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Finland and Sweden Approach NATO’s Open Door

The Nordic countries look set to join the alliance, an unthinkable move before Russia invaded Ukraine.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson speak to the media.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson speak to the media.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and her Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson, speak to the media outside the Finnish prime minister’s official residence, Kesaranta, in Helsinki on March 5. Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva/AFP

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Finland and Sweden’s steps toward NATO, the latest from Ukraine, and more news worth following from around the world.

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Finland and Sweden Inch Toward NATO

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Finland and Sweden’s steps toward NATO, the latest from Ukraine, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Finland and Sweden Inch Toward NATO

Europe’s security architecture could be in for a monumental shift as two of Europe’s neutral states, Finland and Sweden, lean ever closer to joining NATO. The shift in tone from the two countries has been apparent for weeks but was underlined in a Wednesday press conference with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and her Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson.

Marin said her government would consider in the next weeks whether to join the bloc, adding that “everything had changed” since Russia attacked Ukraine. Andersson was more circumspect, saying she would “analyze the situation to see what is best for Sweden’s security, for the Swedish people, in this new situation.”

The new stance comes amid a sea change in public opinion following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine’s relative isolation has served as a billboard for joining the treaty alliance, with polls in Finland and Sweden showing swings in its favor. A recent poll found 68 percent of Finns supported joining NATO, whereas a poll taken last year by Finland’s defense ministry put NATO support at just 24 percent.

The support is less fervent in Sweden, inching just over 50 percent approval. Nevertheless, the two countries tend to move in tandem, as they did in 1995 when they joined the European Union.

Ivo Daalder, former U.S. ambassador to NATO under former President Barack Obama, said the invasion of Ukraine and the perceived volatility of Russian President Vladimir Putin have helped change minds in Helsinki: “The Finns have said, ‘Well, wait a minute: Do we really want to confront this Russian bear with this leader, by ourselves, without any expectation of assistance from anybody else? Or are we better off being part of NATO?

For Daalder, now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the invasion has upended the old strategic calculus of buffer zones and careful neutrality, with Putin creating new facts on the ground. “The lesson is: The problem isn’t that NATO enlargement went too far. The problem is that NATO enlargement didn’t go far enough,” Daalder said. “And for all those people, including the great strategists Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who argued that Ukraine should be Finlandized, isn’t it interesting that after the invasion, Finland is going to be NATO-ized?”

Getting the two countries in NATO’s “open door” stands to be significantly easier than efforts to bring in Ukraine. Their militaries are already integrated into NATO processes and come with a size and sophistication likely to benefit the alliance. Even Hungary and Turkey, seen as closest to Russia within the 30-member group, have not expressed reservations.

If the open door really is open, then how soon could the countries join? “Overnight,” said former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The reality is likely to take a little longer, roughly a year, with every NATO member needing to agree before moving forward. That interim period is of concern for both Finland and Sweden, which are seeking security guarantees while their applications are under review.

There’s also Moscow to consider. As FP’s Elisabeth Braw argues, Finland would offer NATO greatly enhanced intelligence capabilities, given its 830-mile border with Russia. In February, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova warned of “serious military-political consequences” that would “require retaliatory steps” should Sweden and Finland join NATO. Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto waved off the rhetoric as more technical than menacing.

“We don’t think that it calls for a military threat,” Haavisto told Finnish media of Zakharova’s comments. “Should Finland be NATO’s external border, it rather means that Russia would certainly take that into account in its own defense planning. I don’t see anything new as such.”

Mikko Hautala, Finland’s ambassador to Washington, told FP’s Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon that sending in its NATO application would likely see some pushback from Moscow. “[At] a minimum, we will see information influencing … those kind of activities,” he said. “But it’s hard to say what the reaction would be.”

As FP’s Michael Hirsh wrote on Wednesday, Finland could ease some of Moscow’s anxieties by adopting Norway’s mode of NATO membership, meaning no foreign military bases, no nuclear weapons, and limited NATO exercises. That wouldn’t necessarily be much of a concession on Helsinki’s part: It can muster 900,000 troops and has more tanks on hand than Germany. “We’re not in desperate need of foreign bases because we have our own,” one Finnish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Hirsh. “Our military is one of the strongest in Europe in numbers and weapons.”


What We’re Following Today

Ukraine latest. U.S. President Joe Biden announced a $800 million shipment of weapons to Ukraine, bringing the total amount of U.S. arms committed to Ukraine since the beginning of the year to $2.6 billion, a figure roughly half of the country’s annual military budget. The package unveiled on Wednesday includes drones, helicopters, and—for the first time—U.S. artillery.

In Ukraine, Odesa Gov. Maksym Marchenko said Ukrainian missiles had inflicted “serious damage” to the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet—a development that could force the Russian Navy to operate farther offshore. Russian authorities did not deny the ship had been damaged but said it had stemmed from an ammunition detonation and fire on board. The ship’s almost 500 crew members have been evacuated.


Keep an Eye On 

Turkey’s international outlook. Turkish citizens named Azerbaijan and Germany as the top two most important partner countries in a new poll of Turkish foreign-policy attitudes published by the German Marshall Fund. In the same poll conducted last year, Azerbaijan and Russia had held the top two spots. Although Russia’s stature has fallen, perceptions of the United States remain relatively unchanged, with 58 percent of respondents listing Washington as the biggest threat to its interests.

Sri Lanka’s turmoil. Sri Lanka’s embattled prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has offered to sit down for talks with protesters as demonstrations continue against his leadership and that of his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, with the country facing a dire economic crisis. The talks may yet go nowhere, as the opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) alliance has threatened to bring a no-confidence motion to Parliament if the brothers do not resign within a week.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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