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Possible consequences of Finland and Sweden joining NATO

Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to respond if the two Nordic countries set up new NATO bases on their territories
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LEHTIKUVA/HEIKKI SAUKKOMAA vía AP  -   Finnish soldiers participate in the Army's mechanised exercise Arrow 22 at the Niinisalo garrison in Kankaanp, Western Finland, 4 May 2022.

NATO is expanding. The Atlantic Alliance, which only a few years ago and in the words of French President Emmanuel Macron was condemned to "brain death", now occupies all the international headlines and is reborn with more influence and strength than ever. 

In addition to the 30 countries that currently make up NATO, Sweden and Finland have now formally submitted their decision to apply to join the Transatlantic Alliance in a move that is already being hailed as historic. "A new era is dawning," Finnish President Sauli Ninisto said at the first press conference in Helsinki following the announcement of the decision. 

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AP/OLIVIER MATTHYS  - NATO Headquarters in Brussels

Russian President Vladimir Putin, far from weakening the Alliance's member states, has had the opposite effect. Russia's invasion of Ukraine under the pretext of "denazifying" the country has not only strengthened NATO but also increased the defence budgets of member states, as well as the annexation of the two Nordic countries to the Alliance.

In the wake of this situation, Putin has already declared that "Russia will respond" if armaments are deployed in these two countries. In Putin's view, the United States is to blame for this situation and claims that the US is using the Alliance's expansion "aggressively" to make a situation in which global security is seriously affected even more difficult.

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KREMLIN/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV  - Russian President Vladimir Putin

The new situation in Finland and Sweden is merely the result of this new context. The proximity of war in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, coupled with the fear of Putin's crossing Ukraine's borders, has caused states to rethink their security arrangements and move away from neutrality.

 Finland, defender of national security

The two Nordic countries have thus moved away from this status to which they have internationally subscribed. Finland is a clear example of this. In this respect, the country's security policy was based on the 1948 Finnish-Soviet Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance Agreement. This neutrality meant that the country was not to "conclude or join any coalition directed against" the Soviet Union in exchange for an allied guarantee of the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

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AFP/KARL MELANDER / TT NEWS AGENCY - Soldiers from the Gotland regiment patrol in the port of Visby on 13 January 2022. - Russia's mobilisation on the Ukrainian border and the harsher tone between Russia and NATO have prompted the Swedish defence to increase its visible activities, including on Gotland in eastern Sweden.

However, 22 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the world order has been and continues to be transfigured by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. For Putin, the accession of Sweden and Finland does not pose a direct threat as long as they do not rearm, which translates into the creation of new NATO bases in these two countries. If this were the case, Russia would see this situation as a direct threat to its security since Finland and Sweden share the Baltic Sea region with Russia and a 1,300-kilometre border that will surely be reinforced with this new accession.

Despite this, Finland does not want to outsource its defence to NATO. For many Finns it is a source of pride to stand up to Russia, but the country's national defence is one of Finland's policy priorities. In the words of President Ninisto, "NATO membership will not change the geography". 

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REUTERS/MICHELE TANTUSSI - German Chancellor Olaf Scholz with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

In fact, Finland already meets NATO's defence spending target of 2%. In terms of land forces, the country has a fully mobilised army of up to 280,000 soldiers, plus hundreds of thousands of reservists. The air force is extremely well equipped with the latest purchase of 64 F-35 aircraft.

Moreover, the country's defence culture is widespread. In this vein, Finland's military defence is organised through compulsory military service, an anomaly in Europe. According to the Finnish Constitution itself, all citizens are obliged to defend their country, although only men between the ages of 18 and 60 are obliged to do military service, unlike women who can apply voluntarily. 

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AFP/ OLIVIER DOULIERY - North Atlantic Council (NAC) meeting at the Foreign Ministers' meeting at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, 4 March 2022

With the end of the Cold War, Europe decided to change its approach and move away from a more militaristic policy. Thus, the EU reduced its defence budget and decided to develop smaller but more specialised military operations, focusing on greater professionalism, something that Finland did not do.

Thus, Finland maintained a strong position that defended national defence above all else, with compulsory military service and a large, well-trained reserve as the basis. At the end of the Cold War, Helsinki spent 1.6 per cent of its GDP on the acquisition of US F-18s. After defence spending fell sharply to 1.1 % in 2001, Finland has increased its budget exponentially. As a result, the country bought new systems as well as upgrading its existing capabilities.

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REUTERS/EDDIE KEOGH  - An RAF F-35B Lightning fighter aircraft.

Among its most important purchases are AGM-158 joint air-to-surface standoff missiles, multiple launch rocket systems and Leopard 2 A6 battle tanks, K9 armoured howitzers and F-35 fighter aircraft. Unlike Finland, Sweden, which has twice the population of Finland, has 24,000 active personnel and 34,000 reservists. 

Georgia and Moldova are two other countries that have applied to join the Alliance. As rivalry between the Western bloc and the East grows, European countries reduce the possibility of rival countries. These moves necessarily signify the West's strength and unity vis-à-vis Russia. For their part, Austria and Ireland have long participated in the EU's common defence policy, which further increases Western unity and thus strength.

 Consequences for Ukraine

One of the clearest consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is the fact that it has managed to awaken European arms policies. The very act of this being a conflict fought on European soil has caused the EU and the EU member states themselves to react.

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AP/VADIM GHIRDA  - Ukrainian military walk as they check the bodies of civilians for booby traps, in the formerly Russian occupied suburb of Bucha, Ukraine, Saturday, April 2, 2022.

What we are seeing at the moment is the emergence of a new, stronger and more consolidated European security order. This new configuration, a direct result of the ruins of war, is beginning to blur an Iron Curtain that, while different in form from the one erected during the Cold War, remains of the same nature.

It is increasingly likely that, with the integration of new countries and arms budgets, security alliances will be consolidated in the face of threats and the ongoing war in Ukraine. In this way, the Union and NATO are already on the road to security in the face of a borderline situation. However, the road ahead will be long and paved with difficulties and setbacks. The speed with which this road can be travelled will depend directly on what happens in Ukraine.