Sweden And Finland – The New NATO Members?


Paul Siebert


On May 18, 2022, Sweden and Finland, two northern European countries with a combined population of around 16 million people, formally announced their wish to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This wish to give up decades of military neutrality quickly developed after Putin’s Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24th, 2022, leaving large parts of Ukraine in ruins. But, we can’t be sure whether Sweden and Finland will actually be accepted into NATO since Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already announced that his country plans on vetoing the accession of the two Nordic countries. What exactly NATO is, why the Swedes and Finns have recently changed their views on it, and why Erdogan does not want them to join will all be discussed in this article.

What is NATO?

The abbreviation NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization; this treaty organization was founded by 12 countries in 1949 as a military alliance with the exclusive goal to jointly defend all its members, initially to prevent Communism from spreading in Europe. That has been working out quite well since then, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, after which many former Soviet satellite states joined the alliance. Today, NATO comprises of 30 North American and European nations and is the world’s most powerful military alliance, collectively having spent $1.036 trillion on its military in 2019 alone. Just as a comparison: Russia spent $61.7 billion that year and was still in the top five nations worldwide when it comes to military spending. 

Why do Sweden and Finland want to join now?

For the past few decades, Sweden and Finland have always aimed for neutrality when it came to military conflicts in the world. The people of Sweden and Finland did not want to join NATO because they did not want to be involved in any unnecessary military operations and because they did not want to provoke Russia militarily. Russia has been unhappy about NATO’s enlargement in Eastern Europe for many years. Putin and other government officials even stated that the West’s expansion seemed like a provocation to them and that it undermined security in the region. So, Sweden and Finland did not want to make the situation any more tense than it already was and also did not really have any reason to join the alliance. 

But when Russia attacked Ukraine this February, it changed everything for the two Nordic countries: There was no way for Sweden and Finland to make the situation even worse; Russia had already attacked a sovereign country for wanting to strengthen its ties with the west. And Russia specifically stating that it wanted to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO or the European Union made it seem even more sensible for Sweden and Finland to join NATO before Russia could stop them. And just in case Russia would attack them after their accession into the alliance, the countries could then count on the help of the biggest military alliance in the world. So, within the first few weeks of the war in Ukraine, the percentage of Swedish people wanting to join surged from 45% to 57%. Following this, the government of Sweden, which is formed by Sweden’s Social Democratic Party, rethought their opposition to NATO and decided to formally submit their application together with the Finnish government. 

Will they be allowed accession? 

Now, the big question is of course whether all 30 member countries of NATO will vote for Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. Because that is exactly what is necessary for any country to join. But as already said above, Turkey has announced that they will not be voting for the Nordic countries to join because they are “like guesthouses for terror organizations.” Turkey’s president Recep Tayip Erdogan further said  that he “told relevant friends that we will say no to Sweden and Finland’s entry into NATO.” 

But it is questionable whether Erdogan and Turkey will actually keep to this path. While they did say that the two countries are harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan Workers Party, also known as the PKK, there are signs that they only want certain demands to be met and don’t actually plan on vetoing the countries’ accession. For example, they want members of the PKK, who are seeking to found an independent state within Turkey, extradited to Turkey. The PKK has been in an armed struggle with Turkey for decades and has been designated a terror organization by the US, Turkey, and the European Union but, even though Finland and Sweden voiced optimism that common ground can be found with Turkey, we can’t be sure whether Sweden and Finland want to “return” members of the PKK to Turkey, knowing what fate will probably await them there. 

Even if Sweden and Finland do not want to meet Turkey’s demands, it seems like they will not have to worry too much though: both President Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg have said that there will be a way to convince Turkey to allow the accession of the two countries. Stoltenberg even said: “All Allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together. And we all agree that this is an historic moment, which we must seize.” 

Turkey’s threat of vetoing Sweden and Finland’s accession is most likely only an opportunity for Ankara (Turkey’s capital) to use its position to extract some concessions from its Western allies whom it has not been as close with as it once was; especially after many European countries, including Sweden and Finland, imposed arms embargoes on Turkey after they attacked Kurdish-led forces who were allied with the US and some European nations in their fight against ISIS in Syria. Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the European Council on foreign relations wrote in an article that “it is unlikely that Erdogan had one specific policy goal in mind, but he will no doubt expect to be cajoled, persuaded, and eventually rewarded for his cooperation, as in the past,” referring to previous Turkish veto threats in NATO. 

So, in short: While Turkey is currently airing its grievances against Western nations when the alliance should be more united than ever, it is not likely that the current behavior of Turkey’s government will end in an actual veto. 

The future

So, what will change when Sweden and Finland are actually members of NATO?: The most important change will definitely be that Russia will not really be able or willing to attack Sweden or Finland anymore as the country wants to avoid a war with NATO at any costs. Putin will also not be happy with this as he will interpret it as another threat from the West. We will have to see what Russia’s reaction will be, but we can be sure that Putin will at minimum harshly criticize any future growth of NATO. The future will show what will happen, if NATO passes the applications of Sweden and Finland for membership and if everything goes according to plan of NATO and its two future members.