It is almost certain now that Finland and Sweden will join NATO, making it the largest political and military redesign of the map of Europe since the countries of Central and Eastern Europe joined the military alliance, as well as the European Union, in different waves in the end. of the 1990s and early 2000s.
The big questions right now are no longer about, but rather when Finland and Sweden will join NATO, if they will do it together, and – perhaps most decisively – if they will get some security guarantees within a (probable) period of months between their applications and to actually be approved as full members of the alliance.
Make no mistake, this is a major Copernican shift in two countries that have been militarily non-aligned since the end of World War II.
For Finland, it will be the ultimate step to finally free itself from the concept of “Finnishisation” during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union left the country independent but had great influence on its political choices.
For Sweden, the feeling of being “neutral” has shaped its political life for decades, if not centuries. Having managed to stay out of both world wars during the 20th century, its last recognized military conflict with Norway was in 1814.
In other words, it is a big deal for both countries.
It is therefore even more striking how fast the decision-making process is going on in both Helsinki and Stockholm this spring. There is a “before and after February 24”, said Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson when she received her Finnish counterpart, Sanna Marin, in the Swedish capital earlier this week, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s war has concentrated its senses, and subsequent threats from Moscow as the couple closer to NATO have only strengthened their determination. So much so that the Nordic duo is now considering joining even without referendums in one of the countries.
Marin confirmed in Stockholm that the Finnish Parliament and its various committees will now discuss whether or not to join the military alliance, but that a decision is expected “in weeks and not months”.
Still, it is already clear what the decision will be. Nearly 70 percent of the Finnish population supports membership, according to a recent survey, and dubious parties such as the populist Finns and the Center Party now state that they are in favor of joining. Expect an application to land on NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s desk as early as May.
In 2017, the Swedish Armored Regiments will participate in joint exercises with NATO troops.
Finland is currently leading, but Sweden seems to be driving on its eastern neighbor. The ruling Social Democrats, a champion of freedom of alliance, are currently having internal debates about it, but reports in the media say that Prime Minister Andersson is in favor of membership. The four center parties in the Riksdag are already involved and the populist right-wing Sweden Democrats have indicated that they are ready if Finland joins.
Therefore, there is a parliamentary majority, and – while the latest opinion polls show that 45 percent of Swedes would join compared to 33 percent against and 22 percent insecure – surveys show that the number who support membership would jump to well over 60 percent if Finland also joined . Do not be surprised to see a Swedish application follow shortly after the Finnish one, as Stockholm seems to want this issue investigated before the Swedish parliamentary elections at the end of September.
This raises the question of whether the two would merge. While officials from both countries insist that they will make separate decisions, they also confirm that relevant Swedish and Finnish ministers are in contact on the issue every week, if not daily. However, it is clear that both to enter at the same time would strengthen their respective bids – and make it even easier for NATO to open its doors.
It is also clear that NATO would welcome the couple with open arms. There are no indications that any other current member has any problems with the couple, and Stoltenberg has described them as as close to NATO as they can be without being members. Both armies regularly participate in alliance exercises and are already fully interoperable with the other 30 members.
On top of this, Finland, which still has conscription, can gather a wartime army of 280,000 personnel plus additional reservists, and Sweden has a significant high-tech military industry. Both are also ready to achieve NATO’s target of devoting 2% of gross domestic product to defense spending in the coming years.
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So when can they join?
The most optimistic scenario in Brussels is that both can sign their accession protocols at the NATO summit in Madrid on 29-30 June. That speed would be unmatched, but many officials add that we “live in unparalleled times” when old routines are constantly being rewritten.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto has noted that the ratification process after the signing of the protocols can take from three months to a year, as some of the national parliaments of the 30 allies discuss the issue in various committees.
There is also a chance that the accession proposal could be side effects caused by domestic policy negotiations. For example, it took 13 months for Northern Macedonia, the most recent NATO member, to go from signing the accession protocols to full membership.
However, both Sweden and Finland have pressured other alliance members to speed up the process, as the “gray zone” they may enter is soon a concern, especially along the nearly 1,400-kilometer stretch between Finland and Russia that could soon become NATO’s longest border with its eastern opponents.
Haavisto has acknowledged that NATO’s Mutual Defense Clause, Article 5, only covers full members. But do not rule out the idea that some form of security guarantee may be sought for this period, bilaterally or otherwise, with Article 42 (7) of the EU Treaty which also stipulates that other Member States have an “obligation to assist and assist by all means in their power” in in the event of another Member State being attacked.
The safest option, however, is for parliaments across the continent to take an urgent break from their summer breaks in July and August this year to make Finland and Sweden 31st and 32nd members of NATO in early autumn.
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE / RL, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036