Finland Joins NATO
While many eyes were on the courthouse in Manhattan, New York and the indictment of Trump, many others were focused on Brussels, where Finland officially joined NATO with the raising of the Finnish flag in front of NATO Headquarters.
The event was full of irony. Ever since WWI, Finland had maintained its neutrality so as not to upset Russia, who had controlled Finland as part of the Russian Empire and had fought the invading Russian Army in the early days of WWII. Now Finland sees the potential threat of Russia invading Ukraine.
“Finland has today become a member of the defense alliance NATO. The era of military non-alignment in our history has come to an end,” the Finnish president said. “A new era begins.”
The president continued, “NATO membership strengthens our international position and room for maneuver. As a partner, we have long actively participated in NATO activities. In the future, Finland will make a contribution to NATO’s collective deterrence and defense.”
Finland’s addition to NATO dramatically changes the strategic situation in Europe. The NATO border with Russia has doubled, which forces Russia to at least put military forces on the border at a time when its military is stretched with the War in Ukraine.
As a neutral country that has relied on its own military to repel invaders, the Finnish Army is more powerful than many think. Although the Finnish armed forces number 23,000, thanks to universal military conscription, that number can be boosted to 280,000. And, though it is neutral, some Finnish soldiers have combat experience in Afghanistan.
Finland’s military is classed as the 51st most powerful in the world. It’s artillery forces outnumber France and Germany combined. Its ammunition production by Lapua is considered the best and its small arms ammunition is the ammunition of choice by NATO snipers.
Finland uses the German Leopard 2, which is considered one of the best Main Battle Tanks. They also use the HIMARS missiles, which have been used successfully by the Ukrainians to hit Russian targets. Their military spending meets NATO standards of 2% of GDP.
Finland’s top commander, General Timo Kivinen said, “On a per capita basis, we have probably the most firepower in Europe.”
Finland’s air force has 55 F-18s and in two years, they will start receiving F-35s. Finland also has the world’s 12th largest navy, which along with Sweden and the NATO nations Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Germany, and Denmark, make the Baltic Sea a NATO lake.
With the Russian Black Sea fleet unable to sortie its ships into the Mediterranean and the Russian Baltic fleet unable to exit the Baltic, Russian naval power must rely on Murmansk to sail into the Atlantic. However, both Norway and Finland are close to that strategic Russian naval base and could hinder any movement from there during a conflict.
The status of Swedish NATO membership is still open, but many think the situation will change after Turkish elections in May. In the meantime, they will continue to hold military exercises with NATO nations and will only make the northern flank of NATO much more powerful, especially in anti-submarine warfare in the Baltic.
NATO has changed in terms of its key members. During the Cold War, France and Germany were the major military powers on the European continent. Now, the northern flank of NATO is strengthened by Poland, which is the major tank and armored NATO force outside the US. Only the US and Greece are spending more, in terms of GDP, in defense. The Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are also spending more than 2% of GDP, although their small economies force them to rely upon larger NATO countries to protect their borders.
Finnish NATO membership and the push to spend more on NATO defense has displeased Russia, who has seen its plan to discourage NATO membership of its neighbors to fail. Its most serious response was to announce that it was deploying tactical missiles that can be used either tactically or with nuclear warheads to Belarus.
Russian Presidential spokesman Dimitry Peskov said, “the expansion of NATO is an infringement on our security and Russia’s national interests.” He did separate Finnish membership in NATO from how they saw a potential Ukraine NATO membership.
Peskov said, “the situation with Finland, of course, is radically different from the situation with Ukraine…Finland has never had anti-Russian rhetoric, and we have no disputes with Finland.”
“With Ukraine, the situation is the opposite and potentially more dangerous,” Peskov continued.
The Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said they have shipped Russian aircraft and Iskander missiles capable of delivering tactical nuclear strikes to Belarus.
He said,” Several of Belarus ground attack aircraft received the ability to strike enemy targets with nuclear weapons…Besides, Iskander-M operational tactical missile was handed over to the armed forces of Belarus. It can use both conventional and nuclear missiles.”
How big is the threat posed by Belarus? It appears that some aircraft and missiles have been moved into Belarus and made nuclear capable. However, there is no information that the nuclear warheads or bombs have been stored in Belarus or that they have been given any authority to use them.
It is more likely that the nuclear weapons remain in Russia, under close Russian guard. They are more of a potential threat if NATO invades Belarus, which is unlikely under current circumstances.
They are more likely to be deployed if NATO decides to invade the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which is separated from Russia and is nestled between Poland and Lithuania.
In the meantime, it appears that NATO will continue to supply munitions and more modern weapons systems. Poland and Slovakia have sent former Russian aircraft to Ukraine to bolster the Ukrainian air force. The US has also admitted that 2 Ukrainian pilots have been sent to Arizona to learn how to use the F-16. Although the US insists that the pilots aren’t receiving any “flight time” on the F-16, they may be training on obsolete fighter aircraft owned by the American defense company Textron Aviation.
According to Air & Space Forces Magazine, Textron has the largest civilian supersonic fleet. That includes 63 Mirage F1 aircraft. Flight Global says on their website that the Mirage F1 will be used for “air combat training and aggressor squadron purposes.” Some of the aircraft are at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona
Clearly, the escalation of the Ukrainian War is continuing. Aircraft, once “off the table” are likely to find their way onto the battlefield soon. Russia, which once tried to stop NATO expansion eastward now finds itself in a weaker position than before.