Ukraine Crisis: Are Sweden and Finland likely to join NATO?

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine three weeks ago, European countries’ defense policies are undergoing the most fundamental re-evaluation since the end of the Cold War in the early 90s. The continent’s economic giant, Germany has already abandoned its post-war pacifism doctrine, sending weapons to Ukraine and increasing its annual military spending to over 2% of its GDP, as has long been demanded by the US. As Putin’s Russia has openly revealed its intentions regarding its Western neighbors, will Finland and Sweden finally abandon their neutrality policy in favor of NATO’s military umbrella?

Ascending to power in 2000, Vladimir Putin inherited a former superpower fallen from grace: Russia’s economy had collapsed in transition from communism to a liberal free market, alcoholism ran rampant and former Soviet satellite states were vigorously moving to the Western camp both economically (EU) and militarily (NATO). Russia’s strong man aspired to not only raise the country back on its feet but to return it to its former glory. Drawing his inspiration both from the Russian empire before 1914 and the Soviet Union, Putin’s ambition to “Make Russia Great Again” poses justifiable security concerns to Eastern European countries, many of which were part of Russia in the era Putin is referring to. 

Putin has made it no secret that he wants the remaining countries still outside of NATO to stick to their neutrality policy. Already back in 2007 in his now infamous speech in the Munich security conference Putin criticized the US’s hegemonic position in world politics and NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe. Putin’s last verbal warning before the war in Ukraine was in December 2021, when he demanded security guarantees from Western leaders against NATO expansion: “We have made clear that any further NATO movement to the east is unacceptable”.

Russia’s gamble in Ukraine is likely to revoke unpleasant flashbacks in its Northern neighbor’s memory: Sharing over 1000 kilometers of border with Russia and having fought two wars against the Eastern superpower, Finland is no stranger to Russian aggression. Only narrowly avoiding a Soviet invasion in the 1940s, Finland has based its foreign doctrine in appeasing its neighbor, later leading to the birth of the term Finlandization, which mocks the country’s careful approach to its neighbor. However, Russia’s invasion in Ukraine has put into perspective whether staying neutral is enough for Vladimir Putin. As put by the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö “the masks have been taken off”.

NATO’s reluctance to intervene militarily in Ukraine has shown that non-members of the organization, no matter how close the cooperation, would be left alone in the case of a possible invasion. Hence, joining NATO while Russian troops are occupied in Ukraine seems like an ideal option. Consequently, Finnish public opinion has rapidly turned pro-NATO: According to a study conducted by Yle, the majority of Finns (53%) supports joining NATO. For context, in 2017 that number was only 19%.

However, the question of Finland’s adhesion in the military organization goes beyond the will of Finns: Finland must meet the requirements of NATO to be even considered and the current members of the organization need to vote unilaterally for Finland’s adhesion. As NATO doesn’t accept countries involved in a military conflict as its members, a small-scale border clash on the Russian border is enough to stop Finland’s NATO process in its tracks. Hence, the stakes couldn’t be higher and determining the right time for an application is a vital question of strategy that is likely to give Finnish leaders some sleepless nights. 

Unlike its Nordic neighbor, Sweden has enjoyed a relatively long period of peace. The absence of conflict on its terrain has reflected on the country’s military policy: in 2010, Sweden suspended its national service, consequently severely weakening the Swedish army in numbers: in 2013, Sweden only had around 16 000 soldiers in its reserves and the Commander of the Swedish Defense Forces estimated that faced with a hypothetical war, the country would last only around a week. However, the occupation of Crimea and multiple sightings of Russian submarines in the Baltic Sea have worked as a rude awakening: As a reaction to Russian aggression, Sweden re-installed its national service in 2017.

Although Sweden is re-evaluating its neutrality policy, Swedes are still not as sold to NATO as the Finnish: According to a poll conducted by SVT, 41% of Swedes support NATO, whereas 35% oppose.  Moreover, the country’s PM Magdalena Andersson stated earlier this month that Sweden has ruled out all talks on the issue, wanting to avoid further escalations in the region. However, if Finland’s NATO adhesion becomes reality, the two countries are likely to join together, like they did in the EU back in 1995.

Furthermore, how would NATO benefit from adding two new members in its ranks? First, the adhesion would permit to unify defense in the Baltic Sea. Secondly, NATO would gain a valuable ally in Finland, whose army is already more compatible with NATO requirements than some of the armies of its current members are. However, as Joe Biden’s USA aims to de-escalate tensions between Russia and the West, opening negotiations with Sweden and Finland could be seen as miscalculation in America. When on the other side of the negotiation table is an increasingly isolated dictator who happens to have a hold on nuclear arms, a certain amount of caution is more than understandable. 

The Nordic countries’ leaders are most likely feeling out the international situation, biding their time to file an application into the military organization.  However, unlike the most frivolous NATO enthusiasts are hoping, that time might come in the next few years, not in weeks or months. Nonetheless, one thing is clear: the wind has changed, and it is now blowing from the West. 

Image Credits: Jan Van De Vel /DW

Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse e-mail ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *

Related Posts
photo of Astana, capital of Kazakhstan
Lire plus

Kazakhstan in 2022

With the revolt of January 2022 against the increase of the gas price in the country and the demonstrations which followed and more recently the problem of Ekibastouz which was deprived of electricity during several days, whereas there were temperatures which went down until -30°: What is happening to Kazakhstan?
Castro en pleine conférence
Lire plus

The end of the Castro era

In the following weeks, the little brother of the clan, Raúl Castro will retire from the world of politics at nearly ninety years old. Cuba turns a major page of its history. Between the coronavirus, food penury, long waiting lines in front of shops and a lack of tourists, Cuba was hardly struck by the crisis.