Sweden, Finland, and the Future of NATO

YRIS natoarticle

There are six European Union (EU) member states – Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta, and Sweden – who are not a part of the North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO). Of these six countries, Sweden and Finland have recently opened internal deliberations regarding joining NATO due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since the start of the Russian attacks, support for NATO membership has steadily risen throughout Sweden, prompting a reevaluation of the country’s historical strategy of neutrality. For the first time, Finland is considering seeking membership in NATO as well. These shifts in public opinion directly result from fears regarding the security of the Baltic Sea region moving forward. [3] Sweden and Finland’s decision of whether or not to apply to join NATO will be critical in dictating the future power balance between the “East” and “West” in Europe. 

Historically, NATO has been one of Sweden’s most active partners and has fully respected the country’s policy of military non-alignment. The relationship has remained mutually beneficial for both parties since Sweden joined the Partnership for Peace (PP) – a plan for collaboration between individual countries and NATO – in 1994. [2] NATO and Sweden have worked together for almost thirty years to expand military capabilities, support peacekeeping forces, and cooperate on various economic and political campaigns. Finnish wariness of Russia dates back to when Russia defeated Sweden and added Finland to its empire in 1809. Later, when Russia was distracted by revolution, Finland formally declared independence in 1917. Twenty-two years after Finland gained sovereignty, the Soviets invaded again. This led to two separate wars where Finland successfully defended itself, resulting in the Moscow Armistice of 1944 – a peace treaty where Finland ceded a portion of its territory to the Soviets. The uneasy relationship that has existed since has involved Finland expanding relations with the United States and other “Western” nations against the Kremlin’s wishes. Until Russia recently invaded Ukraine, Finland had not publicly named enemies as part of their foreign policy strategy; but now, as Finnish Parliament debates applying to NATO, a strong message has been sent to Russia and the world. 

By joining the military alliance, NATO will provide Sweden and Finland with more defense capabilities and increased security through mutual effort; these gains are critical considering the Kremlin’s new intimidations toward both Sweden and Finland. [1] Russia has repeatedly warned these countries against joining NATO and demands that they remain impartial, arguing that the agreement is geared toward conflict instead of peace. This threat from the Kremlin poses a point of concern, potentially further destabilizing the region. Even though Sweden’s Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson, has dismissed the idea of joining NATO, domestic politics could potentially push the country towards membership if power is shifted to Andersson’s center-right political opponents. Andersson’s adamance against joining NATO is not surprising, seeing that her party – the Social Democrats, who have been in power for more than a century – has vehemently opposed any formal involvement in military alliances. Instead, the Social Democrats have aimed to craft a Swedish national identity that is centered around neutrality, diplomacy, and providing humanitarian aid. This debate – of whether or not Sweden should join NATO – is set up to be a significant campaign issue in the upcoming Swedish general election this September. Ironically enough, in Russia’s attempt to stop Ukraine from joining NATO, the Kremlin might have indirectly expanded the alliance’s stronghold in Europe instead through Sweden and Finland. 


References 

1. Dahl, Ann-Sofie. “Sweden and Finland.” NATO and Collective Defence in the 21st Century, 2017, 77–85. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315227856-9.

2. Henley, Jon. “Sweden and Finland Make Moves to Join NATO.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, April 11, 2022. 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/11/sweden-and-finland-make-moves-to-joi n-nato. 

3. Ydén, Karl, Joakim Berndtsson, and Magnus Petersson. “Sweden and the Issue of NATO Membership: Exploring a Public Opinion Paradox.” Defence Studies 19, no. 1 (2019): 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/14702436.2019.1568192.

Author

abby.schnabel@yale.edu