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Elizabeth Brew is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
For years – actually decades – Sweden and Finland have been united in their loyalty to each other and in their valued military non-alignment.
In recent months, however, polls have shown that both countries are increasingly interested in joining NATO, with Sweden consistently more eager than their Finnish neighbors. For Sweden, however, the question remained how to join the military alliance without angering the reluctant part of the population, let alone Moscow. And now it looks like Sweden’s stars may finally align – with almost no effort on their part.
When it comes to the prospect of joining NATO, the fates of Finland and Sweden have long been intertwined, with the understanding that the two countries would always join forces should they choose to do so. And although the Swedes have been more positive about NATO membership for decades – with polls consistently showing their support in recent years 30 percent or higher, despite comparatively large resistances – none of which really mattered as long as Helsinki remained uninterested. And in Finland, NATO support remained firmly below 30 percent.
Indeed, Sweden’s long-ruling Social Democrats have historically used Finland as a convenient shield in NATO affairs. They could promise that, should Finland decide to join the alliance, Sweden would of course pay the utmost attention to the matter, knowing that such a cross-border move is unlikely. By referring to the Finns, they could avoid an issue that would lead to an internal split in the party and anger Russia.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has changed this reliable balance. Last December, Finland’s Defense Ministry released its annual national security survey, with support for NATO membership hitting 000000 24 percent — a small increase from the previous report. Now, just four months later, support has risen to an astounding level 68 percentand Finland’s parliament is expected to be briefed on possible NATO membership by intelligence officials this week, with few members expressing opposition.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin called this month that her government “will end the discussion before midsummer”, which is also just days before this year NATO summit in Madrid. Marin and her centre-left government do not appear to be deterred by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced “Consequences” should Finland (and Sweden) join NATO. Neither does the Finnish public.
Finland’s departure from NATO membership is nothing short of extraordinary. So extraordinary that the Swedish government struggles to understand it. But it has also offered Sweden the most incredible opportunity in terms of its potential entry into NATO.
Finland, which is taking the lead on this matter, is now stepping forward vigorously, sparing Sweden the trouble of having to break the ice on NATO matters. It even intercepts the dreaded Russian strike, which until now has not only involved threats, but cyber attacks against his State and Defense Departments. Russia, of course, is doing its part by showing everyone and everyone that it is not a country with which one can expect good faith relations. As Marine observed This month, Russia is not the neighbor “we thought it would be”.
To top Sweden’s luck, the NATO summit in Madrid happens to be just around the corner. At the June summit, the alliance will present its new strategic concept – its de facto defense strategy is updated about every ten years. The idea of two new candidate countries, and very palatable ones at that, would do NATO good.
For its part, Finland would look like a country that has made a wise decision in favor of its security, a decision based on acutely changing circumstances. Sweden could join the alliance almost in secret, since it practically didn’t have to do any hard political work. To date is all Sweden has done Condition that it is ready to consider NATO membership while the ruling Social Democrats have decided to conduct a “security check”.
Contrast this with the dogged push, lobbying, begging, reforming, investing and training that the Baltic States and every other post-Cold War NATO entry had to endure in order to be admitted. Just receiving the invitation, which triggers the integration of the applicants into the alliance, took years. For Sweden and Finland, the time between sending the application letter and receiving the much-touted invitation should not be longer than a few weeks.
An unequivocal acceptance of Sweden and Finland by NATO member states, should the duo decide to join, was never in question. Both have rock-solid rule of law credentials and would give the alliance military clout – notwithstanding Sweden’s weak defense spending in recent years. The geopolitical siblings have always been better positioned than, for example, the Baltic states, which had to overcome major doubts and challenges regarding military readiness before joining the alliance 18 years ago.
Surely Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and her government could still decide that they are not keen on NATO. But that would be an unsurpassed mistake. Sweden, which for decades has been wary of NATO membership, is presented with an application process so attractive it’s virtually impossible to refuse.
Joining NATO will never be that easy again.
https://www.politico.eu/article/sweden-nato-wins-lottery-finland-membership-russia-ukraine/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Sweden wins the NATO lottery – POLITICO