In April, Finland, triggered by Russia’s Ukraine invasion (the largest European conflict since World War II), shifted from neutrality and joined the Western defense alliance NATO.
Finland joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on April 4, 2023. Following the foundation of NATO in 1949 and during the Cold War, Finland maintained a posture of neutrality in the face of its frequently complex ties with the Soviet Union, a practice known as Finlandization.
Following the nation’s entry into NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program and the European Union (EU) in the mid-1990s, the potential of membership became a matter of debate in the country.
The nation, together with neighboring Sweden, petitioned to join NATO on May 18, 2022. Finland joined NATO on April 4, 2023, following approval. Finland has a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with Russia, which more than quadrupled NATO’s pre-existing border with Russia upon admission.
When was NATO Formed?
NATO was founded in 1949 by 12 countries, including the United States, Canada, and several Western European countries, to guarantee collective protection against the Soviet Union.
NATO has more than doubled in size since the demise of the Soviet Union, to include 28 European nations, Canada, and the United States. On April 4, 2023, Finland became the organization’s 31st member.
NATO’s stated mission now is “to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.”
When Does NATO Use Military Power?
Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty states that any assault on any member of the organization should be considered an attack on all members.
In the event of such an assault, each member will take “measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security,” according to the treaty.
Article 5 has only been used once in history, following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, when the alliance dispatched aircraft to help police the skies over the United States.
Requirements to Join NATO
A nation wishing to join NATO’s mutual defense alliance must demonstrate that it meets political, economic, and military objectives, as well as that it will contribute to and benefit from NATO’s collective security.
According to the alliance, entrance requirements include:
a) Functional democratic political system based on a market economy
b) Equitable treatment of minority communities
c) A commitment to democratic civil-military relations
A country’s participation in NATO must be supported by all NATO member nations
Why Did Finland Want to Join NATO?
Despite their avowed “non-alignment,” Finland has been NATO’s closest partner for decades.
After the Russo-Ukraine war started, public support for NATO membership in the Nordic nations skyrocketed, with a substantial majority in both countries backing inclusion, says Axios’ Zachary Basu. Last May, it presented joint bids for membership.
Finland’s President, Sauli Niinisto, stated at the time that his country wanted to join NATO since Russia’s incursion demonstrated that the Kremlin does not regard formally non-aligned countries. “What we see now, Europe, the world, is more divided,” Niinisto told CNN. “There’s not very much room for nonaligned in between.”
In welcoming Finland to the alliance in April, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated, “President Putin wanted to slam NATO’s door shut.” We demonstrated to the world today that he failed and that force and intimidation do not succeed. Instead of reducing NATO, he has succeeded in increasing NATO. And our door is still open.”
Stoltenberg stated that he hopes to welcome Sweden “as soon as possible.”
Vladimir Putin’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine has rocked the sense of security in northern Europe, particularly in Sweden and Finland. Former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb believes that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced his country to join NATO.
The crisis in Ukraine evokes memories of the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939, which raised concerns about the country’s border with Russia.
Background: Finland’s Neutral Position as World War II Ends
Following WW-II, Finland cut relations with Germany, with whom it had allied against the Soviet Union during the Continuation War. The Paasikivi-Kekkonen philosophy governed Finland’s foreign policy, which attempted to protect the country’s status as an independent, democratic, and capitalist state placed beside the Communist Soviet Union.
This goal was contingent on preserving friendly ties with the Soviet Union to avoid possible confrontations with its eastern neighbor.
Finland denied foreign aid from the United States under the Marshall Plan to comply with Soviet influence. Following that, Finland and the Soviet Union accepted the YYA Treaty.
1949–2023: Pre-Membership Relations
1949–1991: Finnish Neutrality During the Cold War
NATO was founded in 1949. In contrast to its neighbor, Norway, Finland chose not to participate. During the Cold War, Finland preserved its formal independence and power over internal matters through a program known as Finlandization.
As a result, Finland adopted a neutral stance, staying out of major power struggles and refusing to join organizations such as NATO, the European Communities, or other entities established after the war by Western democratic nations and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.
During the Cold War, the Finnish government vigorously increased its defense capabilities to provide an effective deterrent against prospective assaults.
