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Expansion of NATO

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Expansion of NATO

May 15, Finland and Sweden submitted letters formally applying to join the 30-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). The Nato Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, personally accepted the Nordic neighbours’ membership applications at the headquarters of the 30-member, US-led defensive military alliance in Haren, in the north-east of Brussels. “The security interests of all allies have to be taken into account and we are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions,” Stoltenberg said, adding that “all allies agree on the importance of Nato enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together and we all agree that this is an historic moment which we must seize.”
Neutral throughout the Cold War, the two countries’ decision to join the alliance is one of the most significant changes in Europe’s security architecture in decades. This is a dramatic turn for two countries that have defined their geopolitical identities around non-alignment — Finland, for decades, and Sweden for two centuries.
Why now?
Finland and Sweden already closely cooperate with Nato but they eschewed formal membership, a stance that worked both politically and strategically. But Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine changed everything. After resisting Nato membership for so long, Russia’s invasion forced them to reconsider their security interests, and see ascension as a deterrent to possible future Russian aggression.
Sweden and Finland’s close partnership means they will likely move in lockstep. Nato and its members are expected to openly welcome them (with a potential hiccup or two). There is also a sense of urgency. Both these countries are not formally protected by Nato’s mutual defense guarantees until they are actually in the pact.
Experts believe that since both countries are Nato’s closest partners; they have well-funded armed forces and contribute to the alliance’s military operations and air policing; therefore, any obstacles they face will merely be of a technical, or possibly political nature.
What comes next?
Both Finland and Sweden already meet many of the requirements for membership, which include having a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; treating minority populations fairly; committing to resolve conflicts peacefully; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to Nato operations; and committing to democratic civil-military relations and institutions; therefore Nato will now convene its decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, to decide whether to move forward with the request.
As any bid to join Nato must be agreed upon by all 30 members of the alliance, the main obstacle to Finland and Sweden’s membership comes from within the alliance. Turkey claims that both Sweden and Finland have provided a refuge for Kurdish groups it labels “terrorists,” and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists Ankara will not approve the expansion.
What does Nato membership entail?
The reason most countries join Nato is because of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which stipulates that all signatories consider an attack on one an attack against all.
Article 5 has been a cornerstone of the alliance since Nato was founded in 1949 as a counterweight to the Soviet Union.
The point of the treaty, and Article 5 specifically, was to deter the Soviets from attacking liberal democracies that lacked military strength. Article 5 guarantees that the resources of the whole alliance — including the massive US military — can be used to protect any single member nation, such as smaller countries who would be defenseless without their allies. Iceland, for example, has no standing army.
Former Swedish leader Carl Bildt, however, doesn’t see new big military bases being built in either country should they join Nato. He says that joining the alliance would likely mean more joint military training and planning between Finland, Sweden and Nato’s 30 current members. Swedish and Finnish forces could also participate in other Nato operations around the globe, such as those in the Baltic states, where several bases have multinational troops.
“There’s going to be preparations for contingencies as part of deterring any adventures that the Russians might be thinking of,” Bildt said. “The actual change is going to be fairly limited.”
Benefits for Nato
Being a member of Nato will give both the nations a security guarantee under the alliance’s “Article 5” on collective defence.
Nato, too, has shown eagerness about Finland and Sweden’s memberships. Usually, becoming an official Nato member can take up to a year as it requires the approval of all existing member states. However, Nato Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has ensured that the countries could join quickly and that the organisation would make full security arrangements during the interim period.
Finland’s geographical location plays in its favour as once it becomes a member, the length of borders Russia shares with Nato would double and it would also strengthen the alliance’s position in the Baltic Sea.
The symbolic consequence of this cannot be ignored as well. More sovereign powers siding with the West and increasing its strength is a direct blow to Russia. Former Prime Minister of Denmark Anders Fogh Rasmussen wrote in a New York Times column that if Sweden and Finland do join Nato, especially under these circumstances, “it would show Putin that the war is counterproductive and it only strengthens Western unity, resolve and military preparedness.”
