Suecia y Finlandia: algunas reflexiones ante una nueva ampliación de la OTAN

Sweden and Finland: some reflections on further NATO enlargement


03 | 06 | 2022


Seen from the south of NATO territory, the entrance of the two countries shifts the Alliance's centre of gravity even further north than it already is.

In the picture

Celebration in Madrid's Teatro Real of the 40th anniversary of Spain's accession to NATO, with the presence of King Felipe VI and Jens Stoltenberg [Pool Moncloa/Fernando Calvo].

[The Conversation has published a shorter version of this text].

The Russian invasion of Ukraine that we have been witnessing since the end of February is producing shocks in the European security environment, the long-term scope of which can only be glimpsed when the fog of war has lifted and a certain time perspective is provided. deadline What is already known is that the war has given rise to a shared sense of insecurity among Europeans, more intensely felt the closer they are to Moscow.

The application NATO membership application submitted on 18 May by Sweden and Finland to NATO's University Secretary is but one manifestation of the growing unease with which two Nordic nations geographically close to Russia view the war initiated by Putin[1]. The concern of these two countries about Russian behaviour is not new; it dates back at least to the post-World War II period. Now, however, because of the invasion of Ukraine, it has been reborn with sufficient force to operate a historic shift in their respective strategic cultures, leading them to knock on the door of an Atlantic Alliance on whose periphery they have remained for decades by choice - always close, but always refusing to cross the threshold of full participation.

For Helsinki and Stockholm, neutrality has traditionally been a calculated strategy. In Finland's case, it was adopted to ensure its independence from Russia, a country with which it shares more than 1,300 kilometres of land border. In Sweden's case, it was adopted to follow a tradition of rejection of war inaugurated after the Napoleonic period. Both consistently maintained it during the Cold War years as the best way, from their point of view, to guarantee their security and territorial integrity.

Russia's state of prostration after the fall of communism at the end of the last century made the imperative of absolute neutrality less pressing, and both Sweden and Finland began a process of rapprochement with the orbit of prosperity in Western Europe, joining the European Union in 1995. The entrance in the Union meant that the two nations assumed the mutual defence clause of article 42 (7) of the Lisbon Treaty, although it is worth noting that, precisely to safeguard the neutrality of, among others, Sweden and Finland, the final essay given in the Treaty to that clause was carefully kept ambiguous, avoiding making explicit that the financial aid due to another member state in the event of armed aggression on its territory should be military.

This was also a time of rapprochement with NATO, with the two countries joining the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme in 1994, which was specifically designed to bring NATO affiliates closer to NATO without actually joining. It was also at this time that the two countries began a long period of loyal participation in several NATO-led multinational operations in places such as Afghanistan and Kosovo.

The cooperation of these two countries with NATO has only grown since they joined PfP, reaching such heights in such important areas as training, standardisation of equipment and materiel, and doctrine that they are often referred to as "virtual allies". It is no exaggeration to say that both Sweden and Finland converge with NATO, its principles and procedures, more than some Alliance members. Despite this, they have never until now taken the step of legally binding themselves to the collective defence clause of the Washington Treaty. While this would have placed both under the Alliance's protective umbrella, it would also have forced them to become involved outside their borders in the defence of others - a possibility not welcomed by their citizens[2].

At summary, during the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the Russian threat was perceived as leave, Sweden and Finland dared to participate more closely in the sphere of prosperity and Western institutions, contributing significantly to them, but without taking the step of joining NATO. The thinking behind this policy seems to have been that in the security climate of the time, a close rapprochement with NATO that fell short of full participation would have the beneficial effect of deterring Russia from initiating any hostile action against these countries, without having to formally commit itself to the eventual defence of other allies.

The security environment has changed since then - markedly since 2008 - and the outline described above is no longer satisfactory for Swedish and Finnish interests. Putin's pressure has worked the miracle of reversing decades of neutrality, and both nations are now preparing to become new NATO members. 

Membership will not be immediate. Once interest in accession has been formally expressed, membership requires the acquiescence of all all allies without exception; obtaining it is a process that can take several months. candidate Although the two countries more than meet NATO's political and democratic quality requirements requirements , fast-track accession seems out of the question in view of Turkey's reluctance to join.

While all allies have been brought on board, Sweden and Finland remain in limbo outside the umbrella of article 5 and exposed to Moscow's reaction. Fortunately for them, some countries, most notably the United States and the United Kingdom, have already shown a willingness to underpin the aspirants' security during this interim period.

