One can only imagine how much NATO’s territory, GDP and regional borders with Russia would have expanded by the end of this year if Ukraine had achieved its distant goal of eventually becoming a member of the Western Security Alliance.
Vladimir Putin’s brutal attempt to block Ukraine’s security options in advance led to a sudden shift in thinking in Finland and Sweden, which seems to have come from below rather than from the political elite.
This is not over yet. Opinion is very volatile, and NATO members are already standing firm in its opposition, turning to the facilities of semi-neutrality. Russian nuclear threats, already beginning, could threaten voters with a second thought.
The process can be overwhelming. There are many brands of NATO members, and not yet fully explored by Finns and Swedes.
But at NATO’s Madrid summit in June, NATO will expand its population to 16 million, gross domestic product to 800 billion euros and its land area to 780,000 square kilometers. In contrast, Ukraine has a population of 41 million, an area of 603,000 sq km and a GDP of € 155bn. The creation of a new 1,300 km border with NATO is the exact opposite of what Putin intended to achieve last year in agreements designed to narrow NATO’s acceptance of the West. What is worse for Moscow is that NATO may have strengthened itself in the Baltic Sea next to the strategic Russian naval base Kaliningrad Enclave.
By invading Ukraine, Putin thought he had fired a missile westward. It emerged as a precision-guided boomerang. Transforming the two non-aligned countries into NATO members would be one of the major strategic mistakes of the war.
This is very unusual because the twist was so fast. Finland has been emphasizing semi-neutral and consensus-building for the past 70 years and tends to change foreign policy with glacial momentum. Putin’s tolerance in Finland was so entrenched that some on the left said it was close to cooperation as the Finnish political elite ignored Russian opposition.
In the government’s annual survey in December, Finnish support for NATO members was 24%.
Four months later, there was chaos in Finnish politics. Support for NATO members was 68%. Studies now show that more than half of the 200 parliamentarians support NATO membership. In the 2015 Finnish parliamentary election, 91% of SDP candidates opposed the NATO membership. Finland SDP Prime Minister Channa Marin said everything had changed. Russia is “not the neighbor we thought it was,” he said.
Former Prime Minister of Finland Alexander Stubb, member of Finland based on rational fear, created on the day of the Russian invasion. He predicts that the Finnish application will be at NATO headquarters by the end of May. “Leaving the train station.”
In a large-scale speech to the Council of the Central Party of Agriculture earlier this month, Annika Sariko explained that history has sometimes moved faster, measured in weeks rather than years: “In the near future we can not trust a mutually agreed international order or function. Relations with Russia for our security. Finland will not just buy some fire insurance. It will join the Central Fire Brigade.
This was the Finnish breakthrough, which adopted the extraordinary role of role model for Greater Sweden. For that the two countries must respect relations, sentiments and different political cultures. In NATO’s view, it would be best for the two countries to unite at the same time, as polls support. But Finnish diplomats say they cannot see their interference in sovereign Swedish decisions. At the joint press conference in Stockholm, Marin stressed that coordination with Sweden was “sought but not a prerequisite”: “Finland has not ordered tables or decisions for Sweden or Sweden has not ordered Finland.”
It is imperative that the ruling Social Democrats now embark on an internal policy review and see that it is in charge of its own destiny. After all, last November, the party made clear its position that it opposed the coalition’s foreign policy. Nevertheless, four center-right parties now support NATO membership, while two parties on the left oppose members, and joining NATO means defending the dictatorships that run Turkey and Hungary. With parliamentary elections in September, the SDP wants the review to be completed without the party falling into left-right divisions.
One difficulty is that, as far as Russia’s conduct is concerned, no program, such as the Greater Swedish-Finnish Security Cooperation or the NATO Alliance for Peace, appears to be a full member. Most NATO nations view Sweden and Finland as major military and intelligence assets. “This will complete a missing jigsaw puzzle of NATO strategic planning,” said Mika Aldola, director of the Finnish Institute for International Affairs.
But Finland must apply to become a NATO member without knowing the exact future relationship. In its defense document released this week, Finland stressed: “The Finnish member will not force the adoption of nuclear weapons, permanent bases or troops into its territory. For example, in the early stages of their membership, the founding members of Norway and Denmark imposed unilateral restrictions on their members and did not allow permanent troops, bases or coalition nuclear weapons in their territory during peacetime. NATO’s expansion policy, which emerged in the late 1990s, was based on the policy of not placing nuclear weapons, permanent troops or permanent bases in any of the new member states.
But if Finland or Sweden actually set limited prerequisites regarding nuclear weapons, permanent bases or forces, the application process may be extended.
A lengthy recruitment process carries risks as Russia seeks to exploit, harass and paralyze the entire spectrum of the war zone. On the day Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky addressed the Finnish parliament, Russia was accused of cyber-attacks and its air raids. Finland has already canvassed NATO members for security guarantees, which have been in the anti-NATO chamber for four months to a year, waiting for full acceptance.
So there is an incentive to expedite the application without removing the domestic consultation.
For those who fear that NATO will escalate the conflict within Ukraine, the abrupt extension of Article 5 obligations in the North could be dangerous, and Putin may still be convinced that confronting NATO’s siege policy is the right thing to do. But with all the talk of maintaining red lines and nuclear weapons, when Russia’s primary front in the southwest proves to be the most precious of lost lives, reputation and treasure, can it really open a second front to the north?