The ongoing war in Ukraine has caused numerous security concerns to arise in many European countries. As the Russian Federation continues its military actions, two countries that have historically held back from joining NATO, Finland and Sweden, have applied to join the intergovernmental organization. This led to a rise in tension in their relationship with Russia, but many Western countries have expressed their support.
Why was the decision made?
The two countries’ decision stemmed from Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which started earlier this year on February 24th. The West has criticized Vladimir Putin for endangering European security since, and the Nordic countries debated heavily on whether or not to join NATO. Although both countries have been NATO partners for many years now, they did not have the one thing that could protect them from a potential attack: article five. Article five is part of the collective defense, which is at the heart of the organization. It states that an attack on one of NATO’s members means an attack on every member, hence guaranteeing help from other members of the alliance in the case of military trouble.
Therefore, Finland and Sweden’s decision to join NATO is significant as both countries have a long history of staying away from military alliances and maintaining a mostly neutral approach to many political situations. As NATO partners, Finland and Sweden do not currently have the protection of article five, and aren’t fully involved in the military decisions that are made. The situation in Ukraine, however, forced them to change their long-standing policies of neutrality and apply to become full members of NATO, an indicator of just how serious the security issue is for all European countries.
In order to join NATO, the decision must be unanimous — supported by all 30 member states. Although most members have supported Finland and Sweden, Turkey has been hesitant in accepting them into the alliance. According to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sweden and Finland’s governments back groups considered ‘terrorists’ by the Turkish government. Despite this setback, the member states have agreed to speed-up this process, considering the threat that Russia poses to both Finland and Sweden (the process normally takes up to 12 months). The Russian government has also commented on this situation and even though it does not consider the countries’ applications to join NATO a threat, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said the two countries “should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it.”
Despite Turkey being opposed to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, it seems that the alliance will eventually welcome the two new members and hence increase security for the Nordic countries as well. This will be a huge change because Finland, which shares a border with Russia, will now also have the advantage of collective defense. The “vacuum for security” in that region will now be filled. Moreover, according to Theresa Fallon, founder of The Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies (CREAS), should the decision go through “this is going to be very hard for Putin to explain to the public, that instead of pushing back at NATO, it’s actually got two new members.”
Al Jazeera. ““Historic Moment”: Finland and Sweden Formally Apply to Join NATO.” Www.aljazeera.com, 18 May 2022, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/5/18/finland-and-sweden-submit-applications-to-join-nato. Accessed 22 May 2022.
—. ““Military Tension Will Rise”: Russia Chides NATO Nordic Expansion.” Www.aljazeera.com, 16 May 2022, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/5/16/russia-wont-put-up-with-natos-nordic-expansion-minister. Accessed 22 May 2022.Henley, Jon. ““A Historic Change”: How Sweden and Finland Trod Separate Paths to Nato.” The Guardian, 20 May 2022, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/20/sweden-finland-separate-paths-to-nato.