The author is a former prime minister of Finland
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has had many unintended consequences. One of them is that Finland and Sweden will be joining Nato this year.
The official path towards membership will begin with an announcement by Sauli Niinisto, the president of Finland, expected on Thursday. Sweden will follow within days. A joint expression of intent to join Nato is expected early next week.
The ninth enlargement of Nato since its foundation in 1949 will go down as Vladimir Putin’s enlargement. Without Russia’s attack on Ukraine it would not have happened.
Putin’s tactical and strategic blunder was the tipping point. The conclusion was clear. If Putin can slaughter his Slav brothers and sisters in Ukraine, there is nothing that stops him from doing the same elsewhere.
Opinion polls on Nato membership changed almost overnight. There is now an overwhelming majority in favour of joining the alliance in both Finland and Sweden.
For Finland the decision has been easier, because it is based on realpolitik. During the cold war we were neutral through necessity, not choice. Finland has not been neutral since the early 1990s. Sweden’s tradition of neutrality has been longer and more ideological.
But when realities change, both countries adapt. Security is, after all, about reality, not ideology. That is, for instance, why we have always supported defence co-operation in the EU.
Politically, the change seems significant, but in reality it is not dramatic. Both Finland and Sweden have been close partners of Nato for the past three decades, participating in crisis management operations around the world, and in joint training exercises in the Baltic Sea region.
Finnish and Swedish Nato membership is a no-brainer on all counts. It is a win-win proposition for the Baltic Sea region, the alliance and European security. Applicants do not get more Nato compatible than this.
In the Finnish case, compatibility was a conscious decision. Since the end of the cold war, we have maintained an option to join Nato and made sure that our military was developed accordingly.
That is why Finland spends 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence. It has 62 F-18 fighter jets and recently finalised the purchase of 64 F-35s. It has a standing reserve of 900,000 men and women, with a capacity to raise wartime mobility to 280,000.
In addition, it has one of the largest artilleries, best intelligence and most sophisticated cyber capabilities in Europe. This makes Finland an ideal security asset for the alliance. The same goes for Sweden, not least in the air and sea.
There will be a grey zone from the moment Finland and Sweden indicate their intention to join, until the ratification process is concluded in all 30 Nato national capitals. In the meantime, both countries have negotiated implicit and explicit security assurances.
During this interim period, Finland and Sweden are also prepared for hybrid attacks in the cyber and information space. We have seen these over the years through violations of airspace, attacks on technology networks and distribution of disinformation.
The membership profile of both countries will be Nordic and pragmatic. Norway, Denmark and Iceland were founding members of the alliance. Their approach has been based on a combination of reassurance and deterrence. Expect Finland and Sweden to follow suit.
The timing for Finnish and Swedish Nato membership has been carefully crafted. Anyone suggesting that membership should be delayed is naive, follows Putin’s playbook or has a limited understanding of the security situation in north-eastern Europe.
The unfortunate reality is that Europe will be divided for the foreseeable future. On one side of the new iron curtain is an aggressive, revisionist and authoritarian Russia. The only thing Putin understands is power. Show any weakness and he will attack, as we have seen in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 and 2022.
On the other side stand some 40 European states that believe in peace, co-operation and democracy. Each one of them has the sovereign right to choose whether they want to join Nato or the EU, or to form alternative forms of partnership with both.
Security is not a zero-sum game. I hope that the Russian regime will one day understand this, too. This will allow us to re-establish good relations with Russia. In the meantime, we will help to maximise security in Europe by joining Nato. It is not against anyone, but for us. All of us.