NATO’s Nordic expansion: Strategic impact ? | By Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi

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NATO’s Nordic expansion: Strategic impact ?

IN a surprise move—Finland and Sweden are fervently desiring to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (an alliance of 30 member states) — a historic paradigm shift ‘’for two traditionally non-aligned countries and a major expansion of the Western alliance as war wages in Europe’’.

But the Swedish-Finnish desire indicates the fact that they are divorcing their traditional bonds to maintain a neutral legacy vis-à-vis the western military alliance while orchestrating a strategic impact.

Finland and Sweden quest for applying the membership in NATO, the countries said Sunday, in a historic move for the Nordic countries, formerly known for their policies— fostering a military neutrality.

In a press conference alongside Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin, the country’s President Sauli Niinisto said: “Today, we, the president and the government’s foreign policy committee, have together decided that Finland … will apply for NATO membership.

“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security,” they said in a joint statement.

Deborah Solomon, from the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society, argues that Nato’s nuclear deterrence increases tensions and risks and arms race with Russia.

This complicates peace efforts, she says, and makes Sweden a less safe place. According to the Times.com, ‘’Support in Finland for NATO membership has hovered around 20-30% for years.

It now stands at over 70%. The two are NATO’s closest partners but maintaining good ties with Russia has been an important part of their foreign policy, particularly for Finland’’.

In a future scenario, If Finland joins, it would likely double the length of the NATO alliance’s border with Russia, adding a further 1,300 kilometres (830 miles) for Moscow to defend.

While President Putin has already promised a “military, technical response if it joins. But many troops from Russia’s western district near Finland were sent to Ukraine, and those units suffered heavy casualties, Western military officers say’’.

Yet, by joining the alliance, Sweden would certainly lose its leading role in global nuclear disarmament efforts.

Former Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom recalls how some NATO’s Foreign Ministers were heavily pressured by the US not to take part in UN disarmament negotiations in 2019.

According to the Economist, ‘’Two countries proud of their long history of military non-alignment have come to judge that the risk of antagonising their neighbour is outweighed by the extra security they will gain from joining an alliance dedicated to resisting Russian aggression.

It is the direct result of the invasion of Ukraine, which Mr Putin ordered ostensibly to forestall NATO’s expansion ‘’.

Nordic NATO’s member, Denmark, Iceland and Norway support this expansion.

From the western policy angle, though for years, Finnish and Swedish forces have been working in tandem with NATO, they have been unable to count on NATO’s Article 5 defence guarantee and NATO has not been able to count on their availability in a crisis.

They could now be integrated in NATO plans for defending the Baltic region, while they might benefit from the alliance’s deterrent posture.

Both countries switched from formal neutrality to military non-alignment in 1995 when they joined the EU.

They are already NATO partners, taking part in exercises and exchanging intelligence with the alliance.

Finland already meets NATO’s defence spending target of 2% of GDP, while Sweden is on course to do so.

Given the past legacy, the fact remains that during the Cold War, Finland would occasionally come under Soviet pressure as the Kremlin sought to expand its room for manoeuvre.

By and large, the Finnish Government remained firm in its commitment to defend its Nordic and Western identity.

In the same vein, Sweden has had always abstained from joining NATO, owing to its longstanding geopolitical neutrality, and out of solidarity with the Finns.

And notwithstanding the fact that Denmark and Norway did join the alliance, both Sweden and Finland long opted out of hosting foreign forces during peacetime.

Though their joining could empower NATO’s with F35 jets and the Patriot missile batteries, it might pave the way for pondering the European security doctrine vis-à-vis Russian security postures.

Meanwhile, the NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has said they would be welcomed “with open arms” if they do apply and that the accession process would be quick, although formal ratification by all the alliance’s members could take several months.

From the military perspective, the addition of Finland’s and Sweden’s defence forces would represent a major boost to Nato’s assets in northern Europe, filling a hole in the Alliance’s defences by doubling the length of its border with Russia and improving security and stability in the Baltic region.

In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova threatened with “military and political consequences” if the two countries joined the bloc.

Stefan Ring, a former member of Swedish Armed Forces and a military expert, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behaviour in Ukraine was “regarded as very irrational and created a sense of insecurity, especially in Finland.

“When the Swedish government realized that Finland probably would come to a decision to join NATO, it understood that a scenario where Sweden would be the only country outside NATO could create a negative situation, he argued”.

The most pertinent fact is that in some ways, Putin’s war in Ukraine has resurrected the dream of European unity.

The hovering apprehensions— that now surround the NATO club—reflect the reckoning that in order to revitalize its defence posture, Moscow could deploy more nuclear weapons or hypersonic missiles to ‘’the Kaliningrad exclave, across the Baltic Sea wedged between allies Poland and Lithuania’’.

Yet, another impression that is being drawn out of this Nordic states to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is that they may be losing the pivot of their nuclear disarmament advocacy, which remained a glaring legacy of these states for the last many decades.

And yet, the western strategists argue that while Russian President Vladimir Putin has strongly pointed to NATO’s encroachment on his country’s borders via its eastward expansion—a major casus belli for invading Ukraine— he has spectacularly failed to deter this western trajectory endorsed by the fact: ‘’not only have NATO countries moved tens of thousands of troops closer to Russia’s border in response to his invasion and agreed to send tens of billions worth of arms to Ukraine, they are also now about to welcome Finland and Sweden as new members, bringing NATO that much closer to Russia’’.

For both the Europeans and their transatlantic partners, the idea of an American dominated European security via NATO’s platform— is getting a new life under the Biden Administration whereas under Trump’s administration— had lost its moorings.

In 1997, Clinton’s Administration had pragmatically jettisoned its support for NATO’s expansion.

—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.

 

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