Itt’s likely to be the quickest NATO enlargement ever and one that would redraw Europe’s security map. Finnish leaders announced Thursday their belief that Finland should join the world’s biggest military organization because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Sweden may soon follow the example of Finland.
They could apply to be members, which would have profound implications for Northern Europe’s security and transatlantic security.
No doubt, it will also anger their large neighbor Russia, which blames, at least in part, its war in Ukraine on NATO’s continued expansion closer to its borders. It’s unclear how Russian President Vladimir Putin might retaliate. The Kremlin said Thursday that it certainly won’t improve European security.
The following is a brief look at what Finland and Sweden’s membership in the 30-country NATO alliance could mean, with the Nordic partners expected to announce their intention to join within days.
Finland and Sweden
Not neutral like Switzerland, Finland and Sweden traditionally think of themselves as militarily “nonaligned.”
But Russia’s war in Ukraine and Putin’s apparent desire to establish a Moscow-centered “sphere of influence” has shaken their security notions to the core. Public opinion changed dramatically just days after Putin ordered the February 24th invasion.
For years, support in Finland for NATO membership hovered between 20-30%. The current figure is over 70%. The two are NATO’s closest partners but maintaining good ties with Russia has been an important part of their foreign policy, particularly for Finland.
Now they hope for security support from NATO states — primarily the United States — in case Moscow retaliates. Britain has pledged to assist them on Wednesday
NATO membership for the two, joining regional neighbors Denmark, Norway and Iceland, would formalize their joint security and defense work in ways that their Nordic Defense Cooperation pact hasn’t.
NORDEFCO, as it’s known, focuses on cooperation. NATO membership means that you can put forces under joint command.
Accession would tighten the strategic Nordic grip on the Baltic Sea — Russia’s maritime point of access to the city of St. Petersburg and its Kaliningrad exclave.
Together with Iceland, Finland and Sweden join them in the middle of the Triangle formed with North Atlantic and Arctic maritime areas. From the north Kola Peninsula, Russia project its military might, Russia also includes Sweden. The region will be easier to defend thanks to integrated NATO military planning.
Finland and Sweden are NATO’s closest partners. They contribute to the alliance’s operations and air policing.
Most importantly, they already meet NATO’s membership criteria, on functioning democracies, good neighborly relations, clear borders and armed forces that are in lock-step with the allies. Following the invasion they officially increased their information exchanges and were invited to all meetings on war topics.
Both nations are upgrading their armed forces as well as investing in new equipment. Finland has purchased dozens high-end F-35 fighter planes. The Gripen is a top-quality fighter jet from Sweden.
Finland says it’s already hit NATO’s defense spending guideline of 2% of gross domestic product. Sweden is also increasing its military budget, and hopes to achieve the goal by 2028. Last year, the NATO average was 1.6%.
Putin demanded NATO cease expanding, and blamed the West in his speech of May 9, 2009.
But public opinion in Finland and Sweden suggests that he has driven them into NATO’s arms.
If Finland joins, it would double the length of the alliance’s border with Russia, adding a further 1,300 kilometers (830 miles) for Moscow to defend.
Putin has promised a “military, technical” response if they join. But many troops from Russia’s western district near Finland were sent to Ukraine, and those units suffered heavy casualties, Western military officers say.
So far, Moscow is doing nothing obvious to dissuade the two — apart perhaps from a couple of incidents where Russian planes entered their airspace. The Kremlin said Thursday that its response could depend on how close NATO infrastructure moves toward Russia’s borders.
NATO members are concerned that Russia might use nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles against NATO’s Kaliningrad exclave. This is a region in the Baltic Sea, wedged between Poland and Lithuania.
Karl Ritter from Stockholm and Jari Tanne in Helsinki contributed to this article.
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