Finland regions

How NATO will change if Finland and Sweden become members

Russia’s assault on Ukraine has prompted Finland and Sweden to seek membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), putting them on the fast track to joining the transatlantic alliance if the political obstacles can be overcome. Their membership would considerably widen NATO’s border with Russia and mark a new entrenchment of geopolitical rivalry.

What is happening?

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The Finnish and Swedish governments formally applied for membership on May 18, launching an intensive diplomatic process that could see the two countries join NATO within months. Supporters hope to build momentum around NATO’s annual summit, this year from June 28-30 in Madrid, where alliance leaders will meet to discuss the war in Ukraine, China’s growing influence and a new strategic concept. “Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO is self-evident in all respects. This is a win-win proposition for the Baltic Sea region, the alliance and European security,” writes Alexander Stubb, former Prime Minister of Finland. “Candidates don’t get any more compatible with NATO than that.”

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The two Nordic states, like all applicants, must meet the political, economic and military requirements and demonstrate that they will uphold all the policies and principles set out in the 1949 Washington Treaty, the alliance’s charter.

To grant membership, the governments of the thirty current NATO members must sign and ratify the so-called membership protocols for Finland and Sweden. In the United States, this requires the signature of the President and the approval of two-thirds of the United States Senate. President Joe Biden and Congress should move quickly to support the process.

What are the obstacles ?

The biggest obstacle was the objections raised by Turkey. Ankara demands that Helsinki and Stockholm renounce their support for a Kurdish militant group in Syria, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The YPG, which was also backed by the United States and other NATO members, helped defeat the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria, but Turkey considers the group and its alleged links to the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK) as a terrorist threat. Diplomacy to broker a resolution to the impasse is underway.

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Are they ready to join us?

Finland and Sweden have worked with the alliance for nearly three decades and are widely regarded as capable security partners. They joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace in 1994 and both have contributed personnel to NATO-led operations in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq. In 2014, they became two of six Enhanced Opportunity Partners and have since worked to increase their armies’ ability to operate with NATO forces. Sweden recently hosted more than a dozen NATO allies and Finland in BALTOPS 22, a major maritime exercise in the Baltic Sea.

What would be the security implications of joining?

The joining of Finland and Sweden should strengthen the eastern flank of the alliance and its collective defenses in northern Europe. Perhaps the most significant impact would be the stretching of NATO’s border with Russia. Arrival from Finland would more than double the length, adding about 800 miles of border. And Finland and Sweden would greatly expand the alliance’s presence in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Circle.

Safer:

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

Finland

Sweden

Defense and Security

Russia

Ahead of its invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, Russia sharply criticized US and allied leaders for NATO’s post-Cold War expansion in the former Soviet bloc and demanded binding security guarantees, including a permanent ban on any new members. In recent weeks, President Vladimir Putin has said Finland and Sweden’s membership bids pose “no direct threat to Russia”, but he warned the two countries against becoming bases for NATO forces or equipment. Swedish leaders have said they do not want to host NATO assets; Finland has not yet indicated its preferences. Neighboring NATO member Norway allows allied access for exercises but does not allow permanent installations or nuclear weapons.

The proposed expansion is expected to bolster the security of the Baltic states, which have been NATO members since 2004 and whose defense planners have long feared Russia could seize the Finnish and Swedish islands in the Baltic Sea, in particular Gotland, and uses them as bases to launch attacks on their territories. Some Western military analysts have said NATO would almost certainly need basic rights in Finland and Sweden to defend the Baltic states. Baltic leaders strongly support Nordic membership and continue to pressure other members of the alliance to step up NATO military deployments in their countries.

The integration of Finland and Sweden should also strengthen NATO’s deterrence in the Arctic, a region where Russia has invested heavily in commercial and military infrastructure. Joining Finland and Sweden would bring all Arctic states except Russia into NATO, allowing the alliance to pursue a more cohesive strategy in the region.