Finnish leaders seek to fast-track NATO membership – Defense Security Monitor

Finland’s top leaders, President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, announced May 12 that they favor their candidate country for NATO membership.

The joint statement read: “As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the steps at the national level which remain necessary to make this decision possible will be taken quickly in the coming days. »

The public statement echoes the opinion of the Finnish National Parliament’s Defense Committee, which has already declared its wish to join NATO. It also enjoys the support of the main political parties represented in the legislature, a key point since 10 separate parliamentary committees must submit their assessments on the subject to the government’s Foreign Affairs Committee by May 15.

In essence, the most crucial opinions align in favor of Finland’s application for NATO membership, which should lead to an accelerated process.

The writing is increasingly on the wall regarding the tilt towards NATO membership since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine earlier this year on February 24. Until then, the idea of ​​Finnish membership in NATO was more a talking point for foreign policy analysts than a realistic measure.

The President and Prime Minister’s announcement on May 12 marks a decisive change in Finland’s position on military partnerships. Although it joined the European Union in 1995 (thus renouncing its traditional neutrality), the nation has maintained an avowed military policy of non-alignment.

While being a western-oriented democracy, during the Cold War Finland maintained a neutral stance due to pressure from the Soviet Union. For much of this period, Finland avoided invasion and potential annexation by the Soviets thanks to the skillful “yes, but” diplomacy of President Urho Kekkonen (his term lasted from 1956 to 1982).

Kekkonen ably prevented Finland from being swallowed up by agreeing to numerous Russian demands on less important issues, such as where to import military equipment, but standing firm on major issues in order to display his independence. country.

Probably no foreign security policy debate in Finland has traditionally been more divisive than the country’s relationship with NATO. Some of the mistrust surrounding NATO membership stemmed from pro-Soviet (or anti-American) attitudes, while some related to the 1,309 kilometer (813 mile) long common border with Russia. and memories of the years 1939-1940”.winter warwith the Soviet Union.

But the tremors along Russia’s former Soviet sphere of Eastern Europe have upset the normal indifferent or negative outlook for the transatlantic alliance.

Despite generally healthy relations with Russia, events such as cyber attacks on Estonian government servers in 2007, the 2008 invasion of Georgiaand the takeover of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, followed by support for ethnic Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Donbass region, began to cause concern in Helsinki. The Finnish and Swedish governments quietly aligned themselves with NATO in 2014 as Enhanced Opportunity Partners and deepened their defense partnership and military interoperability with the Alliance while remaining cautiously outward.

Yet on the eve of the Russian invasion, national attitudes toward NATO membership remained where it traditionally had been, with only 30 percent in favor according to local polls. But with the launch of the first attacks and corresponding social media accounts of transgressions by Russian forces consumed by the public in droves, attitudes quickly changed. Currently, polls show more than 70 percent of the public now favor application to join the Alliance.

Besides the stark reality of Vladimir Putin’s aggression towards a neighboring country, the change in public attitude has paralleled the political outcry, with Prime Minister Marin consistently voicing criticism of Russia’s actions from the first salvoes of the war. while calling for a review of European energy policy and Finnish policy. position vis-à-vis NATO, thus helping to shape public attitudes.

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto noted that the entire European security order has now been destabilized by the attack on Ukraine.

The idea of ​​adding a geographically crucial country to NATO’s security apparatus – one with a well-trained armed force and a high level of conflict preparedness (both military and national-civilian) – which shares a border with one NATO member (Norway) and a waterway through the gulf with another (Estonia) makes sense. Militarily, the ‘adjustment’ is natural, and the government last month opted to increase the current year’s defense budget by an additional 2 billion euros ($2.19 billion) – an additional 70% during the year – which will increase overall expenditure. up to NATO’s minimum funding requirement of 2% of GDP.

The hardest part for Finland if it goes ahead with a NATO bid is twofold.

First, there was some initial reluctance from its closest security partner, Sweden, to follow suit towards the transatlantic alliance.

Both countries had long since acknowledged that if either wanted to join the Alliance, they would do so together. After some procrastination at first, however, Sweden seems to be moving in the same direction, albeit at a slower pace and with more internal political complications. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson The Social Democratic Party is due to decide on its position on NATO membership on May 15. If it backs membership, Stockholm’s bid process could be launched alongside Finland’s next week.

The second concerns whether a current NATO member will put the brakes on things by vetoing its membership application. Turkish President’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly stated that his country is not favorable of Finland and/or Sweden joining the Alliance, describing the two countries as “guesthouses for terrorist organizations” as they host Kurdish PKK and YPG members and supporters of cleric Fethullah Gulen based in the United States.

Whether Erdogan is using Turkey’s veto as a means of extracting political concessions from NATO partners in other areas remains an open question, but for a country to be admitted to the Alliance, the vote must be unanimous in its favour. And while Turkey has criticized the Russian invasion and sent armed unmanned aerial vehicles to Ukraine to help its cause, it has otherwise backed away from joining Western sanctions in order to maintain key ties with Moscow. A vote in favor of adding another member to NATO — one perched along Russia’s northwestern border — would undoubtedly prompt diplomatic backsliding on Russia’s part.

With the next NATO summit scheduled start on June 29 in Madrid, the subject of Alliance enlargement is set for heated debate. But for Finland, the debate is already closed.

Comments are closed.