Sweden and Finland, Russia’s two neighbors, have expressed their interest in joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The firm commitment to join NATO by these Nordic nations is unprecedented. In the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, both countries did not feel compelled to join a military alliance whose purpose was unclear.
Russia has put NATO at risk of losing even more members by attacking Ukraine. Countries that are not members yet realize that securing their borders by joining a NATO alliance will help them to better defend themselves from Russia’s military aggression.
NATO’s Nordic expansion
Even before the outbreak of the war, a Swedish journalist wrote that “I do not see how Sweden and Finland will be able to guarantee our security outside NATO when Russia is ready in 2022 to start a completely unprovoked full-scale war against a neighboring country.” Although the Nordic countries have never been part of any military bloc in the past, their current position in the international system has made them take this necessary stance.
The acquisition of NATO membership is time-consuming and can take a long time for countries to be approved for accession talks about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Poland, Bulgaria, and the Chech Republic underwent this difficult process in 1999, and it took almost 20 months until they were officially opened to the alliance.
In the first stage, an aspiring country should establish with NATO officials that they fulfill the political, legal, and military obligations of becoming a member. In a “letter of intent,” the applicants’ foreign ministries would confirm their agreement to meet these obligations and promises.
In the long, drawn-out process of NATO membership, every member state must approve every applicant. Even though a bit tedious and rigorous, Sweden and Finland received protection while they went through this process.
What is the effect on European Security?
Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to NATO will change the European security architecture in two important ways. One is related to its capacity in the north of Europe.
The expansion of NATO into the north will grow its capacity to defuse geopolitical crises by providing a deterrent and increasing the structural depth of other members. In addition, Swedish and Finnish membership will provide even more support for Baltic countries in any conflict.
With the inclusion of Sweden and Finland into NATO, transatlantic cooperation will be revived. The expansion of the US-led military alliance in Europe also means that the United States will attain an increasing capability to exercise its hegemony in the region. This is very much in keeping with the geopolitical interests of the United States, particularly at a time when Russia is also competing for a sphere of influence in Europe.
Will this lead to Russian retaliation?
Is the Nordic expansion of NATO enough to provoke aggression from Russia? One should not forget that NATO’s eastward expansion caused the ongoing Ukrainian crisis in the first place.
Russia has warned of “serious military and political consequences” for Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian President and deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, wrote that “If Sweden and Finland join NATO, the length of the alliance’s land borders with the Russian Federation will more than double.”
Russia will have to “dedicate significant land and air defense resources to the Baltic region” and deploy significant naval forces in the Baltic Sea if it cannot guarantee a nuclear-free status.
A reputable journalist for Foreign Policy, Michael Hirsh, made a smart point. He said: “If Finland allows NATO to deploy troops, bases, and weaponry in the country, they would be putting the gun on themselves – because the prospect of Russia invading them is all too real, and it would certainly increase tensions; between Russia and the United States.”