NATO is reaching a pivotal moment. Vladimir Putin hoped his war would divide and weaken NATO. Instead, our alliance is emerging stronger and more unified than ever before, with the potential of adding Sweden and Finland to the fold.
Having just met with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, I’ve concluded it is clear that welcoming both countries into NATO is in our mutual interest.
Momentum for this has been building for months. Shortly after the invasion began, German prime minister Olaf Scholz vowed to increase Germany’s defense spending to 2 percent of GDP in accord with NATO’s requirement. He also announced plans to buy dozens of F-35 aircraft from the United States. In addition, Poland and the Baltic states have led the way in delivering high-end military aid to Ukraine. Other countries like Italy have begun weaning themselves off of Russian energy. And most of the continent has joined a forceful sanctions regime against Moscow.
It is fitting that Finland and Sweden should join this momentum. Adding these friends to NATO would bring new and pivotal military capabilities to our alliance.
Finland and Sweden, as current non-NATO countries, have built strong national-defense postures in their own right. Finland already spends 2 percent of its GDP on defense, and it has given special focus to building an Arctic-grade navy, which could be critical in denying Russia naval superiority along the Finnish coast. Meanwhile, Sweden has upped its defense spending in recent years and is on pace to reach 2 percent of GDP in the next decade. The Swedish air force is especially formidable and is adept at patrolling the skies near Russia. Both militaries could seamlessly integrate into the NATO alliance, helping to deter Russian threats.
NATO would also benefit from the unique geography of Finland and Sweden. Positioned on NATO’s northern front, these countries could offer direct support to the Baltics, which are constantly being challenged by Russian intimidation tactics. They could also help counter Russian ambitions in its nuclear-armed enclave of Kaliningrad and in the Baltic Sea, effectively making it a floating center of operations for the NATO fleet.
Finland’s close proximity to Russia would also enhance NATO’s intelligence-gathering. NATO allies have powerful intelligence-sharing tools, and assets placed in Finland could keep a close watch on Russia’s Sixth Army, stationed in nearby St. Petersburg. Intelligence-sharing and U.S. satellite surveillance ahead of Russia’s invasion were decisive in shaping the early course of the war. Additional help from Nordic allies would do the same in future conflicts.
Welcoming these allies into NATO would surely energize the alliance. This is the overwhelming consensus of our NATO partners, and those who have expressed misgivings may still be pliable through shrewd diplomacy. After meeting with both the Swedish and Finnish ambassadors last month, I can say with confidence that they are working to bring aboard all 30 NATO allies in their membership efforts.
The United States has an additional interest in this outcome given our strategic competition with China. With NATO shifting more resources eastward, Finland and Sweden would bring a wide reach that could relieve stress from U.S. forces and allow for greater focus on the Pacific. Their inclusion in NATO could also help push Chinese telecom initiatives — like Huawei — out of Europe, removing a threat to European data security. Ericsson and Nokia, two telecom giants from Sweden and Finland, respectively, could offer a secure alternative to facilitate regional security partnerships for years to come.
On the eve of our joining NATO in 1949, Senator Arthur Vandenberg, the architect of the alliance, called it “the most sensible, powerful, practicable, and economical step the United States can now take in the realistic interest of its own security.”
Today, just as in 1949, our foreign policy should serve the practical interests of the American people. Opening NATO to Finland and Sweden would help deter future conflict with Russia and serve our strategic interests in the world. We should approve their membership without delay.
Read the article in National Review here.