Special to WorldTribune.com
Just a year ago, the political odds of comfortably neutral Sweden and Finland joining NATO were a long shot; Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine changed the military threat and jolted the political calculus.
At last week’s NATO Summit in Madrid, both countries were fast-tracked to full membership in the Atlantic Alliance.
One of the tragic ironies of the Ukraine war has been Vladimir Putin’s aim to keep NATO member states away from the Russian border. Ukraine’s long-term intent to join NATO was seen as moving the frontier closer to Russia itself. From the Kremlin’s viewpoint this became an excuse and the principal trigger to the war which it started on Feb. 24th.
Now in a sweep of the cartographical pen, two major countries are joining the Atlantic Alliance. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said confidently, “If Vladimir Putin was hoping he would be getting less NATO on his western front as a result of his unprovoked, illegal invasion of Ukraine, he’s been proved completely wrong, he’s getting more NATO … we’ve already got two new members coming in, Finland and Sweden, a huge step forward for our alliance.”
Previously Russia only bordered two small and very vulnerable Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia. Now Russia’s frontier with Finland alone expands by 800 miles! Finland’s move has prompted the usual huffing and puffing in the Kremlin but with no specific retaliatory threats.
Finland has a particularity sensitive history regarding Russia having been a Grand Duchy since 1809; Finland would only gain its full independence in 1917. Yet in 1939, Stalin tried to seize large parts of the country; the Winter War saw tiny and outnumbered Finland fight Stalin’s Red Army to a standstill before being eventually overwhelmed by the Soviets in 1940. The Finns learned a bitter lesson, and also lost the Karelia region still occupied by Russia.
The term Finlandization was a Cold War phrase describing the neutral, if not neutralized, status of Finland, this Nordic nation bordering the former Soviet Union. Basically it expressed what became a postwar buffer state between Soviet Russia and Europe.
Finland was a rich and advanced country but also very aware of the terms after a 1948 treaty imposed by Moscow. Russia allowed this status as a convenient go between for commerce and neutralist diplomacy.
Today Finland remains a prosperous nation inside the European Union. I recall being in its capital Helsinki some years ago to visit a city with many historical and architectural vestiges of Russia but with better food!
What will the new members bring to the table? Significant geography with its position near shipping lanes. Moreover, though having a population of only 5.5 million people, Finland’s capable military packs a lethal punch. While its military only has 23,000 troops, the country’s reserves number a formidable 900,000!
Both countries border the Baltic Sea/Gulf of Finland and can control the narrow outlets for Russia’s Baltic Fleet. Conversely, this is certain to raise concerns in Moscow about NATO’s perceived “threat” to Russian shipping, thus the enlargement is not without risk. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg surmised, ‘We face the most serious security situation in decades. But we are rising to the challenge with unity and resolve.’
Sweden with a population of 10 million fields a military of 30,000 but a mere reserve of 34,000. Indeed, Sweden has been neutral since the Napoleonic wars!
Both countries border the Baltic Sea/Gulf of Finland and can control the narrow outlets for Russia’s Baltic Fleet. Conversely, this is certain to raise concerns in Moscow about NATO’s perceived “threat” to Russian shipping, thus the enlargement is not without risk.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg surmised, “We face the most serious security situation in decades. But we are rising to the challenge with unity and resolve.”
Importantly NATO’s new Strategic Concept adopted at the Madrid Summit, defines Russia as “the most significant and direct threat to the Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.”
The document states clearly, “The Euro-Atlantic area is not at peace…. The Russian Federation’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe.”
Significantly NATO extends Article 5 defensive protection to new members; in other words, an attack against one is an attack against all thirty members of the Atlantic Alliance.
Regarding cost sharing, NATO members have pledged to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense; Only ten countries are actually doing so with the USA spending 3.47 percent, Poland 2.4, and the UK 2.12. Greece, the Baltic states and Slovakia also meet the standard. Nineteen others haven’t.
Importantly the United States still allots for approximately 70 percent of all member spending.
Jean Sibelius the renown Finnish composer wrote the patriotic symphonic hymn Finlandia, an epic paean to his country, “This is my song, O God of all the nations, A song of peace, for lands afar and mine.”
Finland and Sweden joining NATO leads to enhanced Nordic deterrence facing Moscow’s next machinations.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]