TCSS Security Commentaries #025

On May 16, both Finland and Sweden officialized their adhesion process to join NATO. It is a historical step in ending both countries’ non-alignment policies.

Lina Laur, Sciences Po Paris

Moscow violated the Budapest Memorandum of Understanding (1994) by invading Ukraine and violating its territorial integrity. It also triggered Finland and Sweden to join NATO after decades of non-alignment politics. A Russian invasion is no longer an unnecessary threat but corresponds to a tangible expansion of the conflict. Finland, which shares a more than 1,000 km-long border with Russia, is on the front lines. Similarly, the Swedish-owned island of Gotland is just 350 km away from the highly militarized Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

EU Council president Charles Michel mentioned that Sweden and Finland’s diplomatic shift constitutes a “historic” step as the two countries revoked the non-aligned foreign policy. Finland has maintained a “non-aligned” foreign policy since it signed the Finno-Soviet Treaty in 1948. The treaty discouraged Helsinki from becoming a satellite state like many other neighboring countries in the post-world-war order. Finland maintained neutrality and resisted joining any transatlantic cooperation. The shift in Sweden’s policy is equally striking as it historically nurtured a neutral foreign policy for more than two centuries.

On May 11, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson signed a bilateral Security Agreement (Source: Twitter @BorisJohnson)

Finland and Sweden’s entry into the transatlantic alliance could ensure their national security against the Russian threat. NATO’s Article 5 promises mutual assistance in the event of aggression against any of its member states. With the two additional members joining NATO, its border with Russia doubles from 1,215 km to 2,555 km and creates a new strategic space. Finland possesses 12,000 professional soldiers and 870,000 reserve forces, of which 280,000 can be immediately deployed. Sweden, for its part, possesses advanced technology in terms of military equipment, such as its five submarines and high-tech sensor systems for precise intelligence in the Baltic Sea region. The expansion enables NATO to procure and mobilize military resources and reinforcements rapidly through new gateways in the Baltic Sea and forms a Nordic defense front within NATO. By opening to NATO, the Baltic Sea isolates the enclave of Kaliningrad from Greater Russia more than ever.

However, Turkey recorded the first opposition to the membership. President Erdogan considers Sweden and Finland as terrorist states due to their support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist group by his government. But the membership process is expected to be rather quick compared to other states, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has aspired to join the alliance since 2010. One of the reasons for this potential quick integration is both countries’ “military compatibility” with the NATO structure.

Despite the policy of non-alignment, a rapprochement was already perceptible over the years. Both joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program in 1994 and then became members of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997. Finland also signed an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Program (IPCP) while being one of the most active partners of the alliance. Moreover, Crimea’s annexation and Donbas’ invasion in 2014 forced both Finland and Sweden to review their military strategy. Sweden had notably reinstated military service in 2017 and intensified the militarization of Gotland Island from 2018 onwards. (350 soldiers arrived in 2018 on the island).

However, the current accession process leaves these states without immediate official protection. Some European states have already extended their support in case of worsening diplomatic relations. London signed two new protection agreements with Helsinki and Stockholm on mutual security and defense. Also, Germany recently expressed its willingness to “intensify” its partnership with both countries.

Before the membership application was formally declared, Russia threatened Finland and Sweden with “military-technical” retaliation. On May 14, Russian company RAO Nordic cut off the electricity supply to Finland. However, Moscow has no power and no means of exerting pressure with all its military forces mobilized in Ukraine.

Finally, the European region is witnessing a geostrategic realignment with the potential to expand the transatlantic alliance. At the same time, increasing concerns are expressed about excessive reliance and dependencyon the United States. The concerns are illustrated by expanding NATO’s military and territorial presence on the periphery of Russian territory and deploying more than 100,000 American soldiers on European territory. To maintain credible deterrence against the Russian threat, the Madrid NATO summit in June should demonstrate its resolve in approving the project of “transforming” NATO and implementing a new strategic concept in Europe. The summit should also debate NATO’s capability to react in the event of further escalation of the ongoing conflict. It should also revisit the organization’s priorities to accommodate US interests with the inclusion of China as a new fundamental threat.