NATO accession – Nordic perspective
The war in Ukraine seems to have put an end to European indecision. Countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Finland imposed sanctions on Russia. But Switzerland and Austria are hundreds of kilometers from the Russian border. Sweden and Finland, on the other hand, are on the brink. Consequently, these Nordic countries view with great concern the events in Ukraine and fear that the crisis may spread beyond Ukraine.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks set to make what has hitherto been almost unimaginable the rapid accession of two Nordic countries – Sweden and Finland – to NATO. According to forecast analysis , the debate is no longer about “whether or not Sweden and Finland will join”, but “when and how soon they will join”.
It is a historic moment and time of great decisions in the geopolitics of these two Nordic states, decisions which will determine the security configuration in this region of Europe and beyond for many decades to come. The decision is by no means easy.
In Kosovo, for example, membership in the Alliance may enjoy unreserved support, but for the Nordic countries, joining NATO is not accompanied by much enthusiasm. First of all, it is a cold calculation that shows for the awareness that membership will not only bring security, but is likely to be followed by tensions in the Nordic-Russian region as well.
Below is a brief summary of the Swedish-Finnish view on NATO membership and the evolution of their foreign policy as a result of the Russian occupation of Ukraine.
From neutrality to non-alignment, then to membership
To understand the reasons why Sweden and Finland are not members of NATO one must first make a brief recollection of their history. Sweden has not been involved in the war for more than two hundred years. During the Cold War, it took a neutral position on the rivalry between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, an alliance of communist states rallying around the former Soviet Union that disintegrated with the end of the Cold War.
However, from the early 1990s onwards, Sweden’s position has evolved from a genuine neutrality to the status of a non-aligned country in terms of security. In other words, while Sweden continues to be a non-NATO member, its armed forces work closely with those of the Alliance, as well as contributing to joint peacekeeping forces ( including Kosovo ). The standard operating procedures of the Swedish army are in full compliance with those of NATO; Democratic control over the armed forces is complete and in accordance with the basic principles of consolidated democratic states.
However, the voice of those who in the past have called for NATO membership, both by the government and the public, has always been low. In fact, Swedish politics – almost its entire spectrum – has always been clear about Russian politics. She has not cultivated illusions about Moscow, a sentiment that has been encountered not infrequently in German politics, for example. Basically, the reason for staying out of NATO for Sweden is explained through its own history. Why change the security architecture if the current one has contributed to the country not going to war for more than two centuries? So there was no reason to modify the security configuration. At least not so far.
Finland, on the other hand, emerged from the bloody World War II, with lost territory but proud and proud of its citizens’s heroic battles against the Soviet Union. It shares the 1300 km border with Russia and, perhaps more than any other nation, understands very well the psyche of the Russian citizen, his ambitions, prejudices and fears.
Like Sweden, Finland during the Cold War adopted a position of neutrality towards East and West, but with ever-increasing tendencies of rapprochement with NATO, participating in its peacekeeping forces, as in Kosovo . Even in this country, the standard operating procedures are in full compliance with those of NATO, while the state has full democratic control over the armed forces. Unlike Sweden, Finland has been at war with Russia and precisely for the sake of cultivating stable relations has had to rule out the option of NATO membership. So far.
Finland has had to work hard to cultivate a relatively close relationship with Moscow, a relationship based on mutual respect and trust. This is a close relationship not like the one that can be encountered between two friends, but one that can be seen between enemies who, for the sake of coexistence, must find common bridges of cooperation. Thus Finland had to learn how to work and even cooperate with Russia. They are neighbors, after all.
It is no coincidence that Finns like former President Martti Ahtisaari have mediated in conflicts like the one between Kosovo and Serbia. This is because people like him have enjoyed the trust of the West but also of Russia. In Finland, support for NATO membership has always been higher than in Sweden, but such a step has not been taken due to maintaining the balance of peace with Russia. Either way, such a step can be taken very quickly.
Between safety and permanent voltage
The Kremlin’s ever-increasing aggression has led public opinion in both Sweden and Finland to vote in favor of NATO membership. The application for membership is likely to be made very soon, probably at the next NATO summit that is expected to be held in Madrid at the end of June . Finland will enter the membership dance with more taste and enthusiasm; Sweden will take this step with a little nausea and laziness.
The governments of both countries take this step without euphoria and with responsibility, aware that membership strengthens the security architecture but also carries with it a series of dilemmas and tensions in the field of security that can continue for decades.
With NATO membership, the Nordic region and the whole of northwestern Europe come under the Alliance’s security umbrella. Any attack on these states would be an attack on NATO, as stated by NATO Article 5 on collective defense.
But on the other hand, the whole security architecture of the Nordic-Russian region will move towards further militarization. There will be an increase in armaments, an increase in military spending, which means less money for health, education, the environment, and so on. The West-East partition along the Baltic Sea will also be concreted, which will lead to further isolation of Russia. A completely isolated enemy can be even more dangerous than the one with whom we maintain communication contacts, however rare they may be.
In this regard, especially Helsinki will have to rebuild political relations with Moscow, relations cultivated with sensitivity for decades. Furthermore, the risk of incidents and unconventional attacks, such as cyber attacks, will increase. And, finally, it is likely that we are entering an ice age, of a neo-brutal militarization of societies for decades. This crazy arms race is not a good omen for anyone, especially when dealing with criminal and completely irrational regimes like the Kremlin.
The constant militarization of states and societies leads to the escalation of new conflicts and reduces the space for peace. All this is happening in the circumstances when today’s Mordor – to borrow an analogy from the works of JRR Tolkien according to which Mordor is the epicenter of Evil in the world – that is, the Kremlin, shows no signs of softening in its savagery.
Is there any other way but to arm NATO membership? As is the case with Sweden and Finland, it is easy to call for peace, but in the face of brutal aggression coming from the Kremlin, there seems to be no alternative but to join NATO. https://bit.ly/3K8PLDN
Armend Bekaj is a Lecturer in the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden. He has worked for a number of international organizations, including International IDEA in Sweden. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Sheffield, UK.