What Does Finland and Sweden potentially joining NATO mean?
Finland and Sweden have formerly been known to maintain a very neutral position in international conflicts, however, with the events between Russia and Ukraine escalating, both have displayed intentions of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO is an intergovernmental organization and military alliance between 30 states. NATO’s objective is to ‘‘guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.” Although some may argue the extent to which both countries were neutral, both countries arguably lost their neutrality and shifted to military non-alignment when they joined the European Union in the 1990s. That technicality aside, why have Finland and Sweden remained neutral for so long and what exactly is forcing them to withdraw their neutrality?
As Finland shares about an 800 feet border with Russia, has declared independence from Moscow, and also has fought Russia twice during World War II, the state remained a neutral position in international conflicts primarily to mitigate any possible military aggression from Russia. Also in 1948, Finland signed the Agreement of Friendship Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance with Russia, which included a mutual defense provision between the countries and prohibited Finland from becoming a member of any organization that was considered hostile to the U.S.S.R. Sweden remained neutral, less because of practical or strategic reasons, but more so moral or ideological. Sweden has practiced and attempted to maintain “multilateral dialogue and nuclear disarmament” while positioning itself as a form of “mediator” between conflicts (Henley, 2022).
After being one of the few states to remain neutral for an extended amount of time, both states are shifting to become NATO members most likely for the benefit of gaining collective defense. Assuming that both states apply to become NATO members, it is not guaranteed that they can join. Some of the conditions for a state to join the National Atlantic Treaty Organization includes being a democratic country, having “the market economy run by principles of free enterprise,” and the “prospective member country needs to prove that its military can not only protect the prospective member but add to the security of the organization as a whole” (Wilson and Smith, 2022). Both states have met the first two conditions, but only Finland meets the third standard as the state has reached the minimum requirement of investing at least 2% of their GDP in their military. Jens Stolenberg, the NATO general, has stated that if both states applied, they would be accepted “with open arms” and a fast application process, however, they would be subjected to the formal ratification by the member states which may take months.
This period of formal ratification leaves both Finland and Sweden vulnerable to any exerted force by Russia. Russia has clearly threatened “serious military and political consequences” if either state attempts to join NATO. Accompanying this, both states may struggle to become a member of NATO, as there must be a unanimous vote of approval by the members of the treaty and the state government of the joining country must also approve of joining NATO before they can officially become a member. This is an issue as Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a political leader of a NATO member, has expressed a potential veto to Finland and Sweden joining as Sweden and other Scandinavian countries are suspected of supporting Kurdish militants with whom Turkey associates as terrorists (Turkish President Opposes, 2022).
So what other alternatives do Finland and Sweden have? Both states could simply remain as part of the European Union. Although joining NATO would require states like the United States to militaristically support them, being a member of the European Union will also provide a manner of collective defense. Similarly to NATO’s Article 5 in which members agree to “assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force,” the European Union also has a requirement in Article 42.7 that “If a member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member states shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means of their power.” Assuming that Finland and Sweden are either rejected from joining NATO or are too concerned to attempt to join NATO, the best course of action to protect themselves against Russia will most likely be to simply remain members of the EU and continue to develop their military.
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