Sweden and Finland strengthen NATO security and solidarity against Russia
Vladimir Putin made history, but not the legacy he intended to leave behind.
He strengthened the Western alliance and added important partners outside of Europe in solidarity against his horrific invasion and brutality against Ukraine, a sovereign democratic nation. Putin provided the opportunity for greater interoperability in communication and consultation for the united effort of about 40 like-minded countries to support Ukraine’s defense. This partnership provides Ukraine with arms and humanitarian aid in an unprecedented amount.
Not only are Putin’s actions galvanizing opposition to his own aggression, they are also preparing the free world for the next threat. This coordination between Western nations will be perfected for a future setting if another autocrat decides to invade another free country or seize territory in order to change its government by force.
The world has seen a rise in dictatorships over the past 10 to 15 years. After Russia invaded Ukraine, NATO brought together a wide range of partners to uphold a fundamental principle: people have the freedom to choose the mode of governance that would apply to their sovereign country.
The incomprehensible blows against Ukraine have prompted leaders and public opinion in Finland, which has an 800-mile border with Russia, to reconsider its cautious and longstanding policy of neutrality towards Russia. Sweden is also coming.
However, these countries are not entering into a new relationship with NATO. In fact, these two sister nations have had the closest relationship with the alliance of all non-NATO allies. Their leaders have attended numerous meetings of NATO defense and foreign ministers over the years, and their armed forces have been significant contributors to NATO missions, most recently in Afghanistan. Finland has announced the purchase of 64 F-35 fighter jets, which will allow its air force to be interoperable with those of NATO states in the context of alliance air missions. Finland’s plans will see it meet the alliance’s target of member states spending 2% of their gross domestic product on defense spending. Sweden will also achieve this target by 2028.
Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership will reinforce NATO’s high priority for the High North. When these two Nordic countries join their regional NATO allies, Norway and Denmark, they will provide a bulwark for this NATO declared area of operation.
Previously frozen sections of the Arctic Ocean have warmed up. Russian and Chinese submarines and icebreakers operated in these waters and even ventured from there into the Atlantic. Indeed, China has announced that it will expand its global Belt and Road Initiative into the Arctic sphere, seeking ports in Greenland to complement its growing European port infrastructure and seeking to expand its economic presence in Iceland.
Sweden and Finland will also provide an indispensable presence in the Baltic Sea; the joining of the two new allies will boost intelligence and military strength to support NATO neighbors Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Russia has adopted a model of threats when a country seeks to join the NATO Alliance. The last two entrants, Montenegro and North Macedonia, have been the target of massive cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns, designed to sow public dissatisfaction with the decision to become a Western ally. There was even an assassination plot in 2016 against Milo Djukanovic, the pro-Western Prime Minister of Montenegro. After Russia gave Finland dire warnings not to join NATO (to which Finnish President Sauli Niinistö replied: “If you want to see why we are seeking NATO membership, look at in the mirror”), Putin seems to have softened his tone. But that could change. Putin’s mood is not a reliable basis for any nation’s foreign policy, including his own.
For all these reasons, NATO must accept Sweden and Finland as soon as possible. For these reasons too, Turkey and any other NATO allies who might be considering delaying Finland’s and Sweden’s membership on the basis of bilateral matters totally unrelated to membership should consider whether to strengthen the alliance as their first priority.
Adding these two highly advanced and military-capable countries would result in a more secure Europe and also strengthen the transatlantic bond with Canada and the United States that underpins NATO deterrence. More importantly, the increased alliance solidarity that will result from Finland and Sweden joining should encourage any autocratic ruler with intentions of disrupting another free country to reassess the benefit of doing so in light of the high cost that the alliance could impose not only on its military power, but on its economy, its prosperity and its social cohesion.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is a former US Senator and US Ambassador to NATO. Dov S. Zakheim is a former Department of Defense Comptroller. They are both Senior Advisors at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. They wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.