Finland might finally want to join NATO – Foreign Policy

Just over two months ago, the prospect of Finland joining NATO was virtually unthinkable for most people in this northern European country. She had grown closer to the military alliance over the past three decades but resisted the idea of ​​becoming a full member.

Everything changed when tens of thousands of Russian soldiers crossed the Ukrainian border at the end of February.

Today, Finland’s top leaders are moving closer to NATO membership, buoyed by a dramatic shift in Finnish public opinion from opposing the decision to supporting it virtually overnight.

Just over two months ago, the prospect of Finland joining NATO was virtually unthinkable for most people in this northern European country. She had grown closer to the military alliance over the past three decades but resisted the idea of ​​becoming a full member.

Everything changed when tens of thousands of Russian soldiers crossed the Ukrainian border at the end of February.

Today, Finland’s top leaders are moving closer to NATO membership, buoyed by a dramatic shift in Finnish public opinion from opposing the decision to supporting it virtually overnight.

“It was a major change,” said Pete Piirainen, visiting senior fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. “We think Russia broke the rules, broke the international system and the security architecture.”

Finland’s sudden shift on NATO membership is a dramatic shift in Europe’s security environment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which could dramatically alter the map of the confrontation between Russia and the West.

If Finland joined the alliance, the total land boundary between NATO territory and Russia would more than double, from about 754 miles currently to nearly 1,600 miles. It would also extend NATO’s northern flank along the entire length of the border with the strategically important Russian region of Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula, where a significant part of the Russian Navy is based.

A similar debate over NATO membership is playing out in neighboring Sweden, another longtime alliance partner that had rejected full membership for decades, until the brazen invasion of NATO. Ukraine by Russia. Of the two countries, it is the Swedish public that has historically been more open to joining the military alliance than its Finnish neighbors. This is no longer the case. “The biggest momentum is in Finland, and it’s been a bit surprising actually,” said Anna Wieslander, director of the Institute for Security and Development Policy, a Swedish think tank.

In the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, support for NATO membership in Finland reached a majority for the first time, rising to 62% in a second survey conducted at the mid-March by the Finnish public broadcaster. In Sweden, 51% now support NATO membership, according to a poll in early March, up from 42% in January.

Although Finland is closer to NATO membership than Sweden, most analysts and diplomats agree that the countries are one. If one joins, the other will likely follow. Given their common geography on the Scandinavian Peninsula – with NATO member Norway – the alliance would prefer the two countries to join at the same time. “[With] that, you will have a new solution for security arrangements,” Wieslander said.

“Finland is on the way to membership. I think now it’s a matter of when, not if,” said Erik Brattberg, a transatlantic security expert with the Albright Stonebridge Group, a consultancy. “I think Sweden is still adjusting to the new geopolitical reality. It’s been slower in this adjustment, but they’re also moving in the same direction.

NATO members seem universally ready to welcome Sweden and Finland with open arms. Diplomats from Germany, Great Britain, France, Canada, Lithuania and Estonia Foreign Police their governments would probably support the membership application of Finland and Sweden.

Julianne Smith, the US ambassador to NATO, said Washington would “welcome” the two new members, but stressed that it was up to the governments in Helsinki and Stockholm to take the first step. “They bring in very capable soldiers. They are among our closest allies in Europe, so I can’t imagine a situation where there would be huge resistance to this idea,” she told reporters at a press briefing on Tuesday. “On the contrary, I think NATO allies would generally be enthusiastic.”

The Finnish government is working on a security white paper to be published this month, which will fuel the conversation on NATO membership ahead of the security alliance summit in Madrid in June. The white paper “will clearly influence the debate here in Sweden as well,” Wieslander said.

Brattberg said Sweden’s ruling party, the centre-left Swedish Social Democratic Party, appears to be starting to shift its foreign policy platform in the wake of the Russian war, pushed in part by center parties. -right opposed to renewing a push for NATO membership. “The Social Democratic Party has traditionally, historically stood for Swedish neutrality … and military non-alignment,” Brattberg said. “But even among leading social democrats in Sweden, this position is increasingly seen as less and less relevant in a new era marked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

The issue of NATO membership is likely to be more prominent than ever in the debate ahead of Sweden’s general elections due in September. The country’s Moderate Party has already announced that it will support joining the military alliance.

The prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO is likely to further inflame tensions between Russia and the NATO alliance. The Kremlin has characterized the alliance, born out of the Cold War rivalry between the Soviet Union and the West, as its main geopolitical enemy and signaled that Ukraine’s potential NATO membership has played a major role in his decision to completely invade the country. A senior Russian diplomat warned last month that there would be “serious military and political consequences” if the two countries joined the alliance.

Finland’s Ambassador to Washington, Mikko Hautala, said Foreign Police in an interview that he expected a reaction from Moscow if Finland or Sweden were to go ahead with their NATO bid. “[At] at a minimum, we will see information influencing… those kinds of activities,” he said. “But it’s hard to say what the reaction would be.”

During the Cold War, when Europe was carved up into spheres of influence, Finland opted for neutrality, serving as an important buffer between East and West. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave Finland more leeway in its foreign policy, joining the European Union in 1995 and deepening its cooperation with NATO. “We are basically as close to NATO as you can get without being a member,” Hautala said.

Smith, the US ambassador to NATO, said the Kremlin’s staunch opposition to NATO expansion would not deter allies from welcoming new members, even in the face of a full-scale Russian war in Ukraine. “Russia has done its best in recent months to try to get NATO allies to review this policy,” she said. “He sent a treaty asking NATO to end the process of NATO enlargement, and the response that came back in stereo surround sound from all 30 allies was: Absolutely not. NATO’s door will remain open. , period.

NATO diplomats say Finland brings more benefits to the alliance than just military hardware. Few countries know how Russia works better than Finland, at least as well as foreign countries do in the dark and opaque power structure that Russian President Vladimir Putin has built. They say adding Finland’s expertise and experience in balancing relations with its large eastern neighbor would add significant value to the alliance.

Other transatlantic security experts have said that while Russia would likely condemn Finland and Sweden joining, it does not view those countries in the same way as other potential members who were once part of the Soviet Union and, at least in Putin’s eyes. , should fall under the orbit of Moscow.

“Russia would be furious, but I don’t think they would react the same way if, say, Georgia or Ukraine were now on the road to NATO membership,” said researcher Rachel Rizzo. non-resident principal at the Atlantic Council think tank. .

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