO infrastructure is to Russia’s borders.
Some NATO members fear the Russians could deploy nuclear weapons or more hypersonic missiles to the enclave of Kaliningrad, across the Baltic Sea wedged between allies Poland and Lithuania.
Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report.