This week, both Finland and Sweden are expected to apply for NATO membership. In a move that abandoned decades of military neutrality, the two countries will submit a joint application to NATO shortly after each decision is ratified.
In a press conference, Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö said, “Today, we, the president and the government’s foreign policy committee, have together decided that Finland … will apply for NATO membership.” He spoke on how being a member of such an alliance will “maximize” Finland’s military stance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin added that “we hope that the parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership during the coming days.”
Niinistö continued by saying, “A new era is opening … A protected Finland is being born as part of a stable, strong and responsible Nordic region. We gain security, and we also share it. It’s good to keep in mind that security isn’t a zero-sum game.”
Quickly After Finland’s announcement, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson revealed that she was also backing an application to join the 30-member alliance. Andersson’s party, the Swedish Social Democratic Party, has dismissed its long history of opposition to NATO in spite of the ongoing conflict within Ukraine. “The best thing for the security of Sweden and the Swedish people is to join NATO,” Andersson said at a news conference. “We believe Sweden needs the formal security guarantees that come with membership in NATO.”
Andersson added that non-alignment has served Sweden well in the past, but could put Sweden at risk in the future, as it would be the only non-NATO country in the Baltic region. Thus, joining NATO would compensate for geopolitical “vulnerab[ilities].”
Niinistö spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on his decision to join NATO in hopes to de-escalate tensions between Russia and those in the Nordic region. Russia’s foreign minister said, “Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop threats to its national security,” if Finland joins NATO. Repeated threats to both countries include destructive nuclear weapons and strengthening Russia’s defense in the Baltic Sea region.
Niinistö believed his call with Putin was “direct and straightforward” but also “calm and cool…The surprise was he took it so calmly.” Putin responded by saying a membership with NATO “would be a mistake, since there is no threat to Finland’s security.”
NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said NATO will welcome both countries with “open arms” but that formal approval could take several months. However, Turkey expressed its opposition to Finland and Sweden’s decision to apply, saying that both countries must stop supporting terrorist groups and provide clear security guarantees, as well as lift export bans placed on Turkey. To join NATO, there must be unanimous approval by the alliance’s members. Without Turkey’s approval, Sweden and Finland will not receive consensus approval to join NATO.
Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the minister of foreign affairs for Turkey, said, “There absolutely needs to be security guarantees here. They need to stop supporting terrorist organizations.” In response, Niinistö said he was ready to meet with Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to discuss a possible solution to the objections. Stoltenberg told reporters that “Turkey made it clear that its intention is not to block membership,” and that he was confident that they could find common ground.
In recent polls, around 68 percent of Finnish people stand with joining the alliance, a number double the percentage before Russia’s invasion. Polling in Sweden suggests a slight majority backs the membership as well.
In spite of popular public opinion, there are still plenty who oppose NATO membership for the Nordic countries. Veronika Honkasalo, a member of Finland’s parliament, said that she was, “afraid that NATO membership will increase actually the tensions in the Baltic Sea region and also will increase the tensions in Finland, especially regarding the eastern border.” There are further concerns that both countries could be open to Russian attacks during the application process.
“Now Russia has gone so far that joining NATO seems to be the only genuine solution here,” Charly Slaonius-Pasternak, the lead researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told ABC News. Thus, Putin, who has often felt that NATO expansion was one of Russia’s greatest threats, ironically acted as the catalyst for NATO’s growth right at Russia’s doorstep.
By Kevin Niu