That distant boom you heard last week was Vladimir Putin’s head exploding as he heard the news of a formal request from both Finland and Sweden to join NATO. They are highly skilled and experienced militaries who have maintained their neutrality over decades. This will give NATO significant firepower as well as geopolitical advantages. This is an important change. Their populations had for many decades agreed that it was safer not to provoke the Russian Federation through formal Alliance membership. They now support this course.
These two Nordic nations have had an impact on their security thinking since the invasion in Ukraine. How will it unfold? What are the consequences of the Finnish-Swedish accession to the NATO Headquarters in Brussels decision making table?
Both militaries are very familiar to me. As Supreme All-Allied Commander of NATO less than 10 years ago, Finland and Sweden were both involved in NATO operations. They also trained often with us forces.
NATO missions in Afghanistan, Libya and the Balkans were carried out by the Swedes. A Swedish military security team was there to protect me in times of need. They also had forces deployed in the Balkans. Part of the campaign was an air strike over Libya by Swedish Gripen fighters. They are highly skilled jets that can match the capabilities of a US F/A-18 Hornet.
As a NATO member, Finland is a solid partner in Afghanistan and the Balkans. Even Iraq where NATO has a strong training mission was maintained when I was Commander. They have a rich tradition of universal conscription, and keep their reservist training up to date. They have a highly competent ground force and I was able to see them exercise at bases near Helsinki. Their defense spending was acceptable and in line with NATO goals.
A glance at a map shows how the addition of these two nations expands NATO’s strategic options to the north. NATO forces can operate along Russia’s long border and train alongside the Russian flanks in order to counter any future Russian military actions against it.
Notable is also the fact that both nations are actively involved in Arctic operations. Both nations have skilled aviation and seagoing forces that can operate in the harsh Arctic environment. When I would complain about bad weather during NATO exercises in the north of Sweden, my Swedish counterpart, the commander of their armed forces, would say, “There is not bad weather, only bad equipment.” Having more NATO capability focused on the high north is a major plus for the alliance.
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Some will argue that admitting Sweden or Finland into the alliance would be provocative and dangerous. We must remember our purpose: This is Putin’s war of choice. It will be disastrous for him as well as the Russian Federation. The campaign has seen numerous war crimes documented, huge Russian incompetence (thankfully), as well as an inspiring performance from Ukraine. Putin knows that he has shot his bolt in Ukraine—the idea of him taking some kind of military or diplomatic attack against Finland and Sweden for joining NATO seems unlikely. He simply doesn’t have the resources to do so—for now.
We cannot completely rule out a Russian asymmetrical response, which might come in the area of cyber – a dog that hasn’t loudly barked yet in this conflict. Putin may be holding off on some cyber-options until the sanctions bite more, when he might unleash them on the west. The Swedes and Finns could be targeted at that time. The good news is both nations have highly skilled cyberforces and advanced cyber defenses.
I used to say in Helsinki and Stockholm, “Tell us you want to join NATO on a Wednesday, and we’ll get you in by Friday.” The process won’t be quite that swift or smooth (already President Erdogan of Turkey is throwing a few yellow flags), but they will both be hoisting the NATO flag by the fall, if not sooner. There is nearly unanimous acclimation for their membership and Turkey—after perhaps extracting a few concessions—is expected to acquiesce.
Russia is on the verge of obtaining everything it needs don’tWant out of the war of choice? They have thousands of killed in action and wounded; a sunken flagship at the bottom of the Black Sea; hundreds of millions of rubles lost in military capital stocks, from helicopters to tanks to armored personnel carriers; massive economic sanctions and the shutdown of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, with concomitant revenue loss; oligarchs under sanctions; and diplomatic isolation from the western world, representing 70% of the world’s GDP.
To that bloody butcher’s bill, you can add a serious and important expansion of NATO. A NATO membership card is good news. The addition of these countries will help strengthen NATO in turbulent times.
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