On May 18, 2022, Sweden and Finland simultaneously passed letters of application to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, officially requesting accession into the NATO Alliance.
This historic act set in motion the codification of cooperation with NATO that had occurred since 1994 when both nations joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.
NATO is a defensive alliance that has grown from 12 founding members in 1949 to its current size of 30, comprising most European nations. Below, Major General Stephen Maranian discusses the many ways the addition of Sweden and Finland is significant.
Neutrality to Partnership
Following the end of the second world war, the United States, Canada, and 10 European nations signed the North Atlantic Charter in 1949, establishing NATO. At that time, Sweden chose not to join NATO declaring a security policy of non-alignment in peace and neutrality in war.
Likewise, Finland’s post-war policy aimed to ensure Finland’s sovereignty as a democratic state by maintaining “good enough” relations with the Soviet Union to avoid war. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of both the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in 1991, marked the end of the Cold War.
The 1990s were full of optimism that the political landscape in Europe had changed positively and permanently. In 1994, NATO established the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, which both Sweden and Finland joined. The PfP was formed to establish a framework within which nations could cooperate with NATO choosing their own priorities.
Partnership to NATO Accession
According to Stephen Maranian, the arcs of PfP nations took divergent paths in the 2000s. While nations like Finland and Sweden increasingly cooperated with NATO in bilateral and multi-lateral exercises, exchanges, and training events, Russia chose a different direction, one that did not align with the program’s objective of peace through cooperation. The Russian invasions of the sovereign nations of Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 and 2014, respectively, put NATO on notice that Russia had a different geopolitical view of Europe’s future than the Alliance. The February 2022 invasion of Ukraine cemented public opinion in both Finland and Sweden, both of which responded decisively by requesting accession to NATO.
The Impact of Adding Sweden and Finland to NATO
Both Sweden and Finland, says Maranian, have modern, well-trained, and very capable armed forces. As NATO Allies, both nations will be positive contributors to the Alliance’s collective defense. In October 2022, speaking to the Swedish Prime Minister at the NATO headquarters Secretary General Stoltenberg remarked that “Joining the Alliance will make you safer, NATO stronger, and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure.” As the two Scandinavian countries move through the accession process, NATO has increased its engagement with both nations, and increased its presence in the region.
Strategically, the addition of the roughly 800 miles of the Finland/Russia border to NATO’s geography significantly complicates things for Russia as it stretches its border with NATO from the Baltics to its very northern border with Norway. This poses a long-term strategic dilemma for Russia as it considers future aggressive activity on NATO’s borders or with NATO itself.
The objective of any defensive alliance, says Stephen Maranian, is to deter aggression. Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO will certainly add to NATO’s deterrent and make the Alliance safer and stronger.