Finland’s government recently declared a “new era” is at hand as it inches closer to seeking NATO membership. Hours later, Sweden’s governing party also backed a plan to join the trans-Atlantic alliance amidst the ongoing Russian against in Ukraine.
Russia has long been against any NATO countries moving closer to its borders, so Sweden and Finland’s move to join the organization seem bound to draw Russia’s ire. Putin has already warned Finland that relations will be “negatively affected.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the process for Sweden and Finland to join would be quick. He also said he didn’t expect Turkey to stall the process. Stoltenberg spoke after top diplomats from the 30 member states met in Berlin. He expressed his hope that Ukraine would triumph in the war after advances by Russian military forces appeared to be faltering.
In Finland, Prime Minister Sanna Marin and President Sauli Niinisto confirmed that their country would be seeking NATO membership during a joint news conference. Finland, previously nonaligned, shares a long border with Russia. “This is a historic day. A new era begins,” said Niinisto.
The parliament of Finland is expected to endorse the decision quickly in the coming days. Most likely, a formal membership application will be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels next week.
Sweden follows Finland’s lead in joining NATO
Sweden, also nonaligned, followed Finland’s lead, inching closer to applying for NATO membership after the Social Democratic Party, Sweden’s governing party, met recently and backed joining the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The decision by the leading party breaks with the long-standing position that Sweden should remain nonaligned and signifies a clear majority leaning toward NATO membership in parliament. Sweden has not held membership in any military alliance since the Napoleonic Wars. After being defeated by the Red Army in World War II and losing about 10% of its territory, Finland adopted neutrality.
“Our 200-year-long standing policy of military nonalignment has served Sweden well,” said Andersson, “But the issue at hand is whether military nonalignment will keep serving us well? We’re now facing a fundamentally changed security environment in Europe.”
Sweden and Finland abandoned previous neutrality when they joined the European Union in 1995.
Prior to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, public opinion in both countries was firmly against joining NATO. After the invasion, public support for membership surged almost overnight in both Sweden and Finland.
The former Soviet republic of Georgia’s bid to join NATO is also being discussed again, despite dire warnings from the Kremlin about the consequences. Georgia and Russia fought a brief war in 2008 over a breakaway region of Georgia called South Ossetia.
Stoltenberg said he is confident the process for Sweden and Finland will be expedited. Meanwhile, the alliance would increase its presence in the Baltics to deter threats from Russia. “All allies realize the historic magnitude of the moment,” said Stoltenberg.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock echoed Stoltenberg’s sentiment. “Sweden and Finland, if you’re ready, we’re ready.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was optimistic that all NATO members would support bids from Sweden and Finland. “I’m very confident that we will reach consensus,” said Blinken.