Previously-neutral Finland and Sweden formally announced their NATO bids on 15 May.
- The two Nordic countries have grown closer to joining the transatlantic military bloc for quite a while, enjoying strong US backing and using Russia’s spec op in Ukraine as a pretext, scholars argue.
- “I believe this is a very poor decision for Finland and Sweden and will likely intensify relations with Russia thus further destabilising relations and threatening peace,” says Earl Rasmussen, executive vice-president of Eurasia Group.
Their admission may even be illegal, he claimed, arguing that “Finland is violating the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 that essentially required them [the signatories] to remain neutral with no foreign forces within their borders.” The Paris Peace Treaty was signed after the end of the Second World War between the Allied powers, including the USSR, the UK, the US and France, and former Nazi Germany allies, such as Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland. The agreement limited Finland’s military contingent, determined the Soviet-Finnish borders and sealed Helsinki’s neutrality.
Moreover, Finland’s NATO bid also violates the 1992 Russo-Finnish treaty, according to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nonetheless, Moscow has underscored that Russia harbours no hostile intentions against either country, yet also signalling that the latest NATO expansion will not make the continent more stable or secure.
According to Rasmussen, the process of Finland and Sweden’s admission will take some time, with a debate underway over if acceptance would strengthen the alliance.
“[The bids] must also receive consensus support from member states,” he points out, in a clear reference to Turkey’s concerns with regard to Stockholm and Helsinki’s alleged attitudes towards the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara.
However, according to the expert, Washington will likely pressure its NATO allies into accepting the two Nordic states, capitalising on the Ukraine crisis to breathe new life into the Cold War-era bloc.
For his part, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby has made it clear that “If, in the period of their application to NATO and their accession to NATO, they [Sweden and Finland] would need some additional capabilities or support … we will be able to provide some additional support if needed.”
“The US is definitely using the crisis as a means to ‘highly encourage’ further expansion of NATO eastward,” Rasmussen says. “The US has pursued the inclusion of Sweden and Finland into NATO for many years. The crisis has provided an opportunity for an increase in public support for membership. Hence, enabling the politicians to acquiesce to US suggestions. This does have a danger for those in leadership on whether there will remain support within the country. But the US most likely sees this as an opportune time to press for expansion.”
‘Forms of Neutrality are Not Tolerated’
The admission of Sweden and Finland is part of a long-standing strategy aimed at expanding the alliance, according to Paolo Raffone, a strategic analyst and director of the CIPI Foundation in Brussels.
By engaging Stockholm and Helsinki in NATO’s fold the alliance’s leading power, the US, sends a clear signal to its allies and partners that “forms of neutrality within the Western hemisphere are not tolerated,” the analyst notes. “Alignment and submission” are now obligatory in exchange for “protection” (military but also economic), according to him.
“The last time that a serious and European-led European Security was formalised was in 1975 with the Final Helsinki Act,” Raffone says. “Since the end of the Cold War (1991) Europe has renounced itself, creating an ever-stronger partnership with NATO. The superposition of NATO on the EU started during the wars in Yugoslavia, first in Bosnia 1995 and then in Serbia 1999, but it reached its highest level in Libya 2011. Biden’s words to the Italian PM Draghi some days ago have formalised the idea: ‘a stronger EU is in the interest of the US. A stronger EU can exist only in lockstep to NATO’.”
Still, one should not delude oneself into believing that Finland and Sweden have really remained neutral all this time. According to the strategist, they have been de facto NATO allies and informal members for many years.
Nuclear Arms and Strategic Deterrence
The future of the non-nuclear status of Finland and Sweden also concerns Moscow.
While the two countries were previously among the states that most actively advocated for the prohibition and total destruction of global nuclear weapons, they are about to join a military bloc that has declared itself nuclear, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko highlighted on Saturday.
Grushko went on to express concerns that even though NATO made commitments not to change its nuclear policy under its Founding Act, the situation may change.
Once Finland and Sweden join NATO, Russia will have to respond to this shift in the security landscape, but “this decision will not be emotional, it will be a careful and accurate analysis of all factors that affect the security situation in this region,” the politician stated.
“Let us see how the negotiations evolve,” says Rasmussen. “While the US may initially agree to [their non-nuclear status], that does not preclude them from altering warheads once in place. It is likely that if missile bases are placed in Finland or Sweden, they will be stated as defensive, however if like what is being positioned in Poland they can easily be modified to be offensive and to include nuclear armed warheads.”
For his part, Raffone deems that the deployment of nuclear arms is not a current priority.
Furthermore, “it would not change much in terms of offensive capacity towards Russia”.
Finland and Sweden’s geographical position is of great importance to NATO because they continue to seal off the Russian border and, most crucially, “establish a useful advanced territory towards the Arctic, that probably will be an area of friction between Western and the Chinese-Russian interests,” Raffone concludes.