Fredrik Erixon

Is this the birth of a Nordic Nato?

Finland and Sweden are shifting away from neutrality

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, right, and her Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson (Getty)

In the past six weeks, Finland and Sweden’s security policies have changed more than they have over the past six decades. In much of what they do, the two countries come as a couple and were militarily neutral during the Cold War – but their defence cooperation has only deepened since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. Now, the two are about to break with their long history of non-alignment. Their applications to join Nato are likely to come in the next two months.

At a press conference in Stockholm this week, the prime ministers of the two countries – Sanna Marin and Magdalena Andersson – came close to admitting they want their countries to join the western military alliance. That declaration cannot be understated. Sweden has been neutral since the time of the Napoleonic wars and prided itself on its non-alignment. Finland’s situation is more complex, not least because of its geography. It became independent from Russia in 1917 and after its war with the Soviet Union in 1939-40, the country was practically forced into isolation. Sweden and Finland have, therefore, traditionally sought a third way between Russia and the West. Both leaders will need to convince their parliamentarians that the time has finally come to abandon that long history.

The Finns are halfway there. With more than two-thirds of the voters in favour, the public support for Nato membership is strong. A recent survey of parliamentarians suggested that only six of the 200 Finnish MPs are against membership. Marin has just made public her government’s analysis of the costs and benefits of joining, and the conclusions are pretty obvious. After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, the benefits of joining Nato have increased radically – just as the costs of standing alone have multiplied. While Russia may not be an immediate threat to Finland’s security, Nato membership would make the Kremlin less likely to mess with the Finns.

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