Russian President Vladimir V. Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, in part to attempt to limit the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and maintain a sphere of influence in the former Soviet bloc.
With thirty current members, Russia has sought to maintain a buffer zone, specifically with Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. Mr. Putin has a clear ally in Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, he is supporting the Transnistria separatist region in Moldova, which has floated the idea of uniting with Russia, and he invaded Ukraine. Moldova and NATO do cooperate on several issues, but Moldova’s constitution prevents its ascension to NATO.
If Mr. Putin had been able to achieve a swift victory in Ukraine, he likely would have dissuaded other countries not yet completely allied with the West to keep a safe distance away.
Obviously, Mr. Putin failed at this objective; in fact, his invasion of Ukraine is what pushed Finland and Sweden to seek to join NATO. As soon as Ukraine was invaded, a majority in both Finland and Sweden switched from opposing NATO membership to strongly supporting it.
NATO has expanded with its soon-to-be 830 mile extension along Russia, at the fault of Mr. Putin himself. While the road to NATO expansion was and still is winding, President Vladimir V. Putin has only himself to blame for Russia’s foreign failures and the strengthening of Western institutions.
Formed in 1949 at the beginning of the Cold War, the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations formed NATO in an effort to counter the growing influence and power of the Soviet Union. Economic and military standoffs, often carried out through proxy wars, created this multi-decade period of nuclear antagonism.
The Marshall Plan kickstarted this tension, with Western capitalist countries banding together to economically regroup following World War II, and Eastern communist countries (led by the Soviet Union) creating the Molotov Plan in response.
One year after the Marshall Plan, NATO was formed. In response, the USSR created the Warsaw Pact. Both of these organizations were based on the principle of mutual defense, which is why the Cold War could have become extremely hot based on the actions of a single country.
The NATO Charter encourages “the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening [each Parties’] free institutions,” which in the eyes of someone like Mr. Putin, threatens the influence of Russia on the European continent.
NATO has changed its objective from countering Soviet influence to buttressing European democracy more broadly. This is an attractive proposition to countries that are not yet in NATO but have ideals of liberty that they want to protect.
However, NATO requires funding to achieve its objectives and remain a relevant player in the modern European theater. This has been a source of complaint for many isolationist politicians, but these people seem to ignore the fact that NATO is evolving, and its funding scheme is changing with it.
Funding and requirements
NATO is financed “according to the principle of common funding,” meaning that while one country may spend more total financing NATO, each country is supposed to spend a certain percentage of its defense fund on NATO. The country with the highest percentage is Greece, spending 3.76 percent of its defense expenditure on NATO, while the next highest country (the U.S.) spends 3.47 percent.
A 2006 agreement encouraged all NATO members to spend at least 2 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense funding of NATO; in 2020, eleven countries met that goal, with France and Norway being the two additions since 2019.
The additions of Finland and Sweden would not delay this two percent goal: Sweden already exceeds this minimum on defense, and Finland is on track to exceed it this year.
In total, NATO requires approximately €2.5 billion (about US$2.55 billion) to operate, with a little less than two-thirds of that going to the military budget. This is only about 0.3 percent of total Allied defense funding, meaning that while the United States spends US$811.140 billion on its defense, there remains a majority of that to spend on domestic security and foreign security outside of Europe.
NATO is one of the most important alliances for each member Party, and its importance means that it requires a significant pool of money to operate effectively. While there is certainly a distribution inequity among member States, the addition of Sweden and Finland would not perpetuate it. If anything, their ascension to NATO would only strengthen the alliance and set a standard toward which other members should work.
Vladimir V. Putin
President Vladimir V. Putin laments the fall of the Soviet Union, a fact that he has reiterated since becoming president for the first time in 2000. The USSR’s collapse coincided with the end of the Warsaw Pact, but this did not bring down NATO with it. Fourteen countries have joined NATO since the fall of the Soviet Union, many of which were former Soviet satellite states like Poland and Hungary.
Mr. Putin has worked to maintain Russia’s influence in former Soviet states, but as numerous of those countries started to turn to NATO, he decided to take decisive action against any countries still caught in the middle. He annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014, and he continued to pressure the Ukrainian government to shun the West, even if its democracy wanted to move toward it.
When it became clear to Mr. Putin that Ukraine, if not directly marrying the West, was not going to return to Russia’s sphere of influence, he proposed “a special military operation” in Ukraine; in other words, an invasion with the goal of toppling the government in the capital of Kyiv.
Instead of quickly overcoming Ukraine, the war has dragged into its fifth month. Ukrainian popular resistance has been a barrier the Russian military cannot overcome. Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine created the exact opposite effect that he desired: He pushed historically neutral countries with a history with Russia to move toward NATO.
The most recent addition to NATO was in 2020 with the ascension of North Macedonia, a country that was part of the larger state of Yugoslavia before its collapse. This ascension was made not from a place of insecurity but from a standpoint of increased unity for unity’s sake. Yugoslavia did not break into several small states with one large country obviously dominating, unlike how the USSR’s collapse created Russia and many smaller former Soviet republics.