Russia’s apprehensions
If Finland joins, it would double the length of the alliance’s border with Russia, adding a further 1,300 kilometres (830 miles) for Moscow to defend. That is why Russia has repeatedly warned against Nato expansion. When the membership of both countries became clear, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that there would be consequences. Similarly, Russia’s foreign ministry said that Helsinki must be aware of the “consequences” of its move, and Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov threatened a “corresponding symmetrical response.” Russia’s struggles in Ukraine, among other factors, make any sort of military threat against Finland or Sweden unlikely, though experts and officials believe other types of hybrid warfare are possible, like disinformation campaigns or cyber attacks.
Russia, which stated that its invasion of Ukraine was intended to prevent Nato’s expansion, now faces a much greater challenge. Indeed, the Kremlin already said that the admission of Finland and Sweden would be viewed as an absolute threat. Nonetheless, Russian officials not only stated that admitting those states into Nato would not only fail to make Europe safer but warned that Nato membership would turn those places into conflict zones and part of the enemy, which would entail great risks. They also threatened to “retaliate” in the form of “military-technical precautions” among other things. Russia, which sees that it will be contained from the north as well, should be expected to try and station nuclear missiles in the Baltic Sea.
Some at Nato worry that the Russians might deploy nuclear weapons or more hypersonic missiles to the Kaliningrad exclave, across the Baltic Sea wedged between allies Poland and Lithuania.
Why is Turkey wary?
Turkey opposes the possible membership of the two states due to five main reasons:
1. First of all, Turkey does not oppose the eastward enlargement of Nato rather it has generally supported Nato’s expansionism. However, after some leading Nato members began to otherize Turkey and remained indifferent to Turkey’s security concerns, Ankara decided to question some Nato moves, such as the enhancement of Nato’s military presence in the Baltic states.
2. Turkey has greatly suffered from a previous experience when the military government led by late Gen. Kenan Evren accepted the return of Greece to Nato in 1980. Turkey’s acceptance of Greece led Athens to block any pro-Turkish policy in both Nato and the European Union, of which it became a member in 1981. Therefore, Erdoğan clearly explained that “we do not want to be stung again from the same place that we were stung before.” With this statement, he was referring to Greece’s return to Nato in 1980.
The current Turkish government does not want to repeat the same mistake. For Ankara, one of the means to overcome both internal and external pressures is by introducing a referendum on the issue. Ankara may ask the Turkish people whether to accept the membership of these two countries or not.
Third, Turkey will not allow the membership of these two states while they support anti-Turkish actors, including terrorist organizations. The record of Sweden is especially problematic due to its position as a safe haven for anti-Turkish political groups. Both states have been supporting the PKK, the terror group FETÖ and Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front (DHKP-C) militants and allowing them to carry out anti-Turkish activity. In addition, Sweden has been imposing embargos against Turkey, mainly due to Ankara’s opposition to terrorist organizations.
Fourth, the Scandinavian countries were located in a relatively secure region. They are known as militarily secure, politically stable and economically advanced states that do not need to be concerned about their future. Therefore, Sweden and Finland had considered their Nato membership needlessly provocative to Russia and did not attempt to become Nato members. However, with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, their concern has risen and they have decided to take precautionary measures against the possible Russian expansionism. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to a paradigm shift in the security of these two states. Now, they feel compelled to have further security alignments with more powerful states such as the United States and the United Kingdom. In other words, they do not consider the EU as a sufficiently deterrent institution.
Fifth, the Scandinavian countries have been reluctant in burden-sharing with other European countries. This reluctance has led to the creation of a new rift within Europe, the rift between the north and the south. Relatively stable, prosperous and secure Nordic states do/did not want to take any responsibility in the struggle against the global economic crisis or the mounting refugee crisis.
Sweden and Finland have been inching towards the West on security issues since joining the EU in 1995, shortly after the end of the Cold War. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dramatically accelerated that process, pushing Sweden and Finland to pull the trigger on Nato membership. No doubt, this will anger Russia, which blames, at least in part, its war in Ukraine on Nato’s continued expansion closer to its borders. So far, Moscow is doing nothing obvious to dissuade the two — apart from a couple of incidents where Russian planes entered their airspace. The Kremlin has warned that its response could depend on how close Nato infrastructure moves toward Russia’s borders.

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