US Senate overwhelmingly backs Finland and Sweden's NATO membership

6 August 2022

The US Senate voted on 3 August to approve a resolution to ratify membership for Sweden and Finland in NATO.

"This historic vote sends an important signal of the sustained, bipartisan US commitment to NATO, and to ensuring our Alliance is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow", US President Joe Biden said in a statement, adding that he looked forward to welcoming “two strong democracies with highly capable militaries, into the greatest defensive alliance in history”.

Sweden and Finland both announced their intention to join NATO in May, after Russia's invasion of Ukraine caused a sudden shift in attitudes toward joining the bloc. The reason most countries join NATO is because of Article 5, which stipulates that all signatories consider an attack on one member an attack against all. NATO formally invited Sweden and Finland to join the alliance at the end of June at the Madrid Summit and the decision requires ratification by the 30 member states' parliaments and legislatures. With the ratification by the USA, 23 countries have now done so.

In June the US House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution supporting Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO, in a 394 to 18 vote, and President Biden sent the protocols for ratification to the Senate in July,. This paved the way for the vote, which needed to be approved by two-thirds of the Senate to succeed. The final tally of the Senate vote was 95 to 1, with only Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri voting in opposition (he explained his position on the issue in a recent op-ed in The National Interest). Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky voted ‘present’ (and outlined his position in an op-ed in the American Conservative). A ‘present’ vote does not count towards or against a decision, but it contributes towards the quorum.

Seven remaining member states have still to ratify the protocol: Czech Republic; Greece; Hungary; Portugal; Slovakia; Spain and Turkey. Of these Turkey and Hungary are likely to be the biggest hurdles: Turkey already held up the process, only allowing the nominations to move forward after Sweden and Finland acquiesced to security concerns, and there is speculation Ankara may slow the process on its end in order to ensure the two Nordic countries comply with the agreement, especially Turkish extradition requests. Hungary’s leader, Viktor Orban, is perhaps the closest NATO leader to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has had repeated clashes with the EU; he may also look to use the NATO process to win political concessions.