BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO would quickly welcome Finland and Sweden into its ranks with open arms if they decide to apply, the military alliance’s top civilian official said Wednesday, as Russia’s war on Ukraine is boosting the public support of the two Nordic countries for membership.
The military organization could also be ready to provide security guarantees to countries if a possible membership bid angers Russia, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
A poll conducted last month by Finnish TV channel YLE showed that, for the first time, more than 50% of Finns support joining the Western military alliance. In neighboring Sweden, a similar poll showed that supporters of NATO membership outnumber opponents.
“If they decide to apply, I expect all allies to welcome them,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels as NATO foreign ministers met to discuss the war in Ukraine. . “We know they can easily join this alliance if they decide to apply.”
Before launching war on Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin demanded that the 30-nation military organization stop expanding and withdraw its troops from Russia’s borders. It is therefore unlikely that the prospect of joining neighboring Finland and Sweden will be welcomed in Moscow.
To protect them, Stoltenberg said NATO member countries could be prepared to provide a security guarantee to cover the two neutral nations from the time they announce a possible bid for membership until their requests are approved.
Once members, they would benefit from NATO’s collective defense clause, which obliges all members to come to the aid of any ally under attack.
“I’m sure we’ll find ways to address any concerns they might have about the period between potential candidacy and final ratification,” Stoltenberg said. He declined to speculate on what those security guarantees might entail.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said lawmakers in his country are due to debate a government white paper on security this month, including an option to join NATO. He said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had changed public opinion.
“In three or four weeks we have a majority, for the first time” in favor of joining, Haavisto said.
He said Finland knows that “Russia is ready to take bigger risks, as we can see in Ukraine, bigger risks also for its own security. We also see that Russia is capable of mustering more than 100,000 men against a single country, even without touching its reserves.
Haavisto added that “the threshold has been lowered, at least in debate,” on Russia’s possible use of tactical nuclear or chemical weapons.
He, too, was reluctant to go into detail about any security guarantees Finland might need, especially as the membership debate continues in his country. But Haavisto said it’s something his country would like to discuss with “key” NATO members, and that Finnish leaders have been in contact with US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
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