(CNN) — Finland’s president and prime minister announced their support for joining NATO on Thursday, bringing the Nordic nation, which shares a 1,287-kilometre border with Russia, one step closer to membership in the US-led military alliance.
The declaration of support for NATO by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin was expected, after the Finnish government recently submitted a report on national security to the country’s parliament that outlined the path to joining the alliance as one of the Finnish options.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a NATO member, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland should apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken.” rapidly in the coming days,” says the joint statement from Niinisto and Marin.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, public support for Finland joining NATO has risen from around 30% to almost 80% in some polls.
Once parliament has approved the idea in principle and other domestic legislative hurdles have been cleared, NATO is expected to invite Finland to negotiate membership.
Finland’s western neighbor Sweden is also expected to soon announce its intention to join the alliance through a similar process.
The consequences of Finland joining NATO
Russia has warned both countries against joining NATO, saying there would be consequences.
It is widely assumed by European diplomats and security officials that Finland could join the alliance quickly once negotiations begin, as it has been buying compatible military equipment from its Western allies, including the US, for decades and already meets many of its obligations. the criteria for membership.
Finland’s entry into NATO would have both practical and symbolic consequences for Russia and the Western alliance.
Since the end of World War II, Finland has been militarily non-aligned and nominally neutral to avoid provoking Russia. He has at times indulged the Kremlin’s security concerns and tried to maintain good trade relations.
The war in Ukraine, however, has changed the calculus enough that joining NATO now seems like the best way forward, regardless of Russia’s reaction.
European defense officials who have spoken to CNN in recent months assume NATO countries will offer some assurances about Finland’s security during the accession process, in case Russia retaliates before it has formally joined.
On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new security pacts with Finland and Sweden, pledging to come to the aid of either country if one of them is attacked.
Historically, Finland has had high defense spending and still has a policy of compulsory military service, in which all adult men can be called up for military service. It is widely recognized among NATO officials that Finland’s addition to the alliance would be a significant boost in countering Russian aggression due to the historic seriousness with which the country has treated its own security.
It also shares more than 1,200 kilometers of border with Russia, which is significant since the Kremlin declared before invading Ukraine that it wanted NATO to push its borders back to where they were in the 1990s.
Instead, President Vladimir Putin’s tactic may result in a stronger NATO ever closer.
Finland’s accession to NATO will strengthen security in the region
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Finland’s accession to NATO will “strengthen” the security of the Baltic Sea region and Northern Europe.
Haavisto was addressing the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, just minutes after a joint statement by the Finnish president and prime minister announcing their support for applying for NATO was published.
“If Finland decides to apply, Finland’s accession would strengthen the security and stability of the Baltic Sea region and Northern Europe,” Haavisto told European Union lawmakers.
Emphasizing that the country is now “fast approaching the point of national decision-making,” Haavisto laid out other benefits of Finnish membership.
“From a NATO perspective, Finland has strong democratic credentials that meet the criteria for NATO membership, and has a strong and credible national defense that is interoperable with NATO,” he said.
“We are convinced that Finland will bring added value to NATO. Our wartime defense force is 280,000 soldiers, and the trained reserve is 900,000 men and women,” Haavisto continued.
He also exposed the threats created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling Russia’s “unpredictable behavior” an “imminent problem.”
He called the invasion of Ukraine “an attack on the entire European security order,” stressing the need for the European Union to do “everything possible to provide Ukraine with political, military, economic and humanitarian support.”