Photo Credit: NATO
The Russian invasion of Ukraine changes the way non-NATO member states prioritize security. There are a variety of reasons why countries do not join NATO, however, these countries are reconsidering as the conflict in eastern Europe approaches its third month. Currently, attention is on the non-NATO Nordic countries of Sweden and Finland. There is debate on whether these countries will join NATO, and conversations are divided. Joining NATO would have geopolitical implications for the region. Russia is actively coercing countries to refrain from joining NATO, but Russian behavior should not be a deterrent or a reason for countries pursuing NATO membership. This is a sentiment held by Sweden, Finland, and NATO. If a country wants to join NATO, it should do so of its own accord.
One of the main reasons countries join NATO is because of the protection it provides; particularly, the collective defense principle enshrined in Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty. If these proposed countries joined the alliance, they would be protected under NATO’s security umbrella. While countries can be closer partners to NATO without having official membership, there are benefits that are only applicable to NATO member states. Sweden and Finland do maintain amicable relations with NATO despite their non-member status, however, they are not assured protection under Article 5.
In Sweden, joining NATO is still a contested topic. Many in the Swedish government are hesitant about NATO membership. Swedish Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson, expressed her skepticism about joining NATO by stating that it would have negative implications for the region. Furthermore, she emphasized that this decision would be Sweden’s alone, given the backlash from coercion or threats from Russia. In addition, others in the government such as Minister of Foreign Affairs Ann Linde affirmed that each country will make different decisions according to their security and safety needs, while also emphasizing Sweden’s military neutrality. Yet, members of the Moderates in Sweden are calling for a more careful consideration surrounding NATO membership. Other parties in the government, including the Swedish Democrats, are considering the benefits of joining NATO after historically being against the move. A response to NATO’s membership is rapidly approaching for Sweden.
Many Finns would like to see their country join NATO, with some polls showing 60 percent hoping this will become a reality. Finland’s proximity to Russia and a history of mixed relations between the two countries leave the Finns with valid security concerns. Could Finnish citizens’ concerns be enough to push Finland into official NATO membership? In January, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin expressed that Finland alone would come to the conclusion of whether NATO accession is the best choice for the country. Furthermore, President Sauli Niinisto warned that Finland could be the subject of Russian aggression, especially in the cyber realm, if they decide to join NATO. Yet, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto did reaffirm that the public sentiment from the Finnish population is in the encouragement of NATO and Finland’s relationship. Marin continues to convey the imminency of these discussions on joining NATO, which could cause Finland to decide earlier than expected.
NATO’s Side of the Coin
In a January press conference, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently reaffirmed NATO’s relationship with Sweden and Finland. Despite these countries not being member states, their goals and commitments align with NATO’s. Stoltenberg also mentioned the collective defense clause only being applicable to member countries. So, while NATO does have a close relationship with Sweden and Finland, it is excluded from certain aspects and benefits. In addition, Stoltenberg emphasized that joining NATO is a right that Sweden and Finland hold. Should they pursue membership, NATO will work with both Nordic countries to determine appropriate steps toward accession to the organization. Amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NATO will continue to discuss the process for applicants seeking membership in its organization.
Costs of Joining the Alliance
While there are benefits to joining the alliance, there are costs as well. For example, the timeline for accession to NATO is lengthy. While many European NATO member states view enlargement as a way in which to provide more security, could the time it takes to join the alliance be a deterrent? It is a multi-step process with specific rules that countries are expected to follow. Furthermore, joining NATO brings with it implications for additional defense budget costs. Sweden and Finland would have to pay additional dues based on their Gross National Income, as is required by all member states. However, because Sweden and Finland already meet many of the requirements for accession to the organization, the process could go faster than usual, according to Stoltenberg. As Sweden and Finland consider what it means to join NATO, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will affect decisions on the size of the organization.
What are the broader implications of Finland and Sweden not joining NATO? Currently, there are 30 members. When NATO was founded in 1949, the Nordic states of Iceland, Norway, and Denmark were among the 12 founding members. With Sweden and Finland joining NATO, this may not only make other European countries feel safer, but it would represent a united Nordic front across the alliance.
NATO enlargement affects the Baltic States as well. Latvia has expressed support for Sweden and Finland joining NATO because it would further strengthen a European response to security concerns, the biggest right now being Russia. If Sweden and Finland do not join NATO, this could cause contention between those European countries that feel especially vulnerable. The Nordic states’ accession to NATO could promote greater European solidarity in the face of Russian aggression on the continent. Russia cannot continue to commit war crimes and expect countries in Europe to feel safe. This is a common reoccurrence for Russia to coerce countries into not joining NATO. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine and threats against the sovereignty of nations in Europe, talks about joining NATO become more intensified. Again, there are some questions that still need to be discussed when considering if Sweden and Finland will join NATO. Even if these countries do not decide to join NATO, their commitment to supporting NATO’s initiatives may be stronger than ever. The Russian invasion of Ukraine will likely be a pivotal event for NATO enlargement in Europe. It may lead non-member states to reevaluate their security concerns.