Since World War II, both Finland and Sweden have been neutral. After Russia’s war in Ukraine, tension and fears caused both countries to want extra protection.
As of May 18, 2022, Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO comprises 30 countries between North America and Europe and acts as a security backup for political and military purposes. The alliance was originally created as security against the Soviet Union. The NATO-Secretary-General has expressed that the countries’ joining will be a “historic moment,” as the alliance predicts this will strengthen their presence in the Baltic Sea.
Succeeding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, both countries, who previously stayed out of NATO, moved toward joining NATO. Finland, which shares an 810-mile-long border with Russia, first started to gradually become more involved with NATO in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea. Finland had stayed out before, wanting to keep good relationships with its eastern neighbors, but the invasion created a stress for support. Sweden had been even more reluctant to join NATO than Finland as the country has been peaceful since the Napoleonic Wars. However, as Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said, “Non-alignment has served us well, but our conclusion is that it will not serve us as well in the future.” The war between Russia and Ukraine caused Sweden’s desire to join NATO to increase by 20 percent. Additionally, the Swedish government increased annual spending on defense to two percent of their gross domestic product in March.
Before Finland and Sweden formally submitted applications to NATO, Russia was threatening the countries. Specifically, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and former president, Dmitry Medvedev, claimed that if they joined NATO, Russia would deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in the exclave Kaliningrad, which is located between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. Kaliningrad already contains Iskander missiles that were deployed in 2018. After this big talk, Russia has taken no steps toward its threats. On Monday, May 16, President Vladimir Putin claimed the countries’ NATO membership posed no threat, but that they would retaliate if either country boosted its military infrastructure.
When Finland and Sweden originally were talking of joining NATO, they had fears that they would be vulnerable to acts from Russia during the time period after applying. In early May, the U.S. voiced that they could handle any security concerns. The process was originally predicted to only take a few weeks, but Turkey has objected, believing the countries to be involved with Kurdish terrorists. President Tayyip Erdogan said, “NATO is an entity for security, an organization for security. Therefore, we cannot say ‘yes’ to this security organization being deprived of security.” Turkey claimed that Finland and Sweden are harboring terrorists of the Kurdistan Workers Party and Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accused of arranging a failed coup in 2016. Additionally, Finland and Sweden banned arms exports to Turkey because of their invasion of northeast Syria. Until Turkey’s security concerns are dealt with, they may not give Finland and Sweden their bid to join NATO.
Biden met with the leaders of Finland and Sweden on May 19 and voiced the United States’ full support of their admittance into NATO.