Taking a Side: Finland and Sweden To Join NATO
‘Not poking the bear’ no longer enough to guarantee safety, experts say
Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin called in a joint statement on Thursday for their country to apply to join NATO “without delay.” Finland is set to make an official decision on Sunday after the motion is approved by parliament.
Neighboring Sweden is expected to announce a similar decision on Sunday as well.
The move comes after Finland, and Sweden on Wednesday signed parallel security pacts with the UK during a visit by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Michael Hulden, chairman of the Helsinki Think Tank, told The Media Line the move toward NATO is strategically significant.
“Russia has said that it will retaliate with more than words, and the most delicate time would be from the moment that Finland applies [for membership in the Western alliance], to the moment when it is approved,” he said.
By signing the mutual protection agreement with the UK, Finland has acquired “the safety needed to cover the time needed for becoming a full NATO member,” Hulden said.
Alice Gower, director of geopolitics and security at London-based strategic advisory firm Azure Strategy, said in an interview with The Media Line that the aggressive and unprovoked nature of President Vladimir Putin’s actions against Ukraine has brought into stark relief the threat that Russia poses to these Nordic states.
“Where fear of irking Russia has previously prevented the states from choosing an alliance one way or the other, Russia’s unilateral invasion of Ukraine has shifted the thinking publicly and within government,” she added.
It is no longer enough to be passive, Gower continued. “States must take the initiative and preemptively protect themselves to prevent a similar attack against their interests.”
Maria Mekri, the executive director at SaferGlobe, Finland’s leading independent peace and security think tank, told The Media Line the invasion of Ukraine is just one action in a long series that has shown Europe the nature of Russia’s intentions.
The expected NATO applications were not prompted by the Ukraine invasion per se, she said, “but rather by the change in the security environment in Europe and the awareness of Russia’s irrational and detrimental actions.”
Gower noted that Putin’s actions in Ukraine have forced these countries to reconsider their national security posture and reassess the Russian threat.
Finland shares a 1,340-km. (830-mile) border with Russia, one that is difficult to patrol and defend from any attack from the east, she added.
Joining NATO would assure military protection from the organization’s members, “a fact that Finland and Sweden hope would act as a sufficient deterrent to Moscow,” she said.
As soon as the two countries become NATO members, Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty would cover them.
Article 5 commits each member state to consider an armed attack against one member state, in Europe or North America, to be an armed attack against them all. Upon such an attack, each member state is to assist by taking “such action as [the member state] deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
Hulden said that if Sweden and Finland join the alliance, the Nordic countries will be “a big NATO corridor neighboring Russia even by sea.”
Gower agrees. “If Finland and Sweden joined NATO, Russia would be completely surrounded by NATO states in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic,” she said.
Such a move, she explained, “would undoubtedly be seen as a provocation by Moscow, but the Russian military performance in Ukraine thus far indicates it would not have capacity to fight on multiple fronts at the same time.”
Mekri said, however, that the Nordic states do not see joining NATO as “taking sides.”
“They are joining not against anyone, but rather to improve their own security and increase the threshold against any Russian aggression,” she said.
The European Union is becoming a more cohesive security actor, Mekri added, and the political union is deepening. “Both countries have lived with the Russian threat for decades,” she continued.
Gower pointed out that the invasion of Ukraine has shown the extent to which Russia’s leadership does not share the values of the European political system.
“All countries want their sovereignty to be respected and Russia has shown that it does not play by these rules,” she added.
Finland and Sweden, Gower said, “have previously taken the view that it was enough not to poke the bear. Russia’s actions have shown that this approach does not guarantee safety.”
She noted another reason for making the transition from being neutral to joining NATO: public opinion.
“Neutrality can be interpreted as complicity, and in the face of the atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, this is no longer acceptable,” Gower said.