Finland and Sweden edge closer to NATO, but Turkey hints at opposition

13 May 2022


After Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, and prime minister, Sanna Marin, said on 12 May that the country must apply to join NATO “without delay”, the Russian foreign ministry said it would have to take “military-technical” steps in response. Russia also threatened to cut-off gas supplies and on 13 May announced that it would suspend electricity supplies to Finland. The Finnish grid company insisted there was “no threat to the adequacy of electricity in Finland”. US president, Joe Biden, spoke with his Finnish counterpart and Sweden’s prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, and expressed his support for the right of both Nordic countries “to decide their own future, foreign policy, and security arrangements”, the White House said. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has expressed support for Finland’s steps towards NATO membership, as have several European NATO states, including leaders from Estonia, Denmark, Romania and the UK.

Finland shares an 810-mile (1,300km) border with Russia. Public support for NATO membership has trebled in Finland. In addition, more than two-thirds of the Finnish parliament, according to surveys, now supports NATO membership. Finland has managed to balance criticism of Russia with a bridge-building role with Moscow, but may find that role harder to play once inside NATO. The president, prime minister and senior cabinet ministers will meet on 15 May to make the formal decision on submitting the country’s membership application. A positive decision would then be presented to parliament for approval early next week.

Sweden is expected to follow Finland’s announcement within days, and came closer to reversing its policy of military non-alignment, after a security policy review released on 13 May concluded that joining NATO would have a “deterrent effect” on the risk of conflict in northern Europe. Sweden’s Left and Green parties set out their opposition to NATO membership in an annex to the review. The role of nuclear weapons within NATO (and by Russia) is a prominent discussion within the review. The review says that the nuclear weapons owned by the USA, UK and France are "national assets" and that "NATO has no right to plan for or use those weapons". However, this second statement is incorrect. NATO's Nuclear Planning Group and 'nuclear sharing' practices within the alliance allow member states without nuclear weapons to participate in planning for the use of some US nuclear weapons.

Sweden could potentially maintain a leadership role in advocating peace and disarmament by following Norway and Denmark, two founding NATO members, in making a condition of membership a ban on their soil of both nuclear weapons in peacetime and permanent foreign troops. In practice this does not prevent near permanent rotational forces or pre-positioning of supplies. Both countries could also still sign the nuclear ban treaty, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), as NATO members, but opposition within the alliance to the treaty makes this less likely.

While it was thought that there was unity within NATO about Finland and Sweden joining the alliance, remarks by Turkish President Erdogan suggested that accession may not be a fait accompli after all. “We are following developments concerning Sweden and Finland, but we are not of a favourable opinion”, Erdogan told reporters. He explained his opposition by citing Sweden and other Scandinavian countries’ alleged support for Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers to be terrorists. This could simply be posturing or a sign that Turkey is looking for a quid pro quo, but either way it would have set off alarm bells in Brussels, Helsinki and Stockholm.

Sweden already has defence agreements with its Nordic neighbours and on 11 May UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave an explicit pledge of military support to both Finland and Sweden as he signed a mutual defence pact with the two countries on a visit to the region. He also said that Britain would “very seriously” consider deploying nuclear weapons to protect the sovereignty of Sweden and Finland.

UK-Finland Statement, 11 May 2022

UK-Sweden Political Declaration of Solidarity, 11 May 2022

A poll conducted by Demoskop for the daily newspaper Aftonbladet showed support for NATO membership still rising and reaching 61 %. The same organisation’s poll published on 20 April showed 57% of Swedes in favour of joining NATO, up from 51% in March.


Further reading:

“Although I also see risks in a possible decision, I am ready to accept Finland's NATO membership, because it is the will of the Finnish people and the clear majority of the Finnish Parliament. I am prepared to accept that the option I prefer, namely European cooperation, does not offer a similar realistic solution in the current situation. We should have understood to build this option much earlier”.

My thoughts on Finland's NATO membership, Li Andersson, Leader of the Left Alliance, Finland, 12 May 2022


Jan Oberg, It is foolish for Finland and Sweden to join NATO and ignore both the real causes and consequences, The Transnational, 12 May 2022

Ivo Daalder, If Finland and Sweden join NATO, it’s on Russia, Politico, 12 May 2022

Lorne Cook, Explainer: Why Finland, Sweden joining NATO will be big deal, Associated Press, 12 May 2022

Finland’s leaders call for NATO membership ‘without delay’, Associated Press, 12 May 2022

UK pledges to back Sweden and Finland against Russian threats, The Guardian, 11 May 2022

Patrick Wintour, UK goes further than any other Nato country in Sweden and Finland pledge, The Guardian, 11 May 2022

Finnish parliament’s defence committee recommends NATO membership, Al Jazeera, 10 May 2022

Deputy Secretary General in Washington D.C.: NATO enlargement has spread freedom in Europe, NATO News, 10 May 2022

Finland is on the verge of asking to join NATO. Here's why that's bad news for Putin, CNN, 10 May 2022

Hanna Ojanen, NordNATO: Why the case for Finland to join NATO is stronger than ever, European Council on Foreign Relations, 10 May 2022

Crucial NATO decisions expected in Finland, Sweden this week, Associated Press, 10 May 2022

Heljä Ossa and Tommi Koivula, What would Finland bring to the table for NATO? War on the Rocks, 9 May 2022

Explainer: All you need to know as Finland and Sweden inch closer to NATO, RFE/RL, 9 May 2022

Sweden's ruling Social Democrats to decide on NATO on May 15, Reuters, 9 May 2022

Roger Svensson, Swedenʼs NATO Application Would Be a Sea Change—and a Logical Endpoint, GMF Insights, 6 May 2022