Sweden and Finland are, countless journalists and commentators tell us, set to give up their neutrality when they submit applications for NATO membership next month. Part of this statement is correct: the two geopolitical neighbors and sisters are should apply for NATO membership in mid-May. But they are not neutral. Both countries renounced their neutrality when they joined the European Union in the 1990s. Being neutral, in fact, has little to do with being a member of NATO. It is important to take this into account when discussing the possible future of Ukraine.
“Neutral Finns, Swedes Reconsider NATO Membership”, Associated Press reported the 3 of March. Virtually every media outlet has run similar stories, and there’s a reason for the huge interest in both countries. The past few weeks have triggered fundamental changes in the countries’ relationship with NATO. As far back as I can remember, and I am a child of Cold War Sweden, Sweden has proudly stayed out of NATO. As children, we all learned Sweden’s position by heart: .” Over the years, public opinion has sometimes shifted towards greater support for NATO membership, and sometimes it has waned, but it has never consistently stayed above 50%. And even though public opinion had gone halfway and slipped in, the often-ruling Social Democrats — longtime NATO skeptics — still had a card up their sleeve. Joining the alliance would only be possible if Finland joined at the same time, they said. And in Finland, support for NATO membership remained firmly around 20 to 25 percent.
Then, of course, came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Finland’s support for NATO membership has skyrocketed past 60%, and Sweden’s support has also increased. Sweden’s centre-right opposition parties have all said they want the country to apply for membership. The ruling Social Democrats decided to kick the streets and said they would appoint a commission to look into the matter. But in Finland, the centre-left government has taken decisive action. Prime Minister Sanna Marin has commissioned a government report on the pros and cons of joining the alliance, which the government submitted in Parliament on April 13. The report saw above all the advantages of joining NATO, noting, for example, that “if Finland and Sweden became members of NATO, the threshold for the use of military force in the Baltic Sea region would increase, which would strengthen the region’s long-term stability”. Survey of 200 members of parliament, national television channel YLE reported that 112 supported a NATO offer while only 12 opposed it. (33 were undecided and 43 did not respond.) The Swedish government seems to have realized that it would be totally foolish to pass up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join NATO quickly, with minimal hassle and with Finland providing coverage. This announcement that its review would be concluded by May 13 rather than at a previously announced later date. It is also important that 47 percent of Swedes are in favor of NATO membership, and that 59% are in favor of Finland’s membership. The governments also announced that President Sauli Niinistö of Finland will visit Sweden on May 17-18. A NATO announcement is imminent.
This caused a flurry of media reports about the two countries abandoning their neutrality. New horns! It is 27 years since Sweden and Finland were last neutral, that is, since they joined the EU. “If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States have an obligation towards it to help and assist it by all means in their power”, stipulates Article 42.7 of the Treaty on ‘European Union. In fact, the EU mutual defense clause is as strong as the famous NATO clause Section 5in which the member states of NATO undertake to “assist the Party or Parties thus attacked by taking immediately, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such measures as they deem necessary, including the use of force army “.
In 1995, Sweden and Finland finally took the plunge after having remained outside together for many years. In Finland’s case, the long wait was necessitated in part by its post-World War II situation.friendship treatywith the Soviet Union. And in the case of Sweden, the country proudly wanted to chart its own course outside of any alliance. He wanted to be neutral.
Yes, the EU would hardly be able to take military revenge for an armed attack on one of its Member States. But article 42.7 means that its members are not neutral, even though Ireland likes to portray itself as such and even though the media and commentators like to slap the neutrality tag on Sweden and Finland (and Austria ). This matters a lot, and not just when it comes to Sweden and Finland. Consider Ukraine. In recent weeks, President Volodymyr Zelensky has hinted that he is ready to renounce NATO membership for Ukraine. It represents an offer to Russia in a potential peace deal and an acknowledgment that a bid for NATO membership may not succeed.
But staying out of NATO would not leave Ukraine stranded. The country has a viable chance of entering the EU, but not in the near future. That would give him 27 countries committed to helping him. And Ukraine could form a caring community with other neighbors. Take Georgia and Moldova.
There are still neutral countries in the world. Switzerland only joined the UN in 2002 and is of course neither a member of the EU nor of NATO. But Sweden and Finland are not neutral. And unlike Finland after the Second World War, Ukraine will not face forced neutrality at the end of this war, because Russia is unable to block an application for EU membership. . Words matter.
Elisabeth Braw is a Senior Fellow at the AEI, specializing in defense against gray zone attacks. She previously led the Modern Deterrence program at the Royal United Services Institute. She is the author of The Defender’s Dilemma Identifying and Deterring Gray-Zone Aggression (AEI, 2021).