Finland and Sweden prepare to join NATO


Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin (left) and President Sauli Niinistö (right) publicly announced their intention to join NATO two weeks ago (Photo courtesy of CNN).

Mallory Armstrong, Staff Writer

Even though the war in Ukraine isn’t as all-consuming in the news as it was in February, the conflict has continued. Russian forces have been pushed out of Kyiv (Ukraine’s capital) and Kharkiv (the next-largest city). However, a recent development resulting from fear of continued Russian aggression has the potential to make world history: Finland and Sweden have requested to join NATO.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is generally familiar to most people, a coalition of nations committed to international peace, trade and safety. NATO is currently composed of 30 member states, but that number will soon change with the anticipated addition of Finland and Sweden.

While this shift in global politics may not seem significant, it marks a historic moment, and is particularly important considering the current situation between Russia and Ukraine.

Why are Finland and Sweden such a big deal? I don’t ever hear anything about them, you may think. One of the main reasons is that these two countries have maintained a state of military nonalignment for nearly all of living memory. Sweden hasn’t fought a war since 1814, and Finland has been officially nonaligned since the end of World War II.

Both are part of the Nordic Defense Cooperation (NORDEFCO), an organization that also includes Iceland, Denmark and Norway, and whose purpose is “to strengthen the participants’ national defense, explore common synergies and facilitate efficient common solutions,” according to The difference between NATO and NORDEFCO is that NATO is a military alliance, while NORDEFCO is more focused on facilitating solutions for shared problems. Finland and Sweden’s choice to abandon the policy of neutrality in favor of joining the NATO military alliance is momentous, particularly for Finland.

Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia — joining NATO would increase the coalition’s defensive border with Russia by more than half. This is part of why Finland has long stayed neutral, so as not to antagonize its authoritarian neighbors.

Indeed, in 1948, the Finnish government signed a treaty with the Soviets called the Agreement of Friendship, which prevented them from joining any military alliance hostile to the USSR until it expired in 1992. For the sake of their autonomy and international peace, Finland has often conceded to Russian demands. Joining NATO is a massive step toward a more open and cooperative relationship with Western countries.

Both nations already meet the requirements to be accepted into NATO. They are democratic countries with open-market systems, committed to peaceful conflict resolution, open to military cooperation, and have laws that protect minority populations.

Despite this, ratifying Finland and Sweden as new members could take months or even up to a year, because there must be unanimous acceptance of all member nations’ parliaments and congresses.

Finland and Sweden cite the ongoing conflict in Ukraine as the reason for their applications to NATO. “Everything [has] changed when Russia attacked Ukraine,” according to Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin (J. Berlinger, CNN). It appears that although the two Scandinavian nations have remained carefully neutral through World War II and the Cold War, the war in Ukraine is driving them into NATO’s arms.

As it remains unclear whether Russia will make further expansion attempts, the Scandinavian states seek the protection that the rest of NATO, particularly the military power of the United States, would provide in the case of an attack.

While Finland and Sweden are joining NATO in order to assist with the hostility in Ukraine, membership comes with additional perks. Article 5 of the original NATO treaty states that an attack against one ally is to be considered an attack against the entire group.

Ukraine was not a NATO member, and has been torn apart over the last months as other nations deliberated on how to respond without antagonizing Russia. Of course, many countries (including the United States, the United Kingdom and France — all NATO members) have assisted, but carefully, to avoid a ballooning conflict. When Finland and Sweden join, they will receive the defensive benefits of NATO states.

Moscow blames NATO for the conflict and claims that accepting Finland and Sweden is a direct attack against them. Though no action on their part has been taken so far, other than a few Russian planes entering Finnish airspace, Russian president Vladimir Putin threatens a “military, technical” countermove should the two nations ultimately enter NATO.

Some officials are concerned that Russia will move nuclear weapons or other missiles closer to western Europe, such as Kaliningrad. The Kremlin has stated that its response will depend on NATO’s next moves.

The outcomes of the additions to NATO are uncertain. The threat of Russian retaliation looms, but former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt claimed that he “doesn’t see new big military bases being built in either country should they join NATO,” (J. Berlinger, CNN).

A likely result would be that Finland and Sweden join more cooperative military training, planning, and operations, particularly those in the Baltic countries. According to TIME, both nations are strengthening their military. Finland is purchasing F-35 warplanes and Sweden has the Gripen, high-quality fighter jets. Both are also ramping up their military budgets, which are expected to reach 2% of their GDPs within the next few years (Ritter & Tanner, TIME).

It is also unknown whether other nations will follow in Finland and Sweden’s footsteps and take defensive action against Russia. Six months ago, there was no warning that the current global strife would occur. One thing is certain — the world is watching with bated breath as the situation progresses.

Prime Minister Marin said it best: “When we look at Russia, we see a very different kind of Russia today than we saw just a few months ago… I personally think that we cannot trust anymore there will be a peaceful future next to Russia,” (J. Berlinger, CNN).