April 7, 2023
A key Western alliance has grown, as Finland has officially become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This marks the end of a long process to have the country join the group. Finland, along with Sweden, first applied for membership in May 2022, a move that was prompted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine months prior. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg fast-tracked Finland's acceptance into the group to shore up a pushback against Russian aggression, calling the country's entrance into NATO the fastest in recent history. As the war in Ukraine continues, the Nordic country's addition to NATO comes at a watershed moment for both international relations and Finland itself. The nation is still reeling from parliamentary elections that ousted Prime Minister Sanna Marin and handed a victory to the conservative National Coalition party. While coalition talks are expected to heat up in the coming weeks, this could potentially mark a change in the way that Finland has dealt with the war. A shutdown of NATO expansion has often been cited as one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's main reasons for starting the war in Ukraine, Insider reports. However, over the past year, the opposite has occurred: NATO has seemingly grown more powerful due to increasing alliances, and Finland's entrance into the group now doubles NATO's land border with Russia, BBC News notes, extending it another 832 miles. So suffice it to say, the admission of NATO's 31st country is likely to further agitate the Russian president. What are commentators saying? One of the most consequential moves could be the addition of NATO troops along the Finnish-Russian border — if the country chooses to station them there. While Finland has said this is not currently necessary, "its accession will give the alliance direct access to that 800-mile frontier, should it decide at any point to deploy additional forces for strategic or security purposes," Haley Ott writes for CBS News. Ott notes that Finland's entrance into NATO will also help the neighboring Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all NATO members that border either Russia or Belarus. "Those nations have long worried that Russia could seize Finnish islands to use as bases from which to stage attacks on their own territories," Ott adds. "With Finland becoming a NATO member, they will be better protected." In June 2022, prior to Finland's entrance, "some Western military analysts have said that NATO would almost certainly need basing rights in Finland and Sweden to defend the Baltic states," Jonathan Masters reports for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). However, this is not the only area where Finland's admission is expected to have an impact, as it could also have an effect on policies in the Arctic — a region where Masters notes that "Russia has invested heavily in commercial and military infrastructure." If Sweden were to join Finland, something that seems more likely than not to happen, then every nation containing Arctic territories would be a NATO member. If this is the case, then it likely means NATO "will be a more qualified venue for holding high-level Arctic-related talks on a wide range of defense and security topics," Nima Khorrami writes for international think tank The Arctic Institute. Khorrami adds that this could include issues such as maritime security, military deterrence, and perhaps most importantly, climate change. What is next? Russia, as it has previously done, warned against NATO expansion after Finland was admitted. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said that his country "strengthen our military capabilities in the west and northwest if NATO members deploy forces and equipment on Finnish territory," per CNN. If NATO troops were to amass on the border, it's not unthinkable to consider that Russia could retaliate. Another question arises around Finland and Sweden's militaries, which have long had integrated defense forces. This could cause problems given that Sweden is not yet a NATO member. This differential could "add technical challenges as NATO's defense planners try and bring Finland into all of the alliance's strategic planning," Emma Ashford of the Stinson Center think tank tells NPR. She adds that NATO "[has] to basically accept that Sweden is outside and Finland is inside for right now. Finnish leaders obviously felt that it was better to be inside the alliance and reduce that sort of risk of this limbo period even if Sweden weren't there. But it's hardly an ideal circumstance."