As might be expected, Russia's initial reaction to the Swedish-Finnish advertisement has been angry, making its displeasure clear. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the decision a "grave mistake" that will have "far-reaching consequences". Shortly afterwards, President Putin himself qualified this evaluation by saying that Russia has no problem with these countries' accession to NATO, but will not tolerate the expansion of NATO infrastructure into Swedish or Finnish territory.

When, as expected, NATO's membership is finally consummated, NATO will have been significantly strengthened by a significant contribution. Sweden and Finland have armed forces that, while relatively small, are effective and operational and, above all, fully interoperable with those of the other Allies. Both are oriented towards territorial defence -more so in the case of Finland, not so much in that of Sweden, which has developed a significant expeditionary capacity-; based on compulsory military service (reintroduced in Sweden in 2017), and on an agile and proven system for activating reservists that allows them to grow, in the case of Finland, from 19,000 to 280,000 troops; technologically highly equipped and supported by an interesting defence industry; and trained to the highest standards from agreement .

The two countries' entrance membership of the Atlantic Alliance should be hailed as a gesture that strengthens the Alliance as a whole with two very capable members, which in itself is a benefit for all Allies. Moreover, their membership contributes to strengthening NATO's European pillar, since both are also members of the European Union. If Putin intended to weaken NATO, it can be said that he has achieved the opposite, waking it up from the "brain-dead" status in which, according to President Macron, it found itself, and also contributing, by his action, to enhancing the leadership of the United States over the free world, which has been moribund since Donald Trump's presidency. Finally, access has the salutary effect of forcing the Swedes and Finns to be more sympathetic to the security concerns of others, and thus to move them definitively away from the vain dream of neutrality.

If the development itself is undoubtedly and indisputably positive, it comes at a time when tensions between Russia and the West are at levels not seen since the Cold War years. This, of course, is precisely why Sweden and Finland have clearly seen the value of abandoning their proverbial neutrality and are rushing to seek NATO's protection. It is worth being aware, however, that, at least in the short term deadline, their membership will serve to increase tensions with Russia, and that this means that NATO is taking on a problem that could have been avoided if the decision had been taken in a period of greater détente. There have been opportunities for this.

The idea has also served to introduce a seed of discord in NATO. As already mentioned, without daring to reject it outright, Turkey has expressed its negative opinion of entrance, arguing it with the attitude shown by these countries in giving asylum to Kurdish refugees from the PKK, group considered by Turkey, but also by the European Union, to be terrorist. Undoubtedly, Turkey's period of detente with Russia since the Syrian war, reinforced by Erdogan's foreign policy shift, may also have played a role in Turkey's stance. Even if Turkey finally accepts the accession of the two countries, it has become perfectly clear what Turkey thinks of its two new allies. It cannot be ruled out, moreover, that Turkey is not as alone as it seems. It is possible that other allies view the decision with similar misgivings to Turkey's, though they have not made this clear, preferring instead to leave Ankara the wear and tear of going public with its decision civil service examination.

Seen from the point of view of the Alliance's southern countries, Finland and Sweden's entrance shifts NATO's centre of gravity even further north than it already is. Clearly, because of its imminence, the Russian problem deserves the Alliance's priority attention at this time. However, this focus on the East should not detract from the attention due to other security issues important to many Allies, nor should it underpin the sense that, while declarative care is taken to ensure that NATO serves the security of all in all directions, the reality is that East and South do not receive the same level of attention and effort.

Welcoming two democracies gravely concerned about a real threat to their security is not only a matter of solidarity but also a moral duty, even if they have declined for decades to share the burden of mutualising security through the collective defence clause of the Washington Treaty. Sweden and Finland should be accepted into the Atlantic Alliance with open arms, but also with full awareness of the continental security implications of welcoming them at a time when Russia is waging war against Ukraine and, beyond that, against a West embodied, in Putin's eyes, by NATO and the United States.

The forthcoming enlargement should not serve to reduce the Alliance's sensitivity to security challenges other than those posed by Russia, nor to problems such as the non-inclusion of Ceuta and Melilla in the geographic space defined by article 6 the Washington Treaty. The result of Sweden and Finland joining NATO should be more security for all, not less.

[1] Technically, states do not formally apply to join the Atlantic Alliance. According to article 10 of the Washington Treaty, they are invited to join NATO if there is a unanimous agreement among the Allies.

[2] As sample, a survey a defence survey commissioned by the Finnish Ministry of Defence and published in 2007 showed that almost 70 percent of Finns rejected Finnish membership of NATO. Forty per cent of this large majority gave as their main reason for refusal that if they did so, Finns would have to "fight in wars outside Finland".