Beginning in 1968, Finland adopted the philosophy of territorial defense, stressing the use of huge geographical expanses to obstruct and exhaust prospective aggressors.
1991–1995: Immediate Aftermath of the Cold War
The threat to Finland’s independence greatly diminished during the dissolution of the Soviet Union from 1988 to 1991. NATO emphasized its openness to prospective members, prompting numerous former Eastern Bloc and post-Soviet republics to join the alliance in the 1990s and 2000s.
Throughout the following governments, Finland maintained that NATO membership was not required. Instead, it was seen as more desirable to maintain an independent defense policy. However, it was agreed that if circumstances changed, Finland may reconsider joining NATO.
1995–2022: Shift From Non-Alignment
Finland’s neutrality position developed over time. It became a member of the European Union in 1995, resulting in the adoption of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. The nation debated NATO membership during the 2006 presidential election.
Opposition candidate Sauli Niinisto advocated for a “more European” NATO, although President Tarja Halonen and most others wished to keep things as they were.
Preparations for NATO membership began in 2007, but the administration sought to evaluate NATO’s role following the conclusion of new EU treaty discussions. Finland received NATO-standard military equipment after the 1997 defense white paper emphasized interoperability.
Finland participated in US-led military drills and concluded a military aid and joint exercise agreement with NATO in 2014. In 2022, Prime Minister Sanna Marin stated that while Finland retained the right to ask for NATO membership, it was unlikely to happen during her tenure.
2022–2023: Accession Process After the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
February to May 2022: Initial invasion response
In reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland’s prime minister accepted the possibility of NATO membership, indicating that while no imminent military danger existed, the conversation about NATO was altering. Later, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman advised Finland and Sweden against joining NATO.
Following a meeting in March 2022 to discuss NATO membership, Prime Minister Sanna Marin stressed that no decision had been taken, emphasizing the importance of cautious consideration. Following the invasion, public opinion on NATO membership soared, sparking citizen initiatives and legislative debate.
In April 2022, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a report calling for a rethinking of Finland’s foreign and defense policy in light of the Russian invasion. While not openly opposing NATO, it stated that present security arrangements were inadequate and that membership might improve stability while posing no imminent threat.
According to polls, public opinion on NATO membership varies, with some suggesting a desire to join even without Sweden’s participation. Most Finns anticipated Finland would not satisfy Turkey’s NATO demands as of June 2022.
May – June 2022: Declaration of Intent
Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin declared their strong support for NATO membership. Parliament overwhelmingly accepted the government’s bid to join. Finland and Sweden have officially sought NATO membership, with discussions expected to last several weeks.
Following successful talks, existing NATO member states would need to ratify the accession protocol. Various nations would provide Finland with non-binding security assurances during this transition.
However, Turkey originally opposed Finland and Sweden joining NATO owing to worries about some groups it regarded as terrorist organizations. To address these issues, intense deliberations and discussions were conducted. Finland underlined its willingness to engage in discussion and its denunciation of terrorism.
Both nations eventually dispatched a delegation to meet with Turkey, although there were still disputes on some subjects. The Finnish President highlighted the importance of patience and reaffirmed Finland and Sweden’s commitment to joining NATO jointly.
June 2022 – April 2023: Ratification
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, and Turkish President Erdogan signed an agreement in Madrid in 2022 to resolve Turkey’s security concerns. Niinistö confirmed Turkey’s support for Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership.
The official accession process began with the signing of accession protocols in July 2022. Erdogan, on the other hand, reaffirmed the potential veto threat, adding that candidate nations must meet their responsibilities.
Finland’s NATO membership was confirmed by 28 of the 30 NATO member nations on November 20, 2022, with Hungary and Turkey still waiting.
Due to the NATO membership question, the United States postponed Turkey’s acquisition of F-16 fighter jets. Meanwhile, elections in Sweden produced a center-right administration dedicated to continuing the NATO process.
2023-present: Finnish NATO Membership
Finland formally joined NATO on April 4, 2023, exactly 74 years after the North Atlantic Treaty that formed the organization was signed. The Finnish flag was raised at NATO headquarters in Brussels, SHAPE headquarters in Mons, and JFC-NF headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, all at the same time, accompanied by the Finnish national hymn.
