Why and how Sweden and Finland will strengthen NATO

Why and how Sweden and Finland will strengthen NATO

Why and how Sweden and Finland will strengthen NATO
President Biden greets Swedish PM Magdalena Andersson and Finnish leader Sauli Niinisto in the US capital on May 19, 2022. (AP)
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In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden this week formally applied to join NATO. This is a historic moment in European security matters.
Both Nordic countries possess robust military capabilities and decades of experience working as partners with NATO. Far from being like some other “free-riders” who have contributed little to the alliance in recent years, their entry into the organization will provide a net contribution to regional security in Northern Europe.
NATO has done more than any other organization, including the EU, to promote democracy, stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic region. In part, this has been accomplished by enticing countries that are not part of the club to become members. This is especially true of Sweden and Finland.
While they have, for historical and political reasons, remained non-aligned militarily, their partnerships with NATO are currently the closest of any nonmember states and the close relations go back decades.
There are several good reasons why Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO will strengthen the alliance.
Firstly, as previously noted, both countries possess robust militaries that will bring significant capabilities to the alliance. Finland, for example, has a formidable military that includes its 280,000-strong defense forces, 900,000 trained reservists, 1,500 pieces of artillery, and the recently announced purchase of 64 F-35 fighter aircraft.
Secondly, if Sweden and Finland join NATO it will mean having seven out of the eight Arctic countries in the organization. Their entry would better focus the alliance on the emerging challenges in the region and play a role in helping to deter malign Russian and Chinese activities there.
To date, NATO has failed to develop an Arctic strategy. From a practical point of view, the alliance would have no choice but to develop and implement a policy in the region if and when Sweden and Finland become members.
Thirdly, the two countries have demonstrated the political will to deploy forces abroad. They both took part in NATO’s missions in Afghanistan, including the use of special forces. In 2011, Sweden contributed to NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in Libya, alongside Arab states such as the UAE, Jordan and Qatar. In addition, both nations continue to contribute troops to NATO’s Kosovo Force and have participated in numerous European-led missions in sub-Saharan Africa.

If Sweden and Finland become members, NATO will need to update its plans for the Baltic region.

Luke Coffey

Finally, they are clear minded about the threat posed by China. Sweden, for example, is reported to have been a particular target of Chinese cyber activity after it banned Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE from its 5G networks in 2020.
Now that Sweden and Finland have formally applied to join NATO, there is a lot of work to be done. All 30 existing members must approve their entry and there needs to be a speedy authorization process. Of all those members, only Turkey has suggested it might not quickly ratify the applications because of legitimate concerns about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, officials who reside in Sweden. However, it is likely that an accommodation on this issue will be agreed between Ankara and Stockholm.
To demonstrate American leadership, and send a strong message to the transatlantic community, the US should swiftly pass the legislation required for Sweden and Finland to join NATO.
The period of time between applying to become a member and actually gaining the security guarantee that comes with that membership could be a dangerous one if not handled properly. It is therefore vital that Sweden and Finland’s defenses are bolstered during the application process.
On this issue, European nations are stepping up to the plate. To date, Denmark, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and the UK have extended security guarantees to Finland and Sweden while they wait for NATO membership to be granted.
The alliance will also need to update and modernize its contingency plans in the Baltic region. The last time NATO did this was in the aftermath of the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine. If Sweden and Finland become members, and given the changes to the security dynamics in the region due to Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine, NATO will need to update its plans for the Baltic region.
The alliance should ensure that its open-door policy is explicitly clear to countries that meet the criteria to join. Swedish and Finnish membership would serve as proof to other aspirant countries that the door truly is always open to new members.
The accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO is an important decision that will bolster transatlantic security by adding to the alliance two members with the political will to contribute and the capabilities to back up that will. Additionally, it will better secure the Baltic region and the Arctic and make future conflict there less likely by enhancing deterrence.
For the sake of European security, therefore, let us hope that Sweden and Finland join NATO sooner rather than later.

Luke Coffey is the director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Twitter: @LukeDCoffey

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