PULASKI COMMENTARY Sweden and Finland in NATO a major boost to Central-Eastern Europe (Robert Czulda)

Autor foto: Domena publiczna

PULASKI COMMENTARY: Sweden and Finland in NATO: a major boost to Central-Eastern Europe (Robert Czulda)

PULASKI COMMENTARY: Sweden and Finland in NATO: a major boost to Central-Eastern Europe (Robert Czulda)

16 lutego, 2023

PULASKI COMMENTARY: Sweden and Finland in NATO: a major boost to Central-Eastern Europe (Robert Czulda)

PULASKI COMMENTARY Sweden and Finland in NATO a major boost to Central-Eastern Europe (Robert Czulda)

Autor foto: Domena publiczna

PULASKI COMMENTARY: Sweden and Finland in NATO: a major boost to Central-Eastern Europe (Robert Czulda)

Autor: Robert Czulda

Opublikowano: 16 lutego, 2023

Although both Sweden and Finland cannot be considered as significant military powers, their full membership in the Alliance will significantly improve NATO’s strategic position vis-à-vis Russia, particularly in its Eastern and Northern dimension. Both Sweden and Finland were invited to join NATO at the Madrid Summit in June 2022. Their official bids clearly demonstrate not only significant changes in the European security architecture, but they also show that the Russian narrative is deeply false. It is not NATO that has been causing destabilisation in Europe and using an artificial Russophobic narrative to increase divisions. It is the opposite – Russia is perceived as a threat and a trouble-maker not only by NATO members, but also by those states that have been pursuing a policy of non-alignment for decades. Moreover, this issue clearly shows that NATO is a club of volunteers and only states openly willing to join are accepted. This approach is extremely different from the Russian one, when states are forced to be a part of “The Russkiy Mir” (The Russian Peace”).

Strategic aspects

The membership of Finland and Sweden in the Alliance will have a significant impact on NATO’s Eastern Flank in its maritime dimension. First of all, much deeper security cooperation among six states – Finland, Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – will be easier and potentially also deeper. Moreover, their full membership will also ease any threat caused by the Russian fleet in the Baltic Sea. The Russian Baltic Fleet, with its headquarters in the Kaliningrad Oblast, is located between Poland and Lithuania. It is infamous for its naval and aerial provocations, which is a cause for concern for smaller NATO nations, such as Lithuania, Latvia, and particularly vulnerable Estonia, which is the northernmost of the three Baltic States.

With Sweden and Finland joining, the Baltic Sea will almost become NATO’s „lake”. This geostrategic change will also impact the Gulf of Finland, located between Finland to the north and Estonia to the south. NATO will then control both shores and have the ability to block the Russian port of St. Petersburg. Additionally, NATO’s control over the Danish Straits, which connect the Baltic Sea with the North Sea, would allow for an effective naval blockade to be launched against the Kaliningrad Oblast, similar to the one that the Russian fleet imposed on the Ukrainian port of Odessa, providing another strategic advantage over Russia

Secondly, the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO), consisting of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, might also see an increase as all five participants will become members of NATO simultaneously. Their membership will be particularly significant for Norway neighbouring both Sweden and Finland. The new members will also enhance NATO’s presence in the High North, where the Alliance must contend with the Russian Northern Fleet based on the Kola peninsula with its headquarters in Severomorsk. The majority of Russia’s nuclear-powered submarines are part of this fleet. Although Finland does not have direct access to the Arctic Sea, approximately 11% of its territory is located within the Arctic Circle, including the northernmost regions like Lapland. This makes Finland one of the few countries in the world with land in the Arctic region.

Moreover, Poland hopes that Sweden and Finland will also be an important political ally. According to Professor Przemysław Żurawski vel Grajewski, a political and security advisor to the Polish President and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, „Scandinavia will play on the same team as Poland, the Baltic States, or Romania. Therefore, there is a chance to simultaneously strengthen Eastern groups both within the EU and NATO—Swedish and Finnish accession to NATO will unify the political position of these groups, especially if we take into account the support provided by the Anglo-Saxon powers such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. I think this will create a certain critical mass to counterbalance not only Russia, as everyone understands, but also German-French projects within the EU”.[1]

Regarding purely military capabilities, it is wise to expect that newcomers will not only enjoy NATO’s security umbrella, but will also contribute to regional stability by assuming greater responsibility. All defence-related commitments emanating from Article 5 of the Washington Treaty would then include Sweden and Finland. It is justified to expect that they will meet NATO’s spending criteria (2% of GDP annually). Currently, Sweden spends 1.4% of its GDP on defence, [2] while Finland spends 2.03%.[3]

Sufficient defence expenditures are crucial, as the Kremlin has shown that it has the capacity and willingness to engage in full-scale military conflict, despite the growing costs of war. The Russian threat cannot be ignored. Sweden and Finland must play their role in building credible deterrence.

Remaining Challenges

Both states meet all NATO membership criteria, but their membership is not currently possible for political reasons. Although Swedish and Finnish membership would undoubtedly benefit the Alliance, not all member states are eager to support their bids due to domestic political considerations. According to NATO’s rules, any application must be approved unanimously by all current members.

