Swedish Leaders Support Bid To Join NATO

Following the lead of Finland earlier this week, Swedish leadership has thrown its support behind Sweden joining NATO. Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson will submit a formal application likely by the end of the upcoming week. After decades of staunch neutrality, Sweden is choosing a side in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, Stockholm’s Road to NATO Membership did not start in late February of this year when the first Russian troops crossed the border. The process began in 2014 with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its aggressive posturing towards NATO and the West. At this time Moscow’s relationship with Sweden and its neighbor Finland started to deteriorate. The security of the Baltic Sea region and Northern Europe became a major concern. Over the next seven or so years, Sweden and Finland enjoyed a closer relationship with NATO member-states in the Baltic Sea region. Mutual security concerns led to increased defense preparations and military exercises with the armed forces of neighboring nations. Over time, concern over Russia diminished. Then in late 2021, with Russia massing troops along Ukraine’s border, Sweden and Finland each started to reexamine the NATO Membership matter. Early this year, the push towards NATO membership slid into overdrive following a blatant show of force around the Swedish island of Gotland by Russian naval forces, followed a short time later by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the weeks leading up to the war, there were other matters that helped Stockholm and Helsinki come to the conclusion that NATO membership was the right choice for both nations, like Russia’s demand that NATO halt its eastward expansion.

Ukraine was the final straw for Sweden and Finland, however.

I wasn’t expecting to write on this topic today, but somehow I ended up doing just that. I was originally going to discuss India’s decision to halt wheat exports, unrest over food prices in Iran and other related matters. I will post on that either tomorrow or early Tuesday.

Finnish Leadership Supports NATO Membership ‘Without Delay’

Finland has moved one step closer to applying for NATO membership. Its leadership officially extended its support for expedited membership in the transatlantic alliance. President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the decision and it is one that is enjoying heavy initial support among Finnish citizens and lawmakers. It a joint statement, Finland’s leaders said, “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay.” Neighboring Sweden is expected to move forward with its own decision on NATO membership in a matter of days.

The leadership’s statement brings to bear a crucial question NATO will need to closely examine during the application process: Exactly what benefits do Finland, and perhaps eventually Sweden as well, bring to the table? Aside from aggravating Moscow, of course, and adding more fuel to Moscow’s NATO Expansion argument.

Russia wasted no time in saying it would consider a Finnish application to be a violation of international legal obligations. “Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of military and other nature, in order to curtail the threats that arise to its national security in this regard,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Moscow views the moves by the Scandinavian neutral nations to join NATO is viewed as a knee-jerk reaction to the war in Ukraine. With the war not progressing the way Vladimir Putin anticipated, Russia is now viewing events in Finland and Sweden with deep suspicion.

Monday 17 July, 2018 Update: Helsinki 2018 Resembled Vienna 1961

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To put it bluntly, Vladimir Putin rolled President Trump in Helsinki yesterday. Plain and simple. Collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election, and independent Russian attempts to influence the election took front stage. Obviously I was not in the room when Putin and Trump sat down for their private discussion, though its safe to assume that Putin steered the discussion in the direction of the collusion topic, and there it remained for the duration. No major geopolitical, or defense issues were deliberated or resolved. Syria, nuclear proliferation, and a handful of other issues were briefly mentioned in the press conference statements by Putin and Trump, yet nothing substantial.

So, where does the Helsinki summit leave US-Russia relations now? Essentially, in the same place they were before Trump and Putin arrived in Finland. President Trump had an excellent opportunity to confront his Russian counterpart on a host of matters from possible Russian collusion in US elections, to Russian activity in Syria, Ukraine, and other places around the world. Instead, the US president chose a less confrontational approach, and he learned firsthand what Vladimir Putin is all about.

Trump’s experience in Helsinki is eerily similar to John F Kennedy’s first summit with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, in June, 1961. Kennedy came to Vienna confident he could reach an agreement with Khrushchev on Berlin, Laos, or Cuba. It did not happen. Kennedy walked away empty-handed, and admitted frankly, “He (Khrushchev) beat the hell out of me.” Fortunately, Kennedy recovered from his dismal performance in Vienna and challenged the Soviets when they moved to solve the Berlin, and Cuba matters to their advantage.

There’s little question that Russia will challenge President Trump and the United States soon. Although there was clearly no collusion between the Trump campaign, and Russian government in the 2016 election, it is nearly certain that a major Russian intelligence operation was launched during the US election cycle. The success of this operation can be measured by the amount of distrust, and confusion it has brought to American political, and intelligence circles. As US attention remains focused inward, Russia will eventually use this to its advantage and move. Maybe in Syria, or Ukraine. Or, perhaps to spark a new flashpoint in another area, make rapid gains, and solidify them before the United States is able to respond effectively.

Is Now the Time For Finland to Join NATO?

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At the moment there is a growing movement in Finland lobbying for Finnish membership in NATO.  The security policy debate surrounding the idea came to being in 2014. With NATO-Russia tensions on the rise, and the geopolitical situation around Finland deteriorating, NATO membership began to look appealing to a limited number of Finnish citizens and politicians. For a period of time afterward, the debate went dormant. In recent weeks, though, it has flared up once more. Finland is a member of the European Union, however, it has remained outside of NATO for fear of antagonizing its eastern neighbor Russia. Finland and Russia share an 800+ mile border and a complex history.

During World War II, Finland and Russia fought each other twice. The first time was during the Winter War of 1939-1940 when Russia attacked Finland. The second conflict was the Continuation War from 1941-1944 that saw Finland align itself with Germany following the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Following this war, as well as the end of the Second World War, Finland and the Soviet Union signed peace treaties that allowed Finland to maintain its sovereignty, though at the cost of giving the Soviet Union great influence over Finnish domestic and foreign policies. This is where the term Finlandization stems from. In the International Relations field, the definition of the term is as follows: The process by which a major power forces a smaller neighboring country to abide by the former’s foreign policy rules, in exchange for allowing it to keep its nominal sovereignty political system intact.

During the Cold War Era Finlandization dominated Finnish politics at home and abroad. The nation maintained cool relations with Western Europe and NATO in order to appease the Soviet Union. Some experts and scholars point to it as a textbook example of appeasement. Most Finns who lived during the period counter with the argument that their participation in Finlandization was strictly Realpolitik: to ensure survival. After the demise of the Soviet Union, Finland started to integrate itself with the West, assuming a more active role in European affairs.

In recent years, NATO-Russia tensions in the Baltics have influenced Finnish politics and society. Though most Finns appear to oppose NATO membership for the moment,  there is less resistance to Finland having forged closer ties with NATO. Finnish military forces have taken part in military exercises with NATO nations. With all of this in mind, it comes as little surprise that an increasing number of Finns regard their neighbor to the east warily. Hannu Himanen, Finland’s ambassador to Russia until 2016, is openly advocating Finnish membership in NATO. Following the four years he spent in Moscow, Himanen appears convinced his country should stop concerning itself with provoking Russia and focus on its own security. Specifically, by joining the Atlantic alliance.

The Finnish presidential election is scheduled to be held in January, 2018 and there is one openly pro-NATO candidate in the pack of seven contenders. Nils Torvalds, of the Swedish People’s party, is not expected to win, though he does appear determined to begin a national debate on the subject of Finland joining NATO. “Finland should join NATO now that the sun is shining. When the thunderstorm breaks out, we’ll already be sitting in another boat,” Torvalds told a Finnish newspaper.

He might have a point. Where this debate goes now remains to be seen. However, the topic of Finland possibly joining NATO is worth exploring between now and the end of the year.