Finland’s accession to NATO: What it means and why it matters?

On April 4, 2023, Finland officially became the 31st member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The country handed over its instrument of accession to NATO with the United States in Brussels, and the flags of Finland and NATO were raised in front of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the new NATO headquarters after the accession ceremony.

Founded in 1949 by 12 countries, including the United States and France, NATO is a defence alliance formed as a counterweight to the Soviet Union. Countries tend to join the mutual-defence alliance to demonstrate that they meet political, economic, and military goals and standards, which will not only benefit them to ensure their national security and interests but also contribute to NATO’s collective security. Finland has had formal relations with NATO since 1994 when it joined the Partnership for Peace program, and the European Union in 1995. Finland has maintained a neutral position due to its complicated relations with neighbouring country Russia. However, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the country officially applied to join NATO on May 18, 2022.

NATO signed the accession protocol on July 5, 2022, and by the end of September, 28 of the 30 members had approved the accession protocol. Although Turkey and Hungary ratified it by early April, Finland formally became a member. This is considered the fastest accession process in the treaty’s history.

A number of world leaders welcomed Finland’s accession, including the European Union’s Foreign Policy chief, Josep Borrell, who tweeted,

  “I warmly welcome the accession of Finland to NATO. This historic step will strengthen the Alliance, reinforce European and transaction security, and contribute to further fostering our strategic partnership.” The German Chancellor also hailed Finland’s accession to NATO.

However, the move of Finland joining NATO has a lot of geopolitical implications as well, as it doubles the defence alliance’s border with Russia. Finland shares a 1340 km (832 mile) eastern frontier with Russia. This has prompted anger in the Russian leadership as they perceive NATO’s enlargement as a threat. The Russian officials also claim that armed forces were sent to Ukraine as a counter-move to the Western plans to use Ukrainian land to instigate Russian aggression. They also mentioned that they are fighting a hybrid war against the Western world and NATO because of the continuous million-dollar assistance to Ukraine to fight and stand firm against the Russian forces. The Russians also believe that now they need to enhance and strengthen their military strength and capacity and also alarmed NATO. This is also a challenging situation for them as they have to be more conscious to secure the longer Russian border.

Furthermore, the Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, “This will make Finland stronger, safer, and NATO Stronger,”

 and said that it is a proud day for him and the alliance. Finland will get guaranteed security in the light of Article 5 – the collective defence clause which says that if one NATO member is attacked, every member country should take it as an act of aggression. “One for all and all for one.”

Not only has Finland become safer, but the collective strength of NATO as a defence alliance has also been increased as Finland has a well-equipped and trained armed forces, which is 30,000 with a wartime strength of 280,000. It also has the largest artillery capability in Western Europe. It has heavy-rocket launches 298 RSRAKH 06 (MLRS), anti-aircraft guns 23 ITK 61 and 35. ITK 88, and main battle tank Leopard 22A6 Hornet F/A-18, Hamina-Class Missile Beat Patria XA-360 Armoured Personnel Carrier. A November report from Washington lists three areas where Finland benefits NATO: reserve forces, technology access, and artillery forces. The Finnish artillery

The public support for joining NATO surged in both Finland and Sweden as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While Finland’s accession was welcomed by a majority of member states, Sweden’s path to joining NATO remains blocked. Two countries, Hungary and Turkey, have caused delays in Sweden’s accession. Both countries ratified Finland’s accession but remained rigid in their stance about Sweden. Turkey believes that Sweden has not taken Ankara’s security concerns seriously and has not lived up to the mark of the bargain struck in Madrid last year. Hungary has followed Turkey’s lead in delaying the ratification.

The Turkish leadership believes that Sweden has criticized Turkey for human rights abuses and over democratic standards. They have also charged Sweden with harbouring members of terrorist groups, a charge that Sweden denies. One incident that stopped the Turkish president from accepting Sweden’s accession was the burning of the Muslim holy book Quran outside the Turkish embassy by a solitary anti-Islam activist. After this incident, the Turkish president said, “Sweden can’t join NATO if Quran Burning is allowed.”

Ankara has been pressing Finland and Sweden to crackdown on exiled members of Kurdish and other groups they view as terrorists and to allow them to sell arms in Turkey. Turkey, as a sign of disagreement on Sweden joining NATO, has postponed a key meeting in Brussels where the issue of Sweden joining was to be discussed. Despite the obstacles, Finland and Sweden have been working with NATO for more than thirty years, and they have proved to be capable security partners. Both countries joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace in 1994 and contributed with zeal and zest to NATO-led operations in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Iraq. They were also fortunate enough to become two of six Enhanced Opportunity Partners and worked continuously to strengthen their military capabilities to operate with NATO forces. Both Sweden and Finland have hosted NATO allies, such as the BALTOPS 22 in Finland, which was a major maritime exercise in the Baltic Sea.

Aimen Adnan Lodhi
Aimen Adnan Lodhi
Student of Peace and Conflict Studies at National Defence University Islamabad.