Before launching Russia’s unprovoked and wholly unwarranted invasion of Ukraine, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin had called for NATO to scale back to pre-1998 levels. Instead, he may have driven the alliance closer as Sweden and Finland – two nations that remained neutral throughout the Cold War – look to join the international military alliance.
Strong Finnish Support
Finland shares an 808-mile land border with Russia. It has essentially walked a foreign policy tightrope since the Second World War in which it sought to maintain a policy of neutrality to avoid confrontation with its larger neighbor. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed opinions on the long-standing neutrality among the Finnish people and its lawmakers in Helsinki.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused Finland to review our security strategy. I won’t offer any kind of timetable as to when we will make our decision, but I think it will happen quite fast. Within weeks, not within months. The security landscape has completely changed,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in an address on April 14.
The Finnish parliament began debating the possibility of NATO membership just a week later, and on April 21, major parliamentary groups expressed support for some form of a military alliance in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The majority of Finns are now in favor of joining NATO.
The alliance’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said the country would be warmly welcomed. It has been suggested too that NATO would benefit from Finland’s geographical location and military capabilities. However, Moscow has said it would have to “rebalance the situation” if Finland were to join NATO.
Sweden Still on the Fence?
Sweden has been more reluctant to join NATO, but momentum is also building in Stockholm. Throughout the Cold War, Sweden also maintained a strict policy of neutrality, yet it was largely expected that an invasion was far more likely to come from the Soviet Union than from the West.
Unlike Finland, which had been an ally of Nazi Germany during the Second World War, Sweden stayed neutral during the conflict. However, Sweden and Russia have a long history of animosity that goes back centuries, and Sweden once controlled much of what is now Northern Russia – and in 1809 Sweden lost control of Finland to Russia. Sweden last engaged in a European War in 1814 when it gained control of Norway from Denmark.
In August 2014, Stockholm even celebrated its 200 years of peace. It is therefore not surprising that there remains a reluctance to join NATO.
“What we need to do is to carefully think through what is in the best long-term interests of Sweden, and what we need to do to guarantee our national security, our sovereignty and secure peace in this new heightened tension and situation,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told reporters last month.
De Facto Partners
Even if the two nations were to join NATO, little would likely change. Both Finland and Sweden joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 1994. Throughout the years, each has consistently participated in NATO’s military exercises, including the Saber Strike series and the BALTOPS exercises in the Baltic Sea region.
Both nations are also part of the enhanced NATO Response Force, a highly competent multinational force made up of land, maritime, air, and special operations components that NATO can deploy quickly when needed, in a supplementary role, and subject to national decisions.
One of the guiding principles of the alliance is that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all members. It has only been invoked once, however. That was following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C.
Russia had actually been the first country outside of NATO’s founding members to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, but sadly is now the nation that the alliance looks to deter. Moscow may have wanted NATO to scale back, but the alliance could be stronger than ever.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.