Finnish Soldiers during an exercise. (Source: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images)
Jatinangor, Wartakema – On April 4, Finland officially joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as its 31st member. The decision comes after left-leaning Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who pushed Finland’s entry into the world’s largest military alliance despite decades of public opposition, lost reelection over the weekend. The addition of approximately 1,340 kilometers (830 miles) to the alliance’s border with Russia as a result of Finland’s accession to NATO signifies a significant shift in the security landscape of Europe. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated, “Each nation maximizes its own security; Finland is no exception”. Finland’s Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, added, “As a collaborator, we have participated actively in NATO activities for a long time. Finland will contribute to NATO’s collective deterrence and defense in the future,” the statement continued. During a formal ceremony at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Finland’s NATO membership was ratified. The acceptance of Finland into the US-led security alliance is a devastating setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has long sought to undermine NATO before invading Ukraine and demanding that the bloc halt further expansion.
Changing of Finland’s military neutrality
Before delving into the primary topic, we have to look into NATO. What does NATO stand for?
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a military alliance created by the North Atlantic Treaty (also known as the Washington Treaty) on April 4, 1949, which aimed to create a counterbalance to Soviet armies based in central and eastern Europe after World War II. Long after that, NATO faces its greatest challenge in the twenty-first century. The international community was stunned by Russia’s full-scale military operation in Ukraine back in February 2022, and many of Russia’s neighbors felt threatened that their countries could be the next target. In this instance, Finland, as one of these nations, perceived that the threat posed by Moscow had increased dramatically overnight and consequently decided to reform its national security policy.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (left) shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, flanked by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (center), on April 4 at NATO headquarters in Brussels as Blinken hands over Finland’s accession to NATO documents. (Source: Foreign Policy)
As a consequence, Helsinki’s decision was straightforward: it decided to alter its military stance to counter the Russian threat. While Finland has been labeled neutral because it did not join NATO at the end of the Cold War, this has not been the case for many years. During the Cold War, Finland’s official policy was to pursue neutrality, but this was for reasons of national sovereignty. Having fought and lost two wars against the Soviet Union, it was determined that imposing neutrality was the best way to prevent further Soviet influence and avoid becoming a Kremlin vassal. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when Moscow’s hold on Finland loosened, Finland moved swiftly to join the European Union in 1995.
As time goes on, while Finland’s intention was not to pursue NATO membership, its defense policy, known as a White Paper, emphasizes how defense cooperation and joint military exercises enhance national security. In other words, Finland sought to establish defense connections that could translate into joint efforts in times of crisis. It seems that Finland’s decision to join NATO may appear to represent a significant shift in its official defense policy. As Finland becomes an official member of NATO, it will integrate its defense as part of the alliance’s northeastern flank and bolster NATO’s army and air force domains in the Baltic Sea and Arctic regions. On the contrary, Finland is neglecting its previous stance of military neutrality in this way.
Finland becomes 31st member of NATO. (Source: NATO)
Technically, Finland’s neutral stance was no longer practicable. By joining NATO, Finland will enter a new era of alliance-based security that is automatically bound to and protected by Article Five of NATO’s collective defense policy, which states that an assault on one member is an attack on all members. Since its founding in 1949 as a counterweight to the Soviet Union, Article Five has been a pillar of the 30-member alliance. Finnish forces are better integrated into training and planning with NATO allies as a result of their membership in NATO.
What does this mean for Russia?
Finland’s decision is of course accelerated, or in Stoltenberg’s own words, a direct result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began in early 2022. The addition of NATO’s longest border with Russia creates a new front of tension which the Kremlin has to acknowledge. This is made more significant considering the closest distance between Finnish territory and St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, is only 435 kilometers away.
The accession of Finland has been met with negative reaction from Russia’s top officials. Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said the newest addition of NATO membership reached a significant escalation of the conflict. However, he has vowed that it would not affect Russia’s “military operation” in Ukraine. Other officials stated that the nation would take appropriate retaliatory countermeasures to respond to NATO’s expansion. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov quotes “Naturally, this forces us to take countermeasures to ensure our own tactical and strategic security”.
However, seeing that Russia is still struggling to put more skilled soldiers on its front with Ukraine, it seems unlikely that Russia is going to build up a large number of troops on the border with Finland any time soon. Russia may also be putting more focus on the spring counteroffensive the Ukrainian military has been drumming up for the last few months, which is said can happen any time.
Setbacks on Sweden’s bid for NATO
While Finland’s accession to NATO is a celebrated milestone for its member states, standing in the back of the room is Sweden, still waiting for its turn to be admitted into the treaty. Sweden and Finland both simultaneously handed in their official letters of application on 18 May 2022, both for the same reasons. However, while Finland has secured unanimous support of all NATO members, a prerequisite to become a member state, Sweden faces setbacks in its process, as two members, Turkey and Hungary, have not yet given their approval for the Scandinavian state to join the organization.
NATO Secretary General with Finnish and Swedish representatives. (Source: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images)
Turkey, which is most vocal to refuse Sweden’s accession, criticizes the Swedish government for sheltering members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an ethnic Kurdish political entity labeled as a terrorist group by the Turkish government. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan states that Sweden provides refuge to their domestic terrorists, demanding that they have to extradite them in order to receive approval from Turkey. Incidents such as the burning of the Holy Quran by Swedish politicians as protest further strains the two countries’ ties. However, as of early May, Turkey has announced to reconsider Sweden’s bid after the Swedish Parliaments adoption of a new anti-terror law, in turn helping Turkey with its national security.
As for the latter, Hungary alleges that Sweden has for years been hostile towards them, questioning and hurling critics towards the nation’s democracy under ruling Prime Minister Viktor Orban. These grievances are enough for the Parliament in Budapest to put off Sweden’s bill since their application. Another reason for the setback is that Hungary has been following Turkey’s steps in NATO due to their close relations to each other. We have yet to hear Budapest’s new stance after Turkey changed its tone towards Sweden.
As an organization made during the Cold War, NATO’s relevance has frequently been questioned in the 21st century. However, Finland’s accession marked a huge shift not only for NATO’s reach and Finland’s own security, but it also sends a message to the world that in an ever increasing world of instability, nations will find ways to help themselves. Russia’s initial reason to invade Ukraine, which was to halt NATO’s expansion, spectacularly fired back as it in fact augmented the treaty’s prowess and size. This event, however, also shows us the internal conflicts and tensions between NATO member states themselves. As for now, it seems the Swedes are steadily obtaining the support they need to join NATO, securing a safe spot for themselves. Meanwhile, the constant warfare in Ukraine doesn’t seem like it will end any time soon.
Penulis: Fareez Eldacca & Vieri Abdurrafi
Editor: Rifia Azka Nabiilah