President Biden hailed Finland’s and Sweden’s decision to join NATO as a “watershed moment in European security,” saying the entry of two well-armed, robust democracies would strengthen the Western alliance at a time of acute tension with Russia.
“Standing together today, we reject the bloody creed that might makes right, and we declare a more powerful creed, all for one and one for all,” Biden said. “Because what makes NATO strong isn’t just our enormous military capacity, but our commitment to each other, to its values. NATO is an alliance of choice, not coercion.”
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Sweden had chosen a new path at a moment that recalled “the darkest days of European history.”
“I must say that during dark times, it is great to be among close friends,” she said, highlighting European nations’ unity as they have applied repeated waves of sanctions on Russia and provided unprecedented military and humanitarian support to Ukraine since Putin’s Feb. 24 assault.
Biden, who met with Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the Oval Office before making public remarks, did not reference any specific security measures the United States would provide the two countries before their membership is finalized. The application period is seen as a particularly vulnerable one, because the two countries are defying years of Russian threats against joining NATO but don’t yet fall under the alliance’s security umbrella.
While Putin this week suggested a more muted response to the Nordic decision, as his troops are bogged down in Ukraine, other Russian officials have issued stark warnings about a possible military response and even suggested that Moscow could position nuclear weapons on the Baltic Sea coast. Nordic officials have said they do not expect any imminent attack by Russia despite those threats.
Before being admitted to the 30-nation bloc, Finland and Sweden will have to allay the concerns of Turkey, which has accused them of lax treatment of those whom Ankara deems to be Kurdish militants. This week, Turkey blocked initial talks about cementing the applicants’ accession.
Niinisto said his country was holding talks with Turkey about its concerns and said he looked forward to the moment when both countries would enjoy — and be bound by — NATO’s central tenet, the mutual defense pledge known as Article 5.
“We are ready to contribute to the security of the whole alliance,” he said.
NATO officials have said they want to conclude the accession process as quickly as possible, with technical discussions potentially wrapping up within weeks so that each member state’s legislature can vote to accept the new members. It is not clear how far along that process will be by the time NATO leaders meet in Madrid in late June.
The nearly unanimous Western support for Finland and Sweden’s accession stands in contrast to long-standing divisions about the potential entry of Ukraine, which NATO more than a decade ago declared would ultimately join the alliance but has not yet met entry criteria. The prospect of Ukraine joining NATO is among the issues Russia has cited as a threat to its security, a notion alliance leaders dismiss.
Jim Townsend, who served as a senior Pentagon official for European defense matters during the Obama administration, said he expected that NATO would be able to hammer out an agreement once Finland, Sweden or other NATO nations provide Turkey something it will see as advancing its interests, potentially in an unrelated area.
He said Turkey had objected to previous NATO moves, including the appointment of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a Danish politician, as NATO secretary general in 2009 over a Danish newspaper’s publication of a cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad and other issues. “They use this NATO consensus, where the Turkish vote is as powerful as the United States',” he said.
While experts do not expect Finland’s and Sweden’s entry into NATO will have a direct effect on Kyiv’s struggle against invading Russian forces, they say it will allow European nations more certainty as they plan for a potential showdown with Russia in Europe’s more ominous security environment — not having to guess, for example, whether those countries’ leaders would permit NATO to conduct military flights through their airspace during a crisis or whether they would object to actions that might be seen as pulling them into a conflict.
Townsend noted that Finland had fought repeated battles against Russia during World War II and said the two countries’ entry into NATO represented a major rebuke to Putin. Facing a radically more unsettled Europe, he said, “they didn’t go deeper into neutrality; they went into NATO.”
The move may provide the biggest boost to the small, vulnerable Baltic states, which could soon have new treaty allies with strong militaries nearby. Both Finland and Sweden have a long history of operating alongside NATO troops. Finland has a potent artillery force and is in the process of purchasing 64 F-35 stealth fighters.
The talks occurred just before the U.S. Senate authorized more than $40 billion in additional military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Separately, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the Biden administration would send up to $100 million in new military equipment to Ukraine from Defense Department stocks.
Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.