Finland, Sweden and NATO: what comes next



CNN

Finland is on the verge of joining NATO while Sweden is on the verge of following suit.

Here’s what you need to know about how the war in Ukraine pushed the two Nordic states closer to the US-backed alliance and what comes next.

While other Nordic countries such as Norway, Denmark and Iceland were original members of the alliance, Sweden and Finland did not join the pact for historical and geopolitical reasons.

Both Finland, which declared independence from Russia in 1917 after the Bolshevik revolution, and Sweden adopted neutral foreign policy positions during the Cold War, refusing to align with the Soviet Union or the United States.

For Finland, this proved more difficult, as it shared a huge border with an authoritarian superpower. To keep the peace, the Finns adopted a process called “Finnishization”, in which leaders accepted Soviet demands from time to time.

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fmr. Finnish Prime Minister: “Finlandization” is not an answer for Ukraine

The balancing act of both countries effectively ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. They joined the European Union in 1995 and gradually aligned their defense policies with the West, while avoiding joining NATO outright.

Each country had different reasons for avoiding signing the NATO pact in tandem with the EU.

For Finland, it was more geopolitical. The threat to Russia is more tangible thanks to the shared 830-mile border between the two countries.

“Finland was the exposed country and we were the protected country,” former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in a joint interview with former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb.

Although an independent nation, Sweden’s geography places it in the same “strategic environment” as its Liberal Democratic neighbors, Bildt said. Finland and Sweden have enjoyed close cooperation for decades, with Stockholm viewing its decision to refrain from NATO membership as a way to help keep the heat away from Helsinki. Now, however, Sweden is likely to follow Finland’s lead.

“We share the idea that close cooperation will benefit both of us,” current Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said at a press conference last month along with her Finnish counterpart, Sanna Marin.

The reason most countries join NATO is because of Item 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which requires all signatories to consider an attack on one as an attack on all.

Article 5 has been a cornerstone of the alliance since the founding of NATO in 1949 as a counterweight to the Soviet Union.

The purpose of the treaty, and in particular Article 5, was to dissuade the Soviets from attacking liberal democracies which lacked military strength. Article 5 ensures that the resources of the entire alliance – including the massive US military – can be used to protect every single member country, such as smaller countries that would be defenseless without their allies. Iceland, for example, does not have a standing army.

Bildt said he does not see large new military bases being built in either country if they join NATO. He said joining the alliance would likely mean more joint military training and planning between Finland, Sweden and the current 30 NATO members. Swedish and Finnish forces could also participate in other NATO operations around the world, such as those in the Baltic states, where several bases have multinational troops.

“There will be contingency preparations as part of the deterrent to any adventure the Russians might think of,” Bildt said. “The actual change will be quite limited.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin sees the alliance as a bulwark to Russia, despite spending much of the post-Soviet years focusing on issues such as terrorism and peacekeeping.

Before Putin invaded Ukraine, he made it clear his belief that NATO had gotten too close to Russia and should have been brought back to its 1990s borders, before some Russian neighbors or former Soviet states joined. military alliance.

of Ukraine desire to join NATOand its status as a NATO partner – seen as a step towards eventual full membership – was one of the many complaints Putin cited in an attempt to justify the invasion of his neighboring country.

The irony is that the war in Ukraine has effectively given NATO a new purpose.

“Article 5 is back in the game and people understand that we need NATO because of a potential Russian threat,” Stubb said in a CNN interview before the invasion.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was the last straw that pushed Sweden and Finland to pull the trigger on NATO membership.

If the Kremlin were willing to invade Ukraine, a country with 44 million people, a GDP of around $ 516 million and an armed force of 200,000 active soldiers, what would prevent Putin from invading smaller countries like Finland in Sweden ?

“Everything changed when Russia invaded Ukraine,” Marin said in April. “The mentality of the people in Finland, also in Sweden has changed and it has changed very dramatically”.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, public support for NATO membership in Finland has jumped from around 30% to nearly 80% in some polls. A majority of Swedes also approve of their country joining the alliance, according to opinion polls there.

“Our NATO membership was decided on February 24, at 5 am, when Putin and Russia attacked Ukraine,” Stubb said. “Finland and Sweden would not have united without this attack.”

Officials in both Sweden and Finland also expressed frustration that, in view of the war in Ukraine, Russia attempted to demand security guarantees from NATO to stop the alliance from expanding eastward. Such a concession, however, would effectively have empowered Russia to dictate its neighbors’ foreign policies by depriving them of the ability to choose their allies and partners.

Russia, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told CNN, wants “real influence in security choices in Europe”.

“They want influence on the neighboring countries. And this is totally unacceptable for Sweden. ”

Hear what Finnish students think about Finland’s potential NATO membership

Finnish leaders have announced their intentions to join NATO on Thursday. Sweden should follow suit, potentially as early as Monday, according to Bildt.

Finland said it hopes to apply for membership “without delay” and to complete the steps required to be nationwide “in the next two days”. This will include a vote in the Finnish parliament, which will ultimately vote on whether to join.

NATO diplomats told Reuters that ratification of the new members could take a year, as the legislatures of all 30 current members must approve the new candidates. Both countries already meet many of the criteria for membership, which includes have a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; treat minority populations fairly; undertake to resolve conflicts peacefully; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and engaging in civilian-military democratic relationships and institutions.

As two thriving liberal democracies, Sweden and Finland meet the requirements for NATO membership, although Turkey, for example, could make the process more difficult for would-be members. That country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Friday that he was not looking at both NATO countries “positively”, accusing them of hosting Kurdish “terrorist organizations”.

Meanwhile, both countries will have to rely on its current allies and partners for security guarantees, rather than Article 5. Sweden and Finland have received assurances of support from the United States and Germany in the event of an attack, while the prime minister British Boris Johnson signed mutual security agreements with his Finnish and Swedish counterparts this week.

Russia criticized the decision. His foreign ministry said in a statement that Finland has adopted a “radical change” in foreign policy that will force Russia to take “retaliatory steps, both military-technical and otherwise”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “NATO expansion does not make the world more stable and secure”. He added that Russia’s reaction will depend on “how far and how close the military infrastructure moves to our borders.”

Russia currently shares about 755 miles of land border with five NATO members, according to the alliance. Finland’s accession would mean that a nation with which Russia shares an 830-mile border would become formally militarily aligned with the United States.

Not only would this be bad news for the Kremlin, but the addition of Finland and Sweden would benefit the alliance. Both are serious military powers, despite their small populations.

However, Bildt and Stubb, the former Swedish and Finnish premier, believe that Russia’s response so far has been relatively weak.

“The Kremlin sees the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO as a Nordic solution and, in this sense, not a radical threat,” Stubb said. “We are not too worried.”

Stubb and Bildt said they believe Moscow ultimately views the two countries as reliable neighbors, despite their decision to join a Washington-backed alliance.

“The fact that Finland and Sweden are part of the West is no surprise,” said Bildt.