6 min read — Analysis | Geopolitics
Effects of Swedish and Finnish Entry to NATO: Reshaping Europe’s Security Framework
By Francesco Bernabeu Fornara
July 25, 2022 | 6:10 pm
Spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland, both highly industrialised and militarily powerful countries, have formally applied for NATO membership on the 18th of May, 2022. This has, perhaps more importantly, put an end to both countries’ long-established commitment to neutrality in international affairs and set a novel path to their new global standing. Indeed, the ramifications of Swedish and Finnish accession to NATO are significant, but undeniably crucial to understand, as they mark a turning point not only in the security status-quo of Europe, but equally in European politics and international stability.
Global Peacemaking: The Fruits of Neutrality
Sweden and Finland, though not to the extent of Switzerland, have long stood as neutral states. Thanks to this, both have justifiably been viewed as paragons of global peace-building. Sweden’s key role in ending South African apartheid and being a principle player in the Yemeni peace process, or Finland’s hosting of the 1975 Helsinki Accords during the Cold War, are only some examples of what their neutral status has been able to accomplish.
Following both countries’ accession to NATO, however, their neutrality of the past has ended and the continuation of their special ability to be effective global peacemakers has validly been put in doubt.
The significance of this should not be understated. This is particularly true since Sweden and Finland are not the only ones who are questioning their neutrality because of Russia’s actions. Ireland and Austria, who share similar neutral status as non-NATO members, have similarly raised doubts surrounding the relevancy of their long-established neutrality. These are, more importantly, two countries who have also been consequential in global peacemaking, with Ireland having played a major role in peacekeeping in the Congo and elsewhere, and Austria having hosted the Iran nuclear deal negotiations as the seat of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, to list two examples.
Indeed, Finnish and Swedish accession to NATO may not only signal the end to their effective peace-building ability, but may very well pave a new path for other neutral European states to follow, to the detriment of global peacemaking.
NATO’s Revitalisation and Russia’s Worst Nightmare
In 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron labelled NATO as ‘brain-dead’ when describing the alliance’s irrelevancy in global affairs at the time. Today, however, NATO has swept the headlines and become more relevant than at anytime since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Owing to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NATO has found its new long-awaited raison d’être, which has been magnified by Finland’s and Sweden’s desire to join the block.
For Russia, meanwhile, the move has arguably made reality one of its worst security nightmares.
Indeed, both Sweden and Finland, but particularly the latter, are by no means weak states in regard to military capabilities and their addition to the alliance will only further NATO’s defence and geo-strategic capabilities vis-à-vis Russia.
Firm NATO control over the Baltic Sea, for example, will be one of the most significant geopolitical effects of the accession, placing Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad encircled and their access to the Atlantic increasingly constrained. This, coupled with the fact that Russia’s border with NATO will soon double once Finland joins the alliance may soon stretch Russian forces thin.
For comparison, Finland possesses a military strength almost double that of the United Kingdom. Unlike the UK, however, Finland shares a 1,340 km long border with the very country NATO was founded to counter, turning NATO’s offensive capabilities more threatening than ever for Russia.
Exacerbating Moscow’s Propaganda and Paranoia
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its re-intensification of threats has been fuelled by a principle reason: Moscow’s perceived threat of NATO expansion.
Using this as reason, Russia has disguised itself as a victim of Western aggression to its domestic audiences. What is more, such rhetoric has resonated elsewhere in the world, including China and parts of Africa.
With Finland’s and Sweden’s entry to NATO, the move has played directly into Russia’s pretext. Though the accession will have severe negative consequences for Russia in other areas, one place where it may not is in furthering its justification for its actions in Ukraine to its domestic supporters.
As for the Kremlin, Swedish and Finnish entry to NATO may mean a heightening of its retaliatory rhetoric, possibly even in more vague nuclear threats, and paranoia. The Russian government has already stated that ‘it will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature’ upon Finland’s entry to NATO in defence of Russian national security. Though what is meant by this is unspecified, it undeniably sends a clear signal of aggravation to the West.
As put by the Finnish President Sauli Ninisto, ‘a new era is dawning’. The entry of Sweden and Finland to NATO marks a historic turning point not only in both countries’ foreign and defence policy, but equally in Europe’s security architecture.
The Helsinki Accords of 1975, signed in the Finnish capital and which represented a major foundation to the relative peace Europe witnessed in the past half century, has almost irrefutably met its end following the Ukrainian crisis. This has coincided, almost symbolically, with the end of Finnish neutrality as we knew it.
Indeed, Swedish and Finnish entry to NATO will certainly have significant international ramifications. The international community’s loss of their neutrality will have unpredictable effects on future global peacemaking, their entry to NATO will evidently further revitalise and strengthen the alliance, and Russia’s newfound imperialistic tendencies with more antagonistic rhetoric will most likely continue because of it.