Finland launches debate on NATO membership

Finland publishes on Wednesday a key report on its strategic situation after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a prelude to a debate on a probable historic candidacy for NATO by the summer.

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Paradox: a war launched by Moscow by invoking the extension of the Western military alliance to its doors risks tipping one of its neighbors into the ranks of NATO, to benefit from the decisive protection of its famous article 5.

Before the invasion of Ukraine, seeing Finland break with its historical line of non-military alliance was only a rhetorical option that lay dormant in a box, for lack of sufficient support.

In a few weeks, everything changed: support for membership, which had languished at 20-30% for decades, more than doubled beyond 60%. The latest poll published on Monday even credits him with 68% for only 12% of unfavorable opinions.

In Parliament too, a clear majority is emerging, with the reversal of several parties hitherto opposed.

Among the deputies who have already made their position known in the event of a vote, a hundred are in favor of joining and only 12 are against, out of a total of 200, according to the scores made by the Finnish media.

It is in Parliament that a “white paper” on the strategic situation of Finland is presented on Wednesday, prepared by the executive since the beginning of March.

At the same time, Helsinki has multiplied contacts with most of the 30 NATO members as well as with Sweden, where the lines have also moved a lot in favor of a possible candidacy.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, whose Social Democratic party was historically opposed to NATO, said last week that the debate should end before the start of summer. Or just before an important NATO summit scheduled for June 29 and 30 in Madrid.

The youngest leader of the European Union is going to Stockholm on Wednesday, where she is to meet her Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson, also a social democrat and less and less closed to membership.

“For Finland, the process is very determined so I think they will go there and have a decision by the NATO summit in June,” said Robert Dalsjö, director of research at the Agency. Swedish Research for Defense (JTF). “Whether Sweden will follow this schedule, it is possible, but not certain,” notes the expert.

The Swedish Social Democrats announced Monday the opening of an internal debate, while the far-right movement of the Democrats of Sweden (SD) decided for the first time to support a candidacy if Finland launched.

“For social democrats in Sweden, changing their opinion (on NATO) is like changing their religion,” said former Finnish Prime Minister Alex Stubb. “And I’m not talking about going from Protestant to Catholic, I’m talking about going from Christian to Muslim.”

The Secretary General of NATO, the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, has reaffirmed on numerous occasions in recent weeks that the door is open to the two Nordic countries, which have already become increasingly close partners of NATO since the end of the Cold War.

The other Nordic and Baltic neighbors are all already members of NATO – Norway, Denmark, Iceland since its founding in 1949, as well as Poland since 1999 and Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia since 2004.

If Finland joins, the land borders between the NATO countries and Russia would suddenly double, with 1,300 kilometers more.

According to Helsinki, NATO believes it takes four to 12 months to complete the process to make Finland the 31st member – which requires unanimous agreement and ratification by current members.

What reaction from Russia? Moscow warned Stockholm and Helsinki that membership would have “political and military consequences”.

“Russia will most likely make noise, show its displeasure and be threatening”, as during a violation of Swedish airspace in early March, “or cyberattacks or maneuvers with missiles”, estimates Robert Dalsjö. “I don’t believe we will see violent things. But given Putin’s attitude at the moment, I couldn’t absolutely rule it out.”

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