Finland and Sweden are on the verge of seeking membership to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a historic shift for two traditionally non-aligned countries and a major expansion of the Western alliance as war wages in Europe.
On Thursday, Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin strongly backed Finland’s NATO membership. “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security,” they said in a joint statement. “As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay.”
What happens in Helsinki is being closely watched in Stockholm. Sweden’s parliament issued a report Friday that said joining NATO would “raise the threshold” for military conflict. Sweden’s ruling party, the Social Democrats, are having internal debates about reversing their long-held stance opposing NATO membership, paving the way for Sweden to make its NATO aspirations known within the coming days. Finland moved first, but the two are closely coordinating, and will likely apply for NATO membership in tandem.
This is a dramatic turn for two countries that have defined their geopolitical identities around nonalignment — Finland, for decades, and Sweden for two centuries. It will bring close partners into alliance, strengthening NATO’s presence in Northern Europe and putting more pressure on Russia’s borders. After resisting NATO membership for so long, it is a signal from Finland and Sweden they are united alongside Europe, the United States, and its allies during a crisis moment for the continent.
“This is pretty monumental,” said Katherine Kjellström Elgin, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “It’s a fundamental change to the European alliance structure.”