Sweden and Finland consider NATO Membership
Peace sure isn’t the favored foreign policy this year. Ireland is considering its policy of neutrality after Russia held naval maneuvers off Ireland’s coast a few months ago. It’s only military cooperation currently is to allow US troop aircraft to land in Ireland to refuel.
Switzerland, the benchmark of neutrality for centuries is sanctioning Russia, Even Sweden, which last fought a war in the Napoleonic era wants to join NATO along with its neighbor Finland.
This is a far cry from a few years ago, when analysts argued that NATO should dissolve as it had no use in the 21st century and statesmen regarded President Trump with distain as he asked NATO nations to increase their defense spending as he warned about Russia’s ambitions.
Now NATO nations are voluntarily increasing defense spending and two traditional neutral nations, Finland, and Sweden, want to join NATO. Formally neutral Finland has seen public support for joining NATO going from 53% when the war in Ukraine started to 76% today.
The Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto stated, “But the Russian invasion of Ukraine changed the mindset of many Finnish people.”
Finland’s parliament is expected to approve plans to join NATO next week. It will take from 4 to 12 months to complete the process.
Sweden could follow in weeks, although there is some opposition to the move in Sweden’s parliament. Sweden’s Social Democrats are currently split on the issue and discussing the issue behind closed doors. However, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said, “Finland is Sweden’s closest security and defense partner, and we need to take Finland’s assessments into account.
Both Sweden and Finland are close to NATO. Both nations have held maneuvers with NATO troops and Finland has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.
But the move to merge two nations that have worked with NATO in the past means more than additional maneuvers with NATO and meeting goals on defense spending. There are both political and military issues that impact Europe as a whole.
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, NATO has evolved dramatically. The decades of a lukewarm Cold War of the 60s, 70s, and the 80s are gone. The war is now taking on the heat of the NATO-Soviet confrontations of the 1950s.
In the early days, West Germany was the shield of NATO. It would be the battlefield of WWIII and the West German Army was one of the best in NATO. Today, the German Army is smaller than many other NATO nations, it has spent less on defense than what it has promised, and Germany is addicted to Russian natural gas.
When Ukraine asked for munitions, Germany said that it didn’t have any to spare. It even refused to send obsolete armored vehicles at first. It took political pressure from other NATO nations to convince Germany to change course.
While Germany has abrogated its leading role in NATO, a former Warsaw Pact nation is stepping up. Poland, which has centuries of enmity with Russia has taken on a leading role with NATO. For year, it has spent more than required on defense and has asked the US to station combat units inside its borders.
Today, Poland is at the center of the rearming of Ukraine. It is more than a transfer station and has helped quietly move former Warsaw pact equipment out of Eastern NATO nations and into Ukraine.
If this conflict heats up to WWIII, it will be Polish tanks (including the American M-1 Abrams tank) that will be fighting on the frontline.
Another nation that has evolved is a reinvigorated Britain. In the Cold War days of NATO, Britain was an empire shedding colonies and pulling its forces from “East of Suez.” Although it was a nuclear power and a center of technology, it was seen by many as a “toothless tiger.”
Today, Britain has taken a more active, leading role in NATO and the rest of the world. Her new aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales is the command ship of NATO’s Maritime Readiness Force. She spent March and April off the coast of Norway as a part of Operation Cold Response. Her sister ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth showed the flag in the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and China seas, visited military important allies, and showed her support for Taiwan. She is clearly renewing her role as a world power and serious naval force.
Great Britain has also taken the lead in sending arms (including high tech anti-air and anti-tank weapons) to Ukraine. It also signed agreements with Finland and Sweden to come to their assistance militarily if Russia should decide to attack them. This provides a bridging agreement until both countries are fully integrated with NATO.
On the other side, Russia has suffered politically. Five months ago, Russia was seen as a major military power with vast supplies of natural gas. Today, Russia’s military is facing difficulties in Ukraine and Europe is considering how to stop using Russian natural gas.
One possible hang up to the expansion of NATO is Turkey. Turkish president Erdogan has voiced opposition to Swedish and Finnish membership because they allow Kurdish groups to live there.
However, this is probably a negotiating point rather than a solid opposition. First, NATO expansion would weaken Russia, a traditional opponent of Turkey for centuries. Second, agreeing to expansion would help Turkey improve its standing in NATO, which has suffered with somewhat chilly relations with NATO allies since Erdogan has been Turkish president. Third, Turkey has been supporting Ukraine by supplying drones to fight Russia. Fourth, the expansion of NATO would force Russia to redeploy its military forces to the north and away from Turkey. Finally, any military redeployment necessitated by a larger NATO would probably mean reducing Russia’s military presence in Syria, which would benefit Turkey’s ambitions.
It’s possible that some negotiations will address the problem. Sweden especially is regretting its liberal immigration policies, which have led to more crime. The Scandinavian nations are likely to tighten immigration by militant Kurds, as a prerequisite to join NATO.
The US can and might add inducements for Turkey to allow Finnish and Swedish membership by allowing Turkey to rejoin the F-35 fighter program.
Putin’s decision to launch a military operation into Ukraine has been considered by western analysts as one of Russia’s failures, alongside the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, when Czar Nicholas II ordered the Russian Baltic fleet to the China Sea to defeat the Japanese – only to lose 35 of its 45 ships.
The disastrous war with Japan weakened the Russian monarchy and led to the Russian Revolution – something westerners like Putin to remember.
Putin’s war on Ukraine has changed the military balance in Europe. Europe (and the US) viewed Russia as a massive conventional army with high tech weapons. This was one reason why NATO nations didn’t want to send troop into Ukraine.
What NATO are claiming now is that Russia was a “Paper Bear.” Russia’s massive, armored units suffered from poor maintenance, poorly trained soldiers, and poor logistics. High tech equipment didn’t operate with the reliability demanded on the modern battlefield. The modern Russian ships that Putin hoped to challenge US command of the seas proved to be lacking in damage control.
Militarily, NATO is improving with the addition of Sweden and Finland. Sweden has a vast, modern defense industry that can produce world class tanks, tactical missiles, and fighter aircraft. Since the end of the Cold War, Finland has bought modern NATO weapons like Germany’s Leopard I main battle tank and the American F-18 fighter. Finland is also buying the American F-35, which is scheduled for the first deliveries in a couple of years.
Finland’s joining NATO doubles the NATO-Russian border since Finland’s border with Russia is 1,300 km. This forces Russia to stretch it forces from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean if war comes.
NATO naval operations also benefit. It makes it harder for the Russians to control the Baltic Sea since the entire coastline, except for Russia’s small part, belongs to NATO nations. NATO ships can move up the coast to support Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Since modern NATO warships have large anti-air footprints (as well as cruise missile range), they can provide support if Russia decides to attack the Baltic nations.
In a war, the fact that both Norway and Finland are close to the Russian naval facilities at Murmansk will make it harder for it to deploy its naval forces or defend its base.
With Russian naval forces in the east at Vladivostok hemmed in by the Japanese islands and the Black Sea Fleet (or what remains of it) hemmed in by Turkey’s control of the Dardanelles, Russia finds itself unable to move its fleet into the open seas to challenge NATO’s naval supremacy.
Sweden and Finland provide NATO with a defense in depth that it didn’t have in earlier decades. The traditional Russian attack across Central Europe with massive, armored columns would now face an air and naval threat along the northern flank.
It’s obvious that Putin’s strategy to invade Ukraine, cause divisions amongst NATO nations, and precipitate a breakup of NATO didn’t work. As in the post WWII era, it seems that Russian threats have merely unified NATO, not divided it for now.