It’s a measure of Finland’s unwillingness to do anything to provoke its giant neighbor to the east that the Finns never seriously contemplated joining NATO, even during the Yeltsin years, when Russia could have put no significant obstacles in its way. That sentiment — buttressed by an ingrained belief that, when the chips were down, it could only count on itself — is giving way. Alarmed by the danger posed by a revanchist Russia, Finland is now ready to join the Atlantic Alliance. Like the Balts and Poles to their south, the Finns understand Russia all too well, and they know that Putin would be tempted to keep going were he to prevail in Ukraine. Proposals made by the Kremlin last winter, which would have led to an effective unwinding of NATO’s expansion after the Cold War, were not bluster and would not have ended the matter even if Moscow had got its way.

And it’s a measure of how undeniably threatening Russia has now become that Sweden, which spent far too long denying or ignoring that threat for its own good, looks set, probably, to follow Finland’s example.

The reappointment comes as the Federal Reserve plans to raise interest rates in response to record inflation.
If either or both countries decide to sign up to NATO, they should be welcomed unequivocally. For reasons of geography alone (and they have more to contribute than that), they will bolster the defense of NATO’s exposed Baltic flank. As things currently stand, the Baltic states are linked to Poland, and thus the rest of NATO, by a narrow corridor (near the Polish city of Suwalki) that separates Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave from Moscow’s Belarusian client-state. Should Russia seal that “Suwalki gap,” the Balts would, for most practical purposes, be on their own.

Bringing Finland, just a few miles across the Baltic Sea from Estonia, into the alliance would go a long way to reducing the danger that Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia could be cut off from their allies. It thus ought to reduce the danger that today’s less risk-averse Russia would be tempted to try its luck by “detaching” the Baltic trio and then daring the rest of the West to respond.

The strength of that temptation should not be underestimated. If Russia can demonstrate that, when put to the test, NATO’s will to stand by its collective defense obligations does not apply to some of its most vulnerable members, other NATO states will start to ask whether they, as well, are too insignificant to matter. Once those questions start to be asked, it won’t be long before NATO, an alliance that preserved the peace throughout the Cold War and has served the U.S. and the broader West well, will almost certainly begin to unravel. Should that occur, we will all be living in an infinitely more dangerous world.

Reducing such temptations is the essence of deterrence. While Finland has not spent as much as it should on defense (that’s changing), it has well-equipped armed forces, and the combination of its history and its geography has meant that it has maintained conscription. Finland’s regular armed forces are small, but mobilizing reserves would take their numbers to over 250,000, with potentially hundreds of thousands more behind them.

Should Sweden follow Finland’s lead, the risk of the Baltic states’ being left isolated would drop still further, not least because of the way that Swedish territorial waters, and the strategically placed island of Gotland, which lies roughly between Sweden and Latvia, could then be open to NATO. Sweden has, belatedly, been increasing defense spending in the last few years and has only recently reintroduced conscription, but both its air force and naval resources would be an immediate and useful boost to NATO’s defensive capabilities.

For Sweden and Finland to join the alliance will take time. To start with, membership must be approved by their parliaments, and those of all NATO’s members — 32 parliaments in total. That will be an invitation to meddling — and perhaps worse — by Moscow. Western diplomats will need to be busy. Turkey has already signaled its opposition to admitting the Nordic duo because of the support they have allegedly shown to Kurdish and Turkish opposition groups. In the meantime, interim security arrangements for Sweden and Finland of the type now being discussed or put into place by the U.S., the U.K., France, and others should be made as unambiguous as possible. The clearer they are, the better the deterrent they will be.

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