Viewing the factors that led to the Russian attack on Ukraine, Finland and Sweden seem to have found the impetus for applying for NATO Membership, the western alliance with 30 members. For decades, these two countries believed in maintaining a neutral stance publically on certain issues in order to maintain peace and order in their respective states. However, the recent turn of events might overturn this policy of neutrality. Both countries have been partners with NATO since the mid-1990s, but never officially joined the alliance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned both these countries of “retaliation” if they were to align themselves with a Western military alliance. In such a case, it is inevitable for them to feel daunted by the prospect of a potential threat from their neighboring country, Russia. This move from Finland makes a lot of sense, given its close proximity with Russia; it shares a 1300 km border with it.
Why Were They Not Aligned?
Sweden and Finland have been neutral ever since the Second World War. Neither of them is officially affiliated with any military alliance, though they have their small armies. Finland was formerly under Russian control but it became independent of it in 1917. It even went to 2 wars against Russia during World War 2. Meanwhile, Finland also lost some territory to Moscow. In 1948, Finland however, got into an official agreement cementing Friendship, cooperation, and Mutual Assistance with Russia. It removed Finland militarily from Western Europe even as building a positive level of economic and political dependence between themselves.
While Finland has depended on its positive relations with Moscow to maintain peace for itself, it cannot do so for much longer after witnessing the Russian invasion of Ukraine by President Vladimir Putin. On the other hand, Sweden has supported and valued the institutions of diplomatic dialogue, democracy, and nuclear disarmament time and time again. It only has a very small military force after the Cold War, which cannot possibly fend for itself in the scenario of Russia invading Sweden. In the case of an invasion from Russia, it initially thought it could delay the Russian forces until foreign help reached there but recent events have made it rethink this strategy. The 2 countries which were initially neutral switched up to being non-aligned after becoming a part of the European Union in 1995. Over the years, however, these countries have increased their proximity to the western military alliance through participation in alliance exercises and also by exchanging intelligence with the NATO countries.
After looking at the chances of Russia attacking Sweden and Finland, both the countries would find it tempting to join NATO. Under Article 5 of NATO guidelines, it is mentioned that if any country attacks a NATO ally, it would be considered an attack on all the allies, and the militaries of all these states would come together to handle the threat.
Response To Ukrainian Invasion
The recent military attack on Ukraine at the orders of President Putin has forced these countries to review their military policies. Finland has a stronger chance of applying than Sweden, probably because it faces a greater threat given its geographical proximity to Russia. On April 7, the foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto talked about the likelihood of joining NATO and gave it a positive response if there was adequate support from the Parliament. The Finnish parliament started to ponder a possible military alliance on April 21, 2022, with many of its groups pushing for finally joining an official alliance. NATO has its two-day summit in June before which Finland has to solidify its final choice. The government made its analyses of the possible consequences of Finland joining the NATO public. It seemed that upon its inclusion in NATO, the use of military force would increase in the Baltic region. Regional stability would grow through this move.
Though Sweden is not completely sold on this proposition yet, it looks like there have been serious discussions in favor of joining the Western alliance. The Swedish government plans to publicly release its security policy on May 13. Prince Minister Magdalena Andersson has decided to wait for the result before making any public claims about the decision. They are holding debates and discussions to come to a conclusion, either stay non-aligned or join forces with NATO.
There have been polls which were conducted in Sweden and they showed major support from the Parliament to apply for inclusion in NATO. The biggest party in Sweden, The Social Democrats have been the ones who have shown resistance to applying. The Green Party as well as the Swedish Left Party, which was initially the Communist Party are among the opposers of this. However, they are rethinking these objections.
The Finnish polls, on the other hand, have been affirmative for the most part. 68% of the Finnish participants were in favor of a NATO membership. In Finland, most parties and lawmakers support the decision to officially become a part of NATO, except for the Left Alliance.
NATO acknowledged even before the Russian-Ukrainian war that Sweden and Finland have always been close partners in the alliance. All allies vow to welcome the two countries in the event they choose to join NATO. The Secretary-General even suggested that they might receive security guarantees during their application procedure.
The officials of any of these countries have not spoken about the concrete timelines of their alliance being solidified. Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned the countries about “retaliation” if they were to align themselves with the Western Alliance, NATO. The decisions are still under review. However, it would be a huge deal if these countries make the decision to join NATO since they have displayed utmost dedication to staying non-aligned for decades.