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Sweden's and Finland's admission to NATO: What will be the implications for the alliance

16-5-2022 |

If Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO, the alliance's land border with Russia will double from 1,215 to 2,600 kilometers. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin stressed in a joint statement May 12 that their country's accession to NATO would serve to strengthen the entire alliance.

"Finland should apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the steps at the national level necessary to make this decision will be taken quickly, within the next few days," they pointed out.

Sweden, which has been more hesitant about NATO membership, makes a similar announcement this weekend.

Sweden's membership in NATO would make it easier for the Baltic states to defend themselves

As Robert Dalhjö, a NATO expert at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, explained, Sweden's and Finland's membership in the alliance will offset the latter's uncertainty about how the two countries will act in a crisis situation.

"NATO will know the exact position of Sweden and Finland, and this will increase security in the Baltic Sea region and the ability to conduct a deterrence policy there. In addition, it will be easier for the alliance to defend the Baltic states because there will no longer be questions about whether Swedish airspace can be used to send troops or cargo to the Baltic states, for example," he says. - From a political point of view, it would also be a win-win."

Harry Nedelku, a NATO expert and director of policy at the international consulting firm Rasmussen Global, shares this view. "The main message of these countries joining NATO is political, and it is addressed to Russia. At the same time, NATO cares about the real opportunities offered by Finland and Sweden. At a time when all other European countries were drawing down their military capabilities after the Cold War, Finland and Sweden were building them up, and this can bring the alliance a lot of benefits," he said.

For his part, Finnish Ambassador to NATO Klaus Korhonen told that although Russia remains an important neighbor for his country, political confidence in the relationship has been undermined:

"Russia, in a sense, has changed the state of affairs in Europe in terms of the future. Therefore I think that one of the tasks of Finland's foreign policy in the future will be to build a well-functioning relationship with Russia, based on mutual interests. But how this will happen remains to be seen."

New challenges for NATO?

NATO members have made it clear that Finland and Sweden will be "welcomed with open arms," and Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg added that their accession process "will go quickly." Nevertheless, according to Robert Dalhjö of the Swedish Defense Research Agency, the main problem for NATO will not be Sweden and Finland's application for membership, but how to deal with the aftermath of the war in Ukraine.

"NATO held the view that humanity had turned the page and that Russia was a strategic partner. For this reason, the alliance has not had a large-scale deployment of forces in the east. That has to change," the expert argues.

Nedelku of Rasmussen Global believes that Nordic accession will strengthen NATO's presence in the Baltic region: "Finland and Sweden are already among the strongest and most integrated partners of NATO, and joining the alliance will lead to a stronger NATO naval presence in the Baltic Sea."

Possible threats from Russia

Meanwhile, if Finland and Sweden join NATO, Moscow promises to take "reciprocal steps" of both military and technical and other kinds. A statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry issued on May 12 said that this way, Russia intended "to counter threats to national security, which appear in this connection.

Earlier, former President Dmitry Medvedev, who is now deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said that Moscow would strengthen its presence in the Baltic Sea if Finland and Sweden became NATO members.

Elisabeth Brault, however, calls a Russian invasion of Finland or Sweden unlikely.

"No one would seriously argue that Russia could invade Sweden or Finland if they applied to join NATO. Russia clearly does not have the resources to do so. Not only is it currently bogged down in Ukraine, but it is also showing a very weak side there. So it's not a good time to launch a military retaliatory strike against Sweden or Finland," Breault stresses.

"What Russia is doing at the moment is cyberattacks against Finland and silly ad campaigns against Sweden claiming that many famous Swedes were Nazis. If that's the best they can do, I think it's a good time to join NATO," Breaux adds.

The likelihood of a Russian invasion of Finland

On the other hand, Harry Nedelku believes that Russian aggression during the accession process of Finland and Sweden to NATO is quite probable. Therefore, the allies of these countries could deploy some military forces in the Baltic Sea to send a political signal to the Kremlin, he says. Britain has already signed an agreement to support Sweden in the event of an attack on that country. Other Western countries are expected to follow suit, making similar arrangements with both Sweden and Finland.

According to Elisabeth Brault, NATO membership itself, regardless of British and U.S. support, strengthens a country's position in light of possible threats from Russia.

"When this war is over, Russia will be licking its wounds and saying, 'It was like Vietnam (for the US. - Ed.). We did very badly and embarrassed ourselves. Now we will reform our armed forces." And they will. Maybe not as radically (as the United States. - Ed.) after the Vietnam War, but they will be much better than they are now," the analyst is confident.

"That's when Sweden, Finland, and other countries in the region will really have to worry about potential Russian aggression. And then it will be a good time to be glad that you are a member of NATO," she concluded.

Source: DW