Unlike Ukraine and Moldova, which have seen direct Russian aggression on their soil thus precluding their ascension to NATO, Finland and Sweden have not had serious confrontations with Russia in decades. That does not mean, however, that a renewal of Russian aggression is off the table, which is exactly why they have made the decision to seek NATO membership.
Finland and Sweden are both advantageous additions to a defensive alliance given their unique capacities that particularly counter Russian military infrastructure. Sweden’s Saab Gripen E fighters have the ability to conduct electronic warfare that is particularly effective on the Russian Sukhoi fighter jets. Finland reached a US$9.6 billion deal to acquire 64 F-35 fighter jets to replace its ageing fleet of F/A-18 fighters.
On the ground, Finland boasts 1,500 different artillery systems, while Sweden has showcased its dominance in the water, using its cheap, diesel-powered HSMS Gotland submarine to “sink” the USS Ronald Reagan in war game in 2005.
Finnish conscription means it has 900,000 reservists, and Sweden has various naval capabilities that would be incredibly should there be direct confrontation with Russia. The addition of Finland and Sweden would secure the Baltic region, making it a NATO-protected corner of Europe that would otherwise be legitimately threatened by Russian aggression.
Finland and Sweden would not ride on the coattails of the NATO Charter with nothing to reciprocate; these two Nordic countries offer tremendous advantages for NATO only attainable through their ascension.
Russia has denounced NATO’s imminent additions, saying it would “take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature” to protect Russian sovereignty. While Mr. Putin could take a route similar to that of Adolf Hitler, who annexed Austria in 1938 just days before a referendum was supposed to occur in which the Austrian people would vote whether or not to join Germany, Moscow’s threats are perceived to be empty ones.
In the immediate aftermath of Finland’s announcement of its intent to ascend to NATO, Russia suspended all natural gas exports, a largely symbolic move for a country that relies on natural gas for about 5 percent of its total energy. Russia’s response to Sweden has been more general, focusing more on NATO’s eastward expansion.
Russia is too preoccupied with its war in Ukraine to make any meaningful response to the expansion of NATO. While it certainly would have preferred Finland and Sweden to stay neutral, Russia brought its weakening onto itself by creating the hostile atmosphere that pushed the two countries to join a defensive alliance.
Mr. Putin does not have a voice in Finland and Sweden’s decision, and nor should he. The decision to join an alliance should be a national question, uninfluenced by foreign pressure. If he wanted these two countries to stay out of European affairs, he should have stayed out of Ukraine.
United States vote
The U.S. Senate voted to ratify Finnish and Swedish NATO membership by a vote of 95–1, with the one “nay” vote coming from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO). Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) voted “present.”
Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) added an amendment reiterating NATO’s 2 percent defense funding minimum, and Sen. Paul added an amendment saying that Article 5 of NATO, the collective defense article, does not supersede Congress’s authorization of the use of force. Mr. Sullivan’s amendment passed, and Mr. Paul’s failed.
The Senate vote came less than a month after the House voted to ratify membership with a vote of 394–18; all votes against the resolution were from Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) lauded the vote, calling it “a slam dunk for national security.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) echoed Sen. McConnell’s sentiments before the vote, Finland and Sweden’s ascension would “bolster the Western alliance in the face of growing authoritarianism.”
President Joseph R. Biden celebrated the “bipartisan U.S. commitment to NATO,” saying the vote “will further strengthen NATO’s collective security and deepen the transatlantic partnership.”
The United States became the twenty-third NATO member to ratify the new members’ ascension, and any Party that might have taken issue with the new members has seen their worries assuaged. That is not to say that Finland and Sweden’s paths to NATO were without obstacles, but they have transcended these barriers.
Türkiye initially objected to Finnish and Swedish NATO membership, saying that Sweden in particular was supporting members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish Marxist group classified as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the U.S., Canada, the European Union, and Australia.
The PKK has carried out innumerable attacks in Türkiye, killing over 6,000 people since just 2015. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said that Türkiye saying Sweden supported terrorists was “disinformation.”
After a late June meeting in Madrid between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Türkiye, President Sauli Niinistö of Finland, and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden, Mr. Erdoğan announced that was dropping its objection to Finnish and Swedish membership. Türkiye has yet to officially approve the ascensions, but they are expected to pass.
The lone U.S. Republican Senator to reject the expansion of NATO, Mr. Hawley, brought up the funding discrepancies among members and said he preferred to focus on the threat of China rather than that of Russia. Mr. Hawley has supported increased weapons exports to Taiwan (something that did not stop the Russian invasion of Ukraine), but he has not gone far enough to truly protect Taiwan.
NATO itself rejects Mr. Hawley’s logic: While “[t]he volume of US defence expenditure represents approximately two thirds of the defence spending,” some of this goes to the greater Euro-Atlantic area. “[T]he operational running of NATO…is shared with all Allies.”
Finland and Sweden are now essentially guaranteed to become the thirty-first and thirty-second members of NATO. After decades of neutrality, President Vladimir V. Putin pushed two nonaligned countries into a defensive alliance in order to counter the reckless ambition of Mr. Putin.
Mr. Putin set out by invading Ukraine to expand Russia’s sphere of interest. In doing so, he isolated his country, turning an entire continent completely against him.