If Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO, the land border of the alliance with Russia will double from 1215 to 2600 km. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin stressed in a joint statement on 12 May that accession of their country to NATO will serve to strengthen the entire alliance. “Finland should apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the steps at the national level necessary to make this decision will be taken quickly, within the next few days,” they said.
Sweden, which has been more hesitant about NATO membership, will make a similar announcement this coming weekend, May 14 and 15, experts say.
Sweden’s NATO membership will ease the defense of the Baltic states
As Robert Dahlheu, NATO expert at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, explained to DW, membership of Sweden and Finland in the alliance offsets the latter’s uncertainty about how the two countries will act in a crisis.
“NATO will know exactly the position of Sweden and Finland, and this will increase security in the Baltic Sea region and the ability to pursue a policy of deterrence there. In addition, it will be easier for the alliance to protect the Baltic countries, because there will be no more questions about whether Swedish airspace can be used , for example, to send troops or cargo to the Baltic countries,” he says. “From a political point of view, this will also be a win.”
Harry Nedelku, NATO expert and director of policy at Rasmussen Global, an international consulting firm, shares this view. “The main message of these countries joining NATO is political, and it is addressed to Russia. At the same time, the real opportunities offered by Finland and Sweden are important to NATO. While all the rest of Europe was winding down their military capabilities after the Cold War, Finland and Sweden have been building up theirs, and this can bring a lot of benefits to the alliance,” he notes.
For his part, Finnish Ambassador to NATO Klaus Korhonen told DW that while Russia remains an important neighbor of his country, political confidence in that relationship has been undermined: “Russia has, in a sense, changed things in Europe in terms of the future. So I I think that one of the objectives of Finland’s foreign policy in the future will be to build a well-functioning relationship with Russia based on mutual interests, but how this will happen remains to be seen.”
Reasons for not being neutral
After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, both Finland and Sweden moved closer to the European Union and became members in 1995. So far, however, both countries have continued to maintain military neutrality. Sweden was not part of any military alliance for over 200 years and remained neutral during World War II. Finland, which fought in the Second World War until September 1944 on the side of Nazi Germany, after the end of the war, sought to maintain good relations with the Soviet Union and did not enter into any military alliances.
However, even after the collapse of the USSR, Helsinki retained neutrality. In both Sweden and Finland, Russia’s war with Ukraine has sparked new discussions about future security policy. “For Finns, foreign policy has always been about knowing that we have a long border with Russia, a combination of realism and idealism, and the understanding that history can be pushed,” former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb told DW.
According to him, Russia’s war with Ukraine led to a national awakening in his country. “A few weeks before the start of the war, 50% of the Finns were against accession to NATO, and 20% – for. That changed overnight, with 50% in favor and 20% against, Stubb says. Now that Finland has announced its intention to apply for membership, popular support for this move will rise to 80%, the politician predicts.
For Sweden, the possible entry into the alliance is an even more serious paradigm shift in terms of security than for Finland.
“NATO has never dealt with a less interested candidate for membership than Sweden, whose government is currently led by the Social Democrats. But they knew that if Finland applied, they would have to do so too, because otherwise Sweden would be would be one (in the region. – Ed.) outside NATO and it would have to spend much more on defense,” explains Elizabeth Brough, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, in an interview with DW.
According to Alexander Stubb, when the situation changes, both Finland and Sweden can make decisions very quickly: “Finland has done this throughout its history. totalitarian, authoritarian Russia, they come to the conclusion that NATO membership is the right way.”
New challenges for NATO?
NATO members made it clear that Finland and Sweden would be “received with open arms,” and the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg added that the process of their entry “will be quick.” However, according to Robert Dalhye of the Swedish Defense Research Agency, the main problem for NATO will not be Sweden’s and Finland’s bid for membership, but how to deal with the aftermath of the war in Ukraine.
“NATO was of the opinion that humanity had turned the page and that Russia was a strategic partner. For this reason, the alliance did not have a large-scale base of forces in the east. This must change,” the expert argues.
Rasmussen Global’s Nedelku believes Scandinavian entry will strengthen NATO’s presence in the Baltic region: “Finland and Sweden are already among NATO’s strongest and most integrated partners, and joining the alliance will lead to a stronger NATO naval presence in the Baltic Sea.”
Possible threats from Russia
In the meantime, in the event that Finland and Sweden join NATO, Moscow promises to take “reciprocal steps” of both a military-technical and other nature. The statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry, published on May 12, states that in this way Russia intends to “stop the threats to national security arising in this connection.” Earlier, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who now holds the post of deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said that Moscow would strengthen its presence in the Baltic Sea if Finland and Sweden become NATO members.
However, Elisabeth Brough calls a Russian invasion of Finland or Sweden unlikely. “No one will seriously argue that Russia can invade Sweden or Finland if they apply to join NATO. Russia clearly does not have the resources for this. Currently, it is not only bogged down in Ukraine, but also showing itself there with a very weak side. So, in order to strike back with a military strike against Sweden or Finland, now is not the right time, “Bro emphasizes.
“What Russia is doing at the moment is cyberattacks against Finland and stupid advertising campaigns against Sweden claiming that many famous Swedes were Nazis. If this is the best thing they can do, then I think now is the right time to joining NATO,” Bro adds.
Probability of Russian invasion of Finland
But Harry Nedelku believes that Russian aggression during the process of Finland and Sweden joining NATO is quite likely. Therefore, the allies of these countries could place some military forces in the Baltic Sea to send a political signal to the Kremlin, he says. Britain has already signed an agreement to support Sweden in the event of an attack on this country. It is expected that other Western countries will follow suit, entering into similar agreements with both Sweden and Finland.
According to Elizabeth Brough, NATO membership in itself, regardless of support from the UK and the US, strengthens the position of a country in the light of possible threats from Russia. “When this war is over, Russia will lick its wounds and say, ‘It was like Vietnam (for the US. – Ed.). We have acted very badly and disgraced ourselves. Now we will reform our armed forces.” And they will. Maybe not as radically (as the United States. – Ed.) after the Vietnam War, but they will be much better than now,” the analyst is sure.
“That’s when Sweden, Finland and other countries in the region will really have to worry about potential Russian aggression. And then it’s time to be glad that you are a member NATO“, she summed up.