NATO’s Article 5 says that “an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all.” This is the sole difference between being a member and a partner in the organization, which Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin acknowledged by saying that guaranteed deterrence and common defense are now what the country seeks.
Finland and Sweden have been historically avoiding NATO membership, despite their close alignment with the West, as a precaution, which helped avoid provoking Russia. Interval, the Russian-declared war on Ukraine has greatly changed public opinion in Finland and Sweden and since the start of the war, the issue of the countries’ membership has stirred debates.
What has changed the security environment has also changed the once very stable public opinion on NATO membership status. The difference in public opinion could be easily extracted from dramatic poll results. Polling conducted in 2017 shows that only 19% of Finns were willing to join NATO whereas today, according to the polling conducted between Feb. 23 and Feb. 25, 2022, as many as 53% of Finns are now in favor of joining NATO, as reported by the Atlantic Council.
A report published by Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2016 draws a Finnish stance that embraces the idea of potential NATO membership with an indifferent tone. During that time, Finland did not necessarily support or reject such a possibility, however, it could be said the Russian annexation of Crimea did not trigger a strong public or official response or create the perception of a threat. Finland’s perception of Russia, which designates it as an unstable, unpredictable neighbor that should be scrutinized with continuous management, is not new and poses a strategic dilemma for the country mainly due to geopolitical reasons.
In the unexpected and rapid process initiated by Finnish officials, an examination of the security situation surrounding Finland will be taken to parliament, which will be followed by a debate in late April. This debate will form the nature of the Finnish stance on NATO membership.
The position of Sweden
Finland’s counterparts in Sweden seem more reluctant to forgo a speedy process for this massive development. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson was reluctant to give commentary on media reports but her communication with Marin through a joint press conference on April 13 reflects that Sweden’s stance on the NATO membership process may change in the near future.
First of all, the long-lasting friendship between Finland and Sweden, as could have been expected, is creating a codependent “moving forward” strategy for the two, although their acceleration is comparable. Andersson expressed that any future stance will include a close security alignment with Finland.
Domestic politics are of major importance as well. Any membership decision would require a 75% majority in the Swedish Parliament. The social democrats have reversed their opposition position and decided to support a membership possibility just like the moderates. Growth, for the grand majority to be assembled, the decision lies in the hands of the remaining parties as well. What is important to underline in the ongoing process is the difference in language and proactivity versus reservations between Finland and Sweden. As the Finnish authorities have been announcing their expectation for the membership process to be complete “within weeks not months,” as reported by Bloomberg, the Swedes are still insisting that for any membership to be possible their side would require the definitive membership of Finland so a hand-in-hand security partnership with its neighbor could prevail. According to the Swedish reports, the official application is planned to take place at the NATO meeting in Madrid in June 2022.
What will happen next?
In a fundamentally altered security environment, the threat and threat itself have risen for both countries. As Russia is continuing the ongoing attacks with an accelerated offensive on eastern Ukraine, it is possible to argue what will be observed as the Ukraine-Russia war is unfortunately yet to start. This is an alarming occasion for Finland and Sweden, which could trigger/has triggered an immediate need for action to advance their security strategy. Military nonalignment now seems impossible for the many in these two countries who had differing views 50 days ago.
As the central aim for an application for a member-status in NATO would be security itself, it is once again that the Russian Federation has claimed these steps to be taken by both states, would indeed be received as a provocation, giving further details such as it would have to “re-balance” the situation according to its own terms, indicating another possible attack toward the west. These comments on a cycle of perception are giving further grounds for NATO membership. Marin, therefore, has stated that Finland had to be “prepared for all kinds of actions from Russia,” as reported by The Guardian. The night and day difference between before and after Feb. 24 is clear for international environments. The war has become once again real in Europe, and urgency knocks on the doors of non-members of security alliances now.