Russia stated its intentions to strengthen its soldiers along the Finland-Russia border if NATO deployed troops to Finland in reaction to Finland’s admission. Jens Stoltenberg told the Finnish government that no NATO forces would be stationed in Finland without the clear permission of the Finnish government.
Following Finland’s formal NATO membership ceremony, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto quickly submitted Finland’s confirmation of Sweden’s entrance to the alliance.
Importance of Finland’s Accession to NATO
Everything changed in late February 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine. It became evident very soon that this was not going to be the swift three-day Kyiv decapitation attack that many expected. Europe would now seriously reconsider its relationship with Russia.
This includes Finland, which has an 810-mile border with Russia. “If Putin’s goal is neo-imperialism, there’s no reason why Finland shouldn’t be next,” says Erwan Lagadec, a George Washington University associate research professor of international affairs. According to a YLE poll, public support for Finland joining NATO increased from one-third in 2018 to over 80% in 2022.
Geopolitical Consequences of Finland Joining NATO
Both parties profit from Finland’s admission to NATO. The alliance benefits from Finland’s strong military, which reinforces deterrence. The prospect of invasion prompted the move as a close non-ally partner, highlighting the necessity of territorial integrity.
This geopolitical move broadens NATO’s border with Russia, with Sweden’s probable accession enhancing Baltic security even more. Finland’s existing significant military commitment matches NATO’s 2% GDP spending benchmark, indicating preparedness and resilience.
Also Read: Behind Closed Doors: Why China Is Not In G7?
Is Finland Joining NATO a Good Thing?
In this section, we’ll examine the advantages, such as enhanced security, strengthened deterrence, etc., disadvantages, such as escalation possibilities, security threats, and concerns of Finns over Finland joining NATO.
1. Enhanced Security Through NATO Membership
Joining NATO guarantees Finland’s collective defense, which means that any assault on Finland is considered an attack on all NATO members. This might dissuade would-be aggressors.
2. Strengthened Deterrence
NATO’s military capabilities and deterrent stance might prevent aggressive moves against Finland even further.
3. Collaboration with Western Allies
Finland would become a member of the larger security community, strengthening connections with Western democracies.
4. Obtaining Military Resources
Finland may benefit from NATO’s vast military resources, such as intelligence sharing, cutting-edge technology, and joint military exercises.
5. Stability in the Economy and Politics
NATO membership might offer a sense of security, encourage foreign investment, and promote economic growth.
6. Crisis Solidarity
Finland would have the support of NATO member nations in the case of a crisis, strengthening its ability to respond effectively.
Concerns and Disadvantages
1. Escalation Possibility
Membership in a military alliance may escalate relations with neighboring Russia.
2. Considerations Regarding Sovereignty
Joining NATO may imply giving up some degree of independence in defense decision-making.
3. Security Threats
In the case of a larger battle involving NATO and Russia, Finland might become a target.
4. Defense Spending and Costs
Meeting NATO’s defense spending requirements (2% of GDP) might put a burden on Finland’s finances.
5. Neutrality in History
Some Finns may cherish Finland’s long-standing policy of military neutrality and be unwilling to join a military alliance.
Finland’s decision to join NATO on April 4, 2023, represents a substantial departure from the country’s previous stance of neutrality, notably during the Cold War era of Finlandization. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 was critical to shifting public opinion in favor of NATO membership.
The move is viewed as a reaction to rising regional security concerns, particularly in light of historical occurrences such as the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939. While NATO membership provides collective defense, it also raises worries about possible escalation and loss of sovereignty over defense choices. Overall, Finland’s NATO membership seeks to boost its security and connections with Western democracies.
What Was Russia’s Reaction to Finland’s Accession to NATO?
According to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Finland is making a major historic error by joining NATO, which would diminish its own importance in the global arena and harm its ties with Moscow.
Is Finland’s Military Strong?
Finland has the most artillery capability in Western Europe, with 700 howitzers, 700 heavy mortars, and 100 multiple rocket launchers. The desire to defend the homeland against a superior opponent is 83%, one of the highest rates in Europe.
Why Does Russia Oppose Finland’s Accession To NATO?
Russia has frequently cautioned Finland and Sweden against joining NATO, claiming that the “serious military and political consequences” of doing so would force them to “restore military balance” in the Baltic Sea area, including the deployment of nuclear weapons.