Finland and Sweden NATO Membership: Russia Feels Threatened

Finland and Sweden have requested to join NATO. Putin’s predictions of a deterrent to NATO expansion have not come true in the Ukraine war. If Finland and Sweden become NATO members, Russia will feel the threat on its northern borders as well. Now Putin must face a united Europe in the form of NATO. However, a number of pro-Russian countries continue to remain in Europe, such as Hungary and Serbia.

Finland and Sweden to Join NATO 

According to the Guardian, the leaders of Finland and Sweden have confirmed that they intend to join NATO. As reported by the NATO website, Finland and Sweden have submitted their applications for membership. Finland and Sweden on Wednesday morning (18 May 2022) simultaneously handed in their official letters of application to join the organisation. Klaus Korhonen and Axel Wernhoff conveyed the letters to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the alliance’s Brussels headquarters. Klaus Korhonen is the Finnish Ambassador to NATO, and Axel Wernhoff is the Swedish Ambassador to NATO.  Mr Stoltenberg warmly welcomed the requests, saying “this is a good day at a critical moment for our security.” Allies will now consider the next steps on their path to NATO.

What Kind of NATO Members Will they Become? 

A point to discuss about the Finnish and Swedish membership in NATO is the role the two countries will take on. According to Engelsberg Ideas, Finland and Sweden will want to contribute to strengthening collective deterrence and ‘peace time’ operations. They will want to focus the bulk of their defence efforts on the Baltic Sea and Arctic regions. Once they are both members, it will be possible to reimagine NATO’s defence plans for the entire region. Finland and Sweden have robust military capabilities. They have a good experience of operating in a challenging regional environment. Moreover, their geographic location will contribute to the potential for collective defence.

What Does NATO Membership Mean for Finland and Sweden?

According to Project-Syndicate, Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO will alter the European security architecture in two important ways. First, northern Europe will acquire the capacity to coordinate substantial defence forces regionwide. Sweden and Finland will furnish NATO with important new capabilities. Moreover, NATO will have a greater capacity to control the Baltic Sea. Thus, it will have a greater capacity to support the defence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Putin’s Predictions of a Deterrent to NATO Expansion

In March 2007, when Putin addressed the annual Munich security conference, he gave a friendly warning to NATO about its expansion eastward. “NATO has put its frontline forces on our borders,” he complained. NATO expansion “represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. Events before the Russia-Ukraine war constituted a last chance to avoid a hot war in Eastern Europe. Putin demanded that NATO provide guarantees on several security issues. Russia wanted binding assurances that the alliance would reduce the scope of its growing military presence in Eastern Europe. Russia wanted assurances that NATO would never offer membership to Ukraine (the Guardian). However, Putin’s predictions of a deterrent to NATO expansion did not come true and the Ukraine war started. Thus, Putin’s plans to stop the expansion of NATO have not worked. NPR says that Russian President Vladimir Putin has used possible NATO expansion to justify invading Ukraine. Now, that invasion might expand the alliance. Finland and Sweden, both formerly neutral Russian neighbours, have already applied for membership.

Threat to Russia on its Northern Borders

The membership of Finland and Sweden in NATO means its expansion on Russian borders, which the latter considers a threat to its security. As reported in the Washington Post, Moscow has raged against the Western alliance’s potential enlargement. Russian officials have vowed “retaliatory steps” to “balance the situation.” According to NPR, US President Joe Biden has said that new members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation. It never has been. NATO’s purpose is to defend against aggression. “That’s its purpose, to defend,” Biden said. But this is not how Moscow sees it. President Vladimir Putin has long accused NATO of aggressive expansion in Europe.

According to CBS News, Putin insists that NATO’s expansion is one of the primary reasons for the Ukraine-Russian war. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has warned that “Finland’s accession to NATO will cause serious damage to bilateral Russian-Finnish relations”. He has added that it will damage the “maintenance of stability and security in the Northern European region.” He also emphasized that Russia will have to take retaliatory steps to neutralize the threats to its national security.

Putin Must Face a United Europe

With the expansion of NATO, Russia has to face a more united Europe. As reported by the Washington Post, NATO is a “collective self-defense” alliance. It binds member countries to come to the aid of any other NATO nation under attack. At the heart of the organisation is Article 5. The article says that “an armed attack against one or more” members “shall be considered an attack against them all.”

The New Yorker says that a “new era” of NATO expansion deepens the divide between Russia and the West. If Finland joins NATO, its eight-hundred-mile border will become NATO’s longest boundary with Russia, doubling the length of Europe’s frontline. Finland and Sweden together form a strategic landmass. Rose Gottemoeller says the membership of Finland and Sweden in NATO turns the Baltic Sea into a NATO lake.” Rose Gottemoeller is a former deputy secretary-general of NATO and US Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that NATO is now stronger than ever and Europe and the United States are more united. Jens Stoltenberg is NATO’s secretary-general.

Final Remarks

The US-led military alliance claims that the purpose of NATO expansion is deterrence against Russia. A decision by Finland and Sweden to join NATO will improve deterrence against Russia in northern Europe. Thus, it will add to the US-led military alliance’s security (CNBC). However, Putin feels that the eastward expansion of NATO is a threat to Russian security. Putin says the eastward expansion of NATO is one of the main reasons for starting the war in Ukraine (CBS News). A question to ask is: will the expansion of NATO bring peace and security? Or it will increase tension and US-led wars with great benefits for the US and some of its allies? History shows how the US has pursued its interests under the pretext of creating security in the world!

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