What does the entry of the previously neutral Sweden and Finland mean for NATO now?

Both nations want to join NATO at a very tense time for the organization. Sweden and Finland, which feel endangered, can provide highly trained armed forces

Salvador Sanchez Tapia

SALVADOR SANCHEZ TAPIA Professor of Conflict Analysis and International Security, University of Navarra

The Russian invasion of Ukraine that began in February is causing shocks to the European security environment, the full extent of which will only be seen when the fog of war has lifted. What is already known is that the war has given rise to a feeling of shared insecurity among Europeans.

The request for accession to NATO advanced by Sweden and Finland is a manifestation of the concern with which two Nordic nations geographically close to Russia contemplate the war. The concern of these two countries about Russian behavior is not new, but it is now strongly reborn to bring about a historic change in strategic cultures based on neutrality, leading them to knock on the door of an organization whose periphery they have remained for decades. Always close, but always refusing to cross the threshold of full participation.

The state of prostration in which Russia was left after the fall of communism blurred the imperative of extreme neutrality. Both countries began a rapprochement with the West, joining the European Union in 1995 and assuming the mutual defense clause of the Lisbon Treaty, drafted with sufficient ambiguity to safeguard their neutrality.

There was also a rapprochement with NATO, materialized with the entry of the two countries into the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program and with the beginning of a long journey of loyal participation in multinational operations of the Alliance.

The Finns have already expressed their rejection of NATO

The cooperation of these countries with NATO has grown since then and today more than some allies converge with it. They had never taken the step of legally binding themselves to the Washington Treaty. Because while bonding would have placed them under the protective umbrella of the Alliance, it would also have forced them to get involved outside their borders in the defense of others, something not well received by their citizens. A defense survey commissioned by the Finnish defense ministry published in 2007 showed that almost 70% of Finns rejected joining NATO at the time.

The security environment has changed. Putin's pressure has worked the miracle of reversing decades of neutrality. The entrance will not be immediate, since he needs the acquiescence of all the allies without exception. Despite the fact that the two countries more than meet the political requirements that NATO demands from any candidate, rapid access seems ruled out in view of Turkey's attitude.

Russia's reaction has shown its disappointment. Deputy Minister Ryabkov has described the decision as a "serious mistake", predicting "far-reaching consequences". Putin has qualified this assessment by saying that Russia has no problem with access, but adding that it will not tolerate the expansion of the Alliance's infrastructure to Swedish or Finnish territory.

With the new allies, NATO will be significantly strengthened, since its armed forces, although relatively small, are equipped with sophisticated material and excellently trained. His entry into the Alliance must be hailed as beneficial to all. It also contributes to strengthening the European pillar, since both are members of the European Union and it has the salutary effect of forcing its citizens to be more supportive of the security concerns of others.

The fact, however, occurs at a tense moment. In the short term at least, the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO will increase friction with Russia. The Alliance assumes a problem that could have been avoided if the decision had been made in a period of détente. Opportunities have been.

The idea may also introduce into NATO the seed of discord. Without rejecting it outright, Turkey has expressed its reservations to the entry, arguing them with the attitude of these countries towards the Kurdish refugees of the PKK.

The period of detente that Turkey has been experiencing with Russia since the war in Syria, reinforced by the turn of foreign policy introduced by Erdogan, may have also played a role in the Turkish position. Although he finally accepts the access of the two countries, it has become perfectly clear what he thinks of his two new allies.

The entry of Finland and Sweden shifts the Alliance's center of gravity significantly to the north. Being logical the emphasis that NATO places on Eastern Europe, should not be to the detriment of the attention due to other security problems, nor should it underpin the feeling that the East and the South do not receive the same level of attention in NATO .

Two democracies worried about a threat

Welcoming two democracies worried about a real threat is, in addition to a matter of solidarity, a moral duty, even if they have declined for decades to share the burden of mutualizing security in an Alliance. Sweden and Finland must be accepted with open arms, but also with full awareness of the implications for continental security of receiving them at a time when Russia is waging a war against Ukraine and against a West embodied by NATO and the United States. United, in the eyes of Putin. Enlargement should not serve to reduce allied sensitivity towards security challenges other than those posed by Russia, nor towards problems such as the non-inclusion of Ceuta and Melilla in the geographical space defined by Article 6 of the Washington Treaty. The result of Sweden and Finland joining NATO must be more security for all; not less.

This article has been published in 'The Conversation'.

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