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Finland and Sweden seek to join NATO


WORLD Radio - Finland and Sweden seek to join NATO

What would their membership mean to the United States and its allies?

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (left) and Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde (right) with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels. Associated Press/Photo by Olivier Matthys

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Up next on The WORLD and Everything in It, adding two new members to the world’s largest defense alliance.

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, founded in 1949, is built upon the “peace through strength” doctrine, deterring attacks with might. It's the world's most powerful military alliance, featuring 30 member nations, including the United States, Canada, France, and the UK.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Article 5 of its founding document states that an “armed attack against one or more of them shall be considered an attack against them all.”And that security, along with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is why Sweden and Finland now wish to trade generations of neutrality for membership in NATO.

The US Senate last week gave its stamp of approval for the Nordic nations to join, but there’s plenty of work left to do before it's official.

So what would their memberships mean to the United States and all other member nations?

REICHARD: Joining us now is Bradley Bowman. He is a former congressional affairs officer on the Army staff in the Pentagon. And has served as a top national security adviser to members of the U.S. Senate.

Good morning, Brad!

BOWMAN: Good morning.

REICHARD: Let’s start with the big question. Why do we care that Finland and Sweden are likely joining NATO? What does their membership do for the United States and its allies?

BOWMAN: I think what's at stake here is nothing less than war and peace in Europe, which obviously impacts core American economic and national security interests. And it will also have an outsized impact, of course, on whether American forces are engaged in a military conflict there. We know that we were pulled into two world wars there over a 30 year period in the last century—not all of that is in the rearview mirror as much as we might like it to be.

Other reasons why listeners might want to care is that, you know, this is not something that happens every day. NATO has 30 members, including the United States. Twelve were included when the alliance was founded in 1949. Greece and Turkey in 1952. Germany in 1955. Spain in 1982. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland in 1999, and seven Eastern European countries in 2004. And then four more in 2009 to 2020.

That sounds like a lot. But keep in mind, that's over 73 years, and so that this is something that we've seen before, but doesn't happen every day. And when members are added, or when we're considering whether a member should be added, what Americans are getting are some combination of assets and obligations.

And so by assets, I mean, from a military perspective, what size military they bring, in what capability, capacity, readiness? Do they have any particular areas of strength or niche capabilities?

We're also bringing on an obligation under Article Five of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty. And we're saying that if that country is attacked, that we'll consider that as an attack against our own country. So that's no small thing. And it's an obligation that we should not take on lightly.

And then lastly, a point that you hinted at as well as that, you know, Finland and Sweden have long standing positions of essential neutrality. But you know, this formal departure from these generational—and one case centuries long—policy of neutrality is significant, and I think can only be viewed as a natural response to Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

REICHARD: Neither one of these countries are very big, so talk a little bit about what military capabilities they bring to the table.

BOWMAN: My honest opinion after detailed objective analysis is that we're getting more than we're giving by adding Finland and Sweden to the Alliance. And I say that because when you look at their militaries, they're not huge, but they're pretty darn impressive. And just some quick examples, you know, I won't get too wonky here. But if you look at the number of aircraft, the two countries will collectively contribute over 150 fighter aircraft—including 96 Gripens and 62 F-18 Hornets.

And by the way, they're procuring the next generation F-35. You know, Finland's set to acquire 64 of those. I can go through their navies and their ground forces and point to similarly impressive capabilities. And so these are not people coming with hat in hand. These are nations with significant militaries with particular niche capabilities that in my view, on balance, will increase deterrence of additional provocation aggression from Vladimir Putin.

REICHARD: We mentioned that the US Senate ratified Finland and Sweden’s membership, but this process is, again, a long way from being over. Where does the process go from here and what has to happen before their membership is official?

BOWMAN: The United States has now essentially ratified their accession protocols, but it's not over yet. So we've got the following countries that are still to ratify. Let me list them quickly: it's Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Turkey. I would just highlight on that list two countries: Hungary and Turkey. You know, Hungary is led by [Victor] Orban and has had, I'd say, an unfortunate disposition toward Vladimir Putin. And Turkey, of course, has tried to elicit a number of concessions as a price of getting their thumbs up for the accession of Finland and Sweden to the alliance.

REICHARD: Might Turkey still throw a wrench into things?

BOWMAN: You know, I'm not an expert on Turkish domestic politics. I would say that many times in the past, Erdogan who leads Turkey has been someone that's highly problematic—who has not been acting like a NATO ally.

Some of your listeners may remember, Turkey acquired the S400 Air Defense System from Russia. So a NATO member—acquiring an air defense system from the leading threat for the Alliance—that's an ally, not acting like an ally. But yet, Turkey has provided TB2 drones that have been very helpful for Ukraine—and have been used to great effect to take out Russian vehicles on the battlefield.

So Turkey is trying to play some sort of awkward balancing act. They have a highly problematic record of hostage diplomacy. You'll remember the pastor that was held hostage there for a long time. And they also have deep concerns about, about what they call Kurdish terrorist groups. And so they're trying to get concessions on that. If I had to guess I would say in the end, they will support adding the two countries to the alliance after getting all the possible concessions they can that they can get.

REICHARD: There’s a good chance that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine never would have happened if Ukraine had been a NATO member. Why wasn’t Ukraine a member?

BOWMAN: I think for what it's worth your premise is correct. I mean, and this goes to a little bit to what is another reason why I think it's wise to add Finland and Sweden—some people say, oh, you know, this is provocative. You're provocative to Vladimir Putin. I think that's exactly wrong. I think Putin knows that NATO is not an offensive threat to Moscow. The reason he resents NATO enlargement is because he knows that once a country becomes a member of the alliance, he can no longer bully, coerce, invade and occupy them.

Okay, well, what's your evidence for that? Well, I got 73 years of evidence of Moscow never invading a member of NATO. But in 2008, he invaded and occupied part of Georgia. In 2014 he invaded and illegally annexed Crimea. He started a war on Ukraine's Donbass since then, since 2014. And then of course, on February 24, he initiated the largest land invasions since World War Two against Ukraine.

So note to self: Vladimir Putin invades, occupies and bullies non-NATO members. And Moscow for 73 years has not dared mess with members of NATO. So that's why I think adding Finland and Sweden makes sense. Increases deterrence, and creates all sorts of dilemmas for Russian military planners and Vladimir Putin, if they're contemplating additional aggression.

Ideally, someday we'd get to the point where Russian leaders recognize that the best path to security and peace for Russia is to recognize the sovereignty of its neighbors and their borders. Until that time, I think we're going to have to continue to beef up our security in Europe.

REICHARD: Bradley Bowman is senior director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Bradley, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

BOWMAN: Thank you.

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