Historically neutral Helsinki and Stockholm may consider joining NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Caroline Bouisse is a second-year History and International Relations student at King’s College London. She is passionate about American and European politics and geopolitics.

NATO membership for Finland and Sweden would have significant repercussions, and European security warned Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

For her part, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that the decision would be taken “in the next few weeks”. However, her Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson, remained coy and did not give a date for the moment.

A HISTORY OF NEUTRALITY FINALLY CAPSIZES

Regarding their surface area (450,295 km2 and 338,424 km2, respectively) and population (almost 10 million Swedes and 5.5 million Finns), Sweden and Finland are small countries in Europe. This characteristic, together with their proximity to major powers, in particular Russia, and their turbulent past, has led them both, in different historical contexts, to base their security policy on the principle of neutrality. Neutrality means that a state remains outside a conflict and entails a certain number of duties for the state that claims it permanently, including the prohibition of concluding an agreement that could lead to war and the obligation to defend itself. Although Finland and Sweden have not always complied scrupulously with these obligations and have not hesitated to compromise their duty of self-defence, particularly during the Cold War, they have nevertheless made non-participation in military alliances for wartime neutrality a guideline of their security policy. 

Moreover, should Helsinki and Stockholm decide to apply officially, the Italian daily Corriere della Sera expects their application to be accepted in record time since the two countries “already participate as observers in Nato’s military exercises, and Nato has already signalled that it would welcome the two countries with open arms.

The same opinion is expressed by Politico, which explains that their acceptance should not “exceed a few weeks” and that the two “would add military strength to the Alliance”.

Membership would therefore be a mere formality, and if it seems likely today, it is because it is supported by the population of the two Scandinavian countries. The European news site reports that in Finland, public support for NATO membership has even risen from 24% in December 2021 to 68% today.

RUSSIAN RETALIATION

On Thursday, the former Russian president and current number two on the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said that if Finland or Sweden joined NATO, Russia would strengthen its military assets, including nuclear, in the Baltic Sea and near Scandinavia.

This is a major political setback for Vladimir Putin. His aggression against Ukraine, officially motivated by the fear of seeing Kiev join Nato, is pushing two more countries into the arms of the Atlantic defence organisation. It is hard to imagine a more counterproductive move.

But after 24 February, circumstances have changed and “joining NATO will never be that easy” for either country, Politico understands. At the next NATO summit, the opportunity could come quickly to be held in Madrid on 29 and 30 June. On the other hand, Moscow continues to make threats, but these threats are unlikely to change much: the wind has shifted in Finland and Sweden, and the wind is blowing westwards.

Image credit: https://www.republicworld.com/amp/world-news/russia-ukraine-crisis/finlands-decision-to-join-nato-will-not-be-affected-by-russian-threat-foreign-minister-articleshow.html

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