NATO: what does the decision of Finland and Sweden mean to request their entry into the military alliance

For decades, Sweden and Finland remained neutral amid simmering rivalries between the two political blocs represented by Washington and Moscow.

But everything has changed in a matter of weeks since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February 24.

This Sunday, Finland announced its decision to formally apply for NATO membership, the US-led military alliance and other Western powers whose enlargement has been used by Russia as one of the justifications for invading its neighbor.

And Sweden joined Finland with a similar announcement on Monday.

If this expansion of NATO materializes, it would mean a remarkable change in the international geopolitical chessboard with future implications.

At BBC Mundo we explain the possible consequences of this decision.


What would it mean for Sweden and Finland to join NATO?

“In practice, Finland and Sweden had already come very close to NATO in the 1990s,” Pablo de Orellana, an expert in international relations at King’s College London, explains to BBC Mundo.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg himself has referred to both countries as “the closest partners” to the military alliance.

Orellana gives as an example of collaboration the sea ​​and air exercises of NATO in northern Europe, where “Sweden and Finland always participate”.

Already in 2014, after the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula, both countries increased their formal collaboration despite remaining external allies.

Now, if they finally join NATO as they intend, what would change is the “most important asset” that membership implies: the possibility of invoking the Article 5.

NATO Article 5 refers to the collective defense and implies that an attack against an ally is also considered as an attack on the rest of the members.

“The last thing that Sweden and Finland really lack is the right to invoke Article 5. They are already fulfilling all the other requirements,” says Orellana.

One of the main requirements is allocate at least 2% of the Pproduct Iinside B.route to defense spending, something that Finland already does and that Sweden has committed to achieving in the coming years.

Participating in the organization could also open the door for the United States to deploy its nuclear weapons in their territories, although Orellana defines this possibility as “an internal problem of NATO, that Europeans in general hate and that the Swedes and Finns seem to be clear about not wanting them.”

How might Russia react?

The Russian President, Vladimir Putinhas said that he has no problems with Finland and Sweden, but that the expansion of the military infrastructure on their territory would require a reaction from Moscow.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dimitri peskovHe said on Monday that Russia was closely watching the movements of the two Nordic countries, adding that he was convinced that their accession would not strengthen Europe’s security.

Dimitri Peskov, spokesman for the Kremlin.

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Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov said Russia is “very carefully” following Sweden and Finland’s moves to join NATO.

“This is a serious issue that raises our concern and we will monitor it very carefully,” he said.

Peskov also noted that, compared to Ukraine, Russia has no territorial disputes with Finland or Sweden.

A position that agrees with Orelllana’s analysis, which considers that “there is no prospect that Russia wants to invade these countries directly, but that it would subtly change Moscow’s ability to force these countries to give in to its strategic priorities.”

However, he cautions that it is difficult to calculate how much security joining NATO actually gives Sweden and Finland.

“You have to see what benefits it brings against the belligerence that will surely grow on the Russian side,” he says.

What steps are left for Sweden and Finland to join NATO?

In Finland, Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced on Sunday that her country would send the official request in the coming days, once the Parlament confirm the decision.

“In Finland we still have the parliamentary process ahead of us, but I am confident that Parliament will debate this historic decision with determination and responsibility,” said Marin.

According to the president, there should be no obstacles for her country to become a member of NATO.

Military parade in Moscow for Victory Day on May 9.

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Experts predict that the expansion of NATO’s borders will increase the belligerence of the Russian side.

In recent weeks, Stoltenberg has also said that, once the application for membership is formalized, both countries would be “warmly welcome” and that he hopes the accession process will “go quickly.”

Given that these countries already meet several of NATO’s requirements and that they have been collaborating actively with the organization for years, their accession, once formally requested, could be completed in matter of months.

Although Sweden and Finland see no obstacles, Orellana believes that the only obstacle could come from Turkey, “because Sweden and Finland, like many other European countries, recognize Kurds as asylum seekers.”

Turkey, under the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has repeatedly criticized these countries for their management of organizations that Ankara describes as “terrorists” and has been against their entry into NATO.

By “terrorists”, Erdogan refers to members of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party and People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG is considered a terrorist group by Turkey due to its links at home with the PKK, which has led a bloody guerrilla war in Turkey since 1984.

“This position of Turkey is the only obstacle visible that could stop the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO”, says Orellana.

“Another obstacle is that an aspiring country maintains a territorial dispute, but this is not the case with Finland and Sweden at all”, he adds.

Why did both countries abandon their traditional neutrality?

Political leaders of both nations have repeatedly insisted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused them to change their historic stance of neutrality.

“When Russia invaded Ukraine, Sweden’s security position changed fundamentally,” the party led by Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson explained in a statement in April.

In the case of Finland, the Prime Minister justified her change of opinion regarding NATO by stating that “Russia is not the neighbor we thought it was”.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

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The Finnish government recently argued that “Russia was not the neighbor they thought it was”.

The political turn is also supported by a historic shift in public support.

A poll last March showed that 57% of Swedes approved of NATO membership, the first time in history that the majority of the country chose to position itself clearly in favor of a military bloc.

Sweden has not participated in a war since the days of Napoleon and has built its security policy on “non-participation in military alliances.”

Finland, for its part, displayed neutral behavior towards Russia for decades. She took it on after the end of World War II as a way to ensure peace against a much more powerful neighbor who invaded her in 1939 in the so-called winter war.

Generations of politicians and citizens believed that this position protected them against the expansionist aspirations of their neighbor, with whom shares 1,300 kilometers of border.

Joining NATO had never achieved more than 30% approval among the Finns.

However, weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, public opinion took a dramatic turn, reaching 76% approvalthe highest in polling history.

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