Understanding the challenges of Finland and Sweden joining NATO in four questions

Nearly 80 days after the start of the war in Ukraine and following repeated threats from the head of the Kremlin vis-à-vis Finland, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced their desire to join the ‘NATO on Sunday, ending nearly 200 years of ” misalignment “.

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For its part, Sweden has announced that if Finland joins the transatlantic alliance, it too will ask to join. A decision warmly welcomed by the secretary general of the institution, Jens Stolenberg, who promised that Finland’s accession would be ” smooth and quickly. The announcement, on the other hand, was received more coldly by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said he was hostile to it, and by the Kremlin, who denounced an “error”.

The Obs sums up why this decision is historic and the consequences it could have on the future of NATO.

  • Why is this decision historic?

This willingness of Finland and Sweden to join the transatlantic alliance breaks with two centuries spent away from military alliances. The two countries had until then held a position of ” misalignment “.

A posture inherited from its history for Finland. The territory had been ceded in 1809 to Russia by Sweden. If it had gained its independence during the revolutions of 1917 and had managed to escape the status of satellite country of the USSR, the country had all the same been forced to sign a ” friendship treaty in 1948, under pressure from Moscow, stating that it should maintain its neutrality and stay out of transatlantic cooperation. Its foreign policy, always monitored by Moscow, had led it to remain “non-aligned”, even after its accession to the European Union.

Sweden is also neutral for more than two centuries. For example, the country had not taken part in the conflicts during the two world wars of 1914 and 1939. The country’s policy of neutrality had then changed into a policy of ” military non-alignment “. A status that did not, however, prevent him from forging close ties with the transatlantic alliance. Sweden had notably participated in NATO missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

It was the war in Ukraine that reshuffled the cards in Finnish and Swedish public opinion. In Finland, especially, since the country shares nearly 1,300 kilometers of borders with Russia and the country has already been explicitly threatened by the head of the Kremlin. Today, 70% of Finns and 50% of Swedes are in favor of joining NATO.

  • Would this membership be beneficial to NATO?

The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO could benefit the alliance from a geographical point of view. The alliance would thus cover a large part of the Baltic Sea and would facilitate the protection of certain Eastern European states located nearby, such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The strength of its army is exceptional in Europe, more than 280,000 combat-capable soldiers and 600,000 reservists, for a total of 5.5 million inhabitants.

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Finland also benefits from many assets that would be beneficial to the alliance, in terms of cyberbullying, but also for its grain and fuel reserves. In exchange, the country would mainly benefit from military protection, as well as logistical support (intelligence, information, even nuclear) from the alliance in the event of an attack.

Sweden, which has begun to reinvest in its military since Russia annexed Crimea, meanwhile partially restored military service in 2017. The country has an army of 25,000 combat-capable soldiers and 25,000 other reservists.

  • How does the membership process work?

Membership of a country to NATO is a long process, which can take up to several years. However, it could be that the circumstances and the case of Sweden and Finland are faster than others.

To join NATO, a country must first initiate a dialogue with the members of the alliance, in particular to justify its aspirations to membership and address the reforms that it must carry out in this direction. Indeed, countries must be able to promote the principles enshrined in the Washington Treaty and be able to contribute to the security of the NATO area. They must also meet certain political, economic and military criteria. You have to operate democratically, have a market economy, commit to settling conflicts peacefully, be able to make a military contribution to NATO, treat minority communities fairly.

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On all these subjects, Finland and Sweden already meet the criteria for the alliance, which could facilitate the accession process. This could nevertheless be blocked by Turkey, whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is hostile to the accession of these two new countries to the alliance. Insofar as, for each new accession, the members of NATO must be unanimous as to their desire to introduce a new country, the refusal of the Turkish president could block the process if he opposed his right of veto.

  • What are the risks for Sweden or Finland?

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Despite repeated threats from the Russian president against Finland, the Finnish president has informed Vladimir Putin of his intention to apply for NATO. For the master of the Kremlin, Finland’s renunciation of its status as ” non Aligned ” would ” a mistake, since there is no security threat in Finland “. Before adding that Russia could take measures ” technical-military ” in retaliation.

Finland has announced that it expects computer attacks or border violations. ” We are prepared for different types of actions “, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced on Saturday May 14.

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