Tension mounts with Sweden, Finland poised to join NATO

This March 24, 2022.Staff members work at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium (ZHENG HUANSONG / XINHUA)

STOCKHOLM – Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on Monday announced the official decision to start the process of the country's application to become a NATO member, one day after Finland made a like move to apply for membership of the military bloc. 

The historic move of the two Nordic states, with decades of neutrality and military non-alignment policies, is bound to add uncertainties to the security situation in the Baltic Sea region and Europe as a whole, analysts said. 

Abandoning military non-alignment 

"It is clear that there is a broad majority in Sweden's parliament for Sweden to join NATO," Andersson said on Monday during a press conference, after the government's decision to abandon military non-alignment. 

"We leave one era and go into another. We will inform NATO that we want to become a member of the alliance," she said. 

The government has also decided on a bill that will make it possible for Sweden to receive military support from all European Union (EU) and NATO countries, she added. 

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Finland on Sunday had finalized a report on its accession to NATO. The report will proceed to the plenary session of the government and will be submitted to parliament after its approval, the Finnish government said in a statement. 

Hailing the day as a new era opening, President Sauli Niinisto also said that Finnish security is not "a zero-sum game" and not directed against anyone. 

According to Andersson, Sweden's NATO ambassador in Brussels will submit the application within the next few days. The application will be submitted together with Finland. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Sweden could expect an increased presence of NATO troops in the Baltic Sea and around the rest of the country when a possible NATO application is processed. 

Criticisms against alignment 

Finland, which shares a more than 1,300-km border with Russia, has long pursued policies of neutrality and military non-alignment. Its neighbor Sweden, though a close ally of the United States with strong military ties, has also long posed itself as military non-alignment. 

Since the end of the Cold War, US-led NATO has been trying to woo Sweden and Finland to the military bloc. The two countries joined NATO's Partnership for Peace program in 1994, but they also maintained cooperation and dialogue with Russia in climate, security and other fields. 

Analysts say  Sweden and Finland's possible NATO incorporationis is set to intensify confrontation with Russia and lead to further deterioration of the security situation in the Baltic Sea region and Europe 

In a historic move fundamentally changing its position, Sweden's ruling Social Democratic Party (SAP) granted on Sunday support for applying for NATO membership, a decision that incurred fierce criticism in Sweden. 

"Through this decision, Sweden contributes to making the world more militarized and polarized. A NATO membership does not make Sweden or the world more secure or democratic – rather the opposite," Agnes Hellstrom, chairman of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society wrote in a statement. 

Swedish Social Democratic Youth Union Chairman Lisa Nabo said in a statement that the union demands the government to "guarantee a Sweden free of nuclear weapons, a nuclear-weapon-free zone across the Nordic region and that foreign military bases are never established in Sweden." 

Nooshi Dadgostar, leader of Sweden's Left Party, a staunch opponent against NATO membership, reiterated on her social media account Sunday that the party was "against Swedish NATO membership," warning that "it risks leading to escalation in our immediate area." 

The Green Party, which also opposed Swedish NATO membership in the parliament, voiced its insistence on continued military freedom of alliance for Sweden. 

Finnish Peace Committee in a statement Monday emphasized that lasting peace in the world cannot be built based on an armed and alliance-based security policy. 

Military alignment, said the NGO, will not increase security in Europe, but will lead to a further escalation of military tensions. Furthermore, the strengthening of NATO with new members will also exacerbate the division of the world into military blocs, thus complicating the necessary negotiations and cooperation. 

Instabilities ahead 

The possible NATO incorporation of the two Nordic states is set to intensify confrontation with Russia and lead to further deterioration of the security situation in the Baltic Sea region and Europe as a whole, analysts say. 

Russia, which could see its land border with NATO countries doubles, has repeatedly warned Sweden and Finland against joining the military bloc, saying such a move would oblige it to "restore military balance" by strengthening its defenses in the Baltic Sea region. 

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Calling the two Nordic states' move as a "grave mistake," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Monday that such a "mistake" will have "far-reaching consequences." 

Viktor Bondarev, chairman of the Defense and Security Committee of the Federation Council, said Sunday that Russia will strengthen its border with Finland if NATO's striking weapons are deployed in Finland.