Turkey remains the biggest obstacle. It is important to remember that this is not the first time Turkey has blocked NATO’s joint defence efforts. Previously, under the leadership of President Erdogan, Turkey has been the least loyal and trustworthy member of NATO, blocking the “NATO defence plan for Poland and the Baltic States. Diplomats stated that while Ankara approved the plan, known as EAGLE DEFENDER, it did not allow NATO military leaders to put it into action”. [4] This current approach by Turkey highlights that it is a problem for NATO, and previous crises were not accidental.

In order to win Ankara’s approval, both Sweden and Finland have recently lifted their informal bans on the sale of military equipment to Turkey. The bans were introduced after Turkey’s military operation in Syria in 2019. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said once again that Ankara would not give Sweden a green light due to Stockholm’s refusal to extradite people that Turkey considers as terrorists. The burning of the Quran in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm by the highly controversial Swedish-Danish politician Rasmus Paludan does not help either.[5] However, this act was carried out by a private individual and not endorsed by the Swedish government, and therefore should not be used as an excuse to block Sweden’s bid. This is rather a Turkish attempt to blackmail the West, including the United States, in order to gain concessions. In other words, Ankara wants something in return.

Regarding Hungary, it is another NATO member that has not yet accepted the Swedish and Finnish membership bids. Nevertheless, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban said in November 2022 that the Hungarian Parliament “would ratify NATO membership for Finland and Sweden early in 2023, possibly in March”. [6]


The full membership of Sweden and Finland in NATO will have a significant impact on the Alliance’s strategic position vis-à-vis Russia, particularly in its Eastern dimension. The membership will strengthen security cooperation in the Eastern Flank and enhance NATO’s presence in the High North. However, the newcomers are expected to contribute to regional stability by meeting NATO’s spending criteria.

It is important, however, not to yield to Turkey’s blackmail. The membership of Finland and Sweden is a significant issue for NATO, but there is no immediate need. Eventually, Ankara will change its stance. Proposals such as the one put forward by US Senator Chris Van Hollen to consider EU sanctions on Turkey[7] seem counter-productive. Surrendering to Turkish demands would reinforce a policy of coercion and create a dangerous precedent, while any form of punishment would likely harden Ankara’s position and escalate anti-Western sentiments within Turkish society, which would serve the purpose of Erdogan, who governs through a “rally-around-the-flag” approach. Furthermore, any sanctions in response to Erdogan’s blocking of the entry into NATO would set a harmful precedent. After all, Turkey has a legal right to say no, even if it does not align with the interests of other Alliance members.

Another issue is the planned sale of 40 new F-16V Block 70 jets and 79 modernization kits to Turkey, which was previously expelled from the F-35 joint strike fighter program by the United States. The US should halt the sale of F-16s before Turkish green light to Sweden and Finland’s membership in the Alliance. There is no reason to support Turkey if it is unwilling to assist its allies.

It is crucial to maintain the indivisibility of Sweden and Finland’s membership bids. Both countries must join NATO together. In early February 2023, Finland wisely pledged that it wants to join NATO along with Sweden. Prime Minister Sanna Marin stated that ” the security of Finland and Sweden is bound together. It is in the interest of the whole Alliance that we will join together”. [8] There have also been reports of Finland holding more frequent talks with Sweden to address issues with the accession process.

Author: dr Robert Czulda, Resident Fellow, Casimir Pulaski Foundation


Supported by a grant from the Open Society Initiative for Europe within the Open Society Foundations

[1] „Prof. Żurawski vel Grajewski: Wejście Szwecji i Finlandii do NATO zmniejsza prawdopodobieństwo scenariusza francusko-niemieckiej federalizacji UE.” Rzeczpospolita, May 12, 2022. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://wpolityce.pl/polityka/598200-profzurawski-vel-grajewski-rozszerzenie-nato-umocni-baltyk

[2] Stew Magnuson, “Sweden to Move Deadline Up for NATO’s 2% GDP Threshold Requirement.” National Defense, November 20, 2022. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2022/11/20/web-exclusive-sweden-to-move-deadline-up-for-natos-2-gdp-threshold-requirement

[3] „Finland – Military Expenditure (% Of GDP).” Trading Economics, no date. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://tradingeconomics.com/finland/military-expenditure-percent-of-gdp-wb-data.html

[4] Robin Emmott and John Irish, “Turkey still blocking defence plan for Poland, Baltics, NATO envoys say.” Reuters, June 17, 2022. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nato-france-turkey-plans-idUSKBN23O1TN

[5] Kathryn Armstrong, „Turkey condemns 'vile’ Sweden Quran-burning protest.” BBC, January 21, 2023. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-64360528

[6] Nikolaj Nielsen and Andrew Rettman, “Sweden expects Hungary to soon ratify its Nato membership.” EU Observer, January 11, 2023. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://euobserver.com/nordics/156592

[7] Adam Lucente, „Senator Van Hollen says no F-16s for Turkey if Sweden, Finland not admitted to NATO.” Al-Monitor, January 31, 2023. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2023/01/senator-van-hollen-says-no-f-16s-turkey-if-sweden-finland-not-admitted-nato

[8] Finnish Government, Twitter, February 2, 2023. Accessed February 7, 2023. https://twitter.com/FinGovernment/status/1621163013238554624