EXPLAINER- Finland, Sweden on verge of applying to join NATO
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has pushed Finland and Sweden to the verge of applying for NATO membership.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Thursday that Finland - which shares a 1,300-km (810-mile) border with Russia - must apply to join NATO "without delay".
"We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days," they said.
Sweden's ruling Social Democrats are expected to decide on Sunday whether to overturn decades of opposition to NATO membership, a move that would almost certainly lead to Stockholm also asking to join the 30-nation alliance.
Moscow has warned it could deploy nuclear weaponsand hypersonic missiles in the European exclave of Kaliningradif the two countries pursue their applications, auguring a tense wait during the months needed for ratification by all NATO members.
NATO and the White House have said they were confident anysecurity concerns could be tackled in the interim.
Here are some issues that prompted a radical policy rethinkand possible next steps towards entering the U.S.-led alliance.
WHY ARE SWEDEN AND FINLAND NOT NATO MEMBERS?
- Both have been non-aligned since World War Two despitehaving small military forces.
- Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917 and foughttwo wars against it during the war, in which it lost some territory to Moscow. Finland signed an Agreement ofFriendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance with Russia in1948, cementing a degree of economic and political dependencyand isolating it militarily from western Europe.
- The end of the Cold War, bringing a break-up of the SovietUnion, allowed Finland to step out of Russia's shadow as thethreat from Moscow diminished.
- It has relied on its own military deterrence and friendlyrelations with Moscow to keep the peace. But with Russia'sinvasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a "special operation",Russian President Vladimir Putin looks anything but friendly.
- Sweden has not fought a war for 200 years and post-warforeign policy has focused on supporting democracyinternationally, multilateral dialogue and nuclear disarmament.
- It ran down its military after the Cold War, hoping in theevent of any conflict it could delay a Russian advance untilhelp arrived. Putin's offensive against Ukraine has made aguarantee of aid much more appealing.
- However, many on the left in Sweden remain suspicious ofthe U.S. security agenda and NATO, which ultimately relies onthe deterrence provided by the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
- Both Finland and Sweden switched from formal neutrality tomilitary non-alignment in 1995 when they joined the EuropeanUnion.
- Both have drawn ever closer to NATO in recent years,exchanging intelligence and participating in alliance exercises,in response to an increasingly belligerent Russia.
- Joining the alliance would bring Sweden and Finland underthe umbrella of Article 5, which guarantees that an attack onone NATO ally is an attack on all.
HOW BROAD IS SUPPORT FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP?
- Polls show a substantial majority of Swedes back joiningNATO with support running just above 60% in the latest poll andthere is a majority in parliament in support of an application.
- Sweden's Social Democrats - the biggest party, which has held power for most of the last century - has long championed military non-alignment but has been reviewing its objections with a decision on whether to join now due on Sunday. The party is widely expected to back membership.
- The Swedish Left Party - formerly the communist party -remains against membership, as does the Green Party, but werethe Social Democrats to change tack, that would create anoverwhelming majority in parliament in favour.
- Opinion polls show support for membership in Finland hasrun even stronger than in Sweden, with many Finns mindful of thelong land border shared with Russia, while support inparliament for an application is also broad.
- The Finnish parliament's defence committee said this weekthat joining NATO was the best option to guarantee national security.
WHEN COULD THEY JOIN?
- Finland has a NATO "option", a kind of a plan of actionthat mandates applying if the security situation deteriorates,while Sweden's parliament will present a new security policyreview on Friday, though the latter is not expected to containan explicit recommendation concerning NATO.
- Sweden's Social Democrats have called a parliamentarydebate on NATO for Monday. Should the party as expected backjoining, the government could call a Riksdag vote about sendingthrough an application, but it is not formally required to.
- Social Democrat Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who headsFinland's five-party centre-left coalition, and President SauliNiinisto have been touring NATO member countries inrecent weeks securing support for a potential application.
- Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, also a SocialDemocrat, has likewise held scores of meetings with NATOgovernments.
- While there is no set timeframe for the applications,here are the steps in NATO's membership process that would applyfor Helsinki and Stockholm:
(Reporting by Simon Johnson and Niklas Pollard in Stockholm and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Clarence Fernandez)