By Girish Linganna
If any country says it intends to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO for short, it straightaway implies that it wants to become stronger with military power. The mere mention of NATO can cause Russian President Vladimir Putin to lose his cool and train his military guns and missiles on countries that want to join NATO. He accomplished this feat with Ukraine.
After dashed Ukraine’s hopes of joining NATO to ensure its safety, Russia is now threatening to use military force to shut down its neighbors, Finland and Sweden, for expressing interest in joining NATO, a military alliance unofficially led by superpower America.
The very purpose of NATO’s formation was to counter the threat from Russia’s earlier avatar – the Soviet Union – post World War II. The West formed NATO to counter the rising threat in the East posed by the Soviet Union. At present, there are 30 countries in NATO, and 27 of them are within Europe. America, France, and the United Kingdom are all nuclear powers.
Both Finland and Sweden, highly advanced countries of the European Union, are perceived as threats by Vladimir. Both are vibrant and democratic. As per the UN report, Finland is considered the world’s most technologically advanced country, while Sweden is one of the most advanced digital economies in the EU. Recently, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin walked together and held a meeting in Stockholm to discuss the possible threat from Russia in the wake of the Ukraine war.
The prime ministers, while jointly addressing the media, said the war has changed Europe’s “whole security landscape” and “dramatically shaped mindsets” in the Nordic countries, comprising five states and three autonomous territories. Both Sweden and Finland are part of the Nordic region. Finland shares a 1,300 km border with Russia, while Sweden is no less than 1,227 km from Russia.
Finland declared independence from Russia in 1917 after the Bolshevik revolution. Sweden chose to remain neutral during the Cold War and maintained a distance from both the Soviet Union and the US. It has not been easy for Finland to remain neutral because it shares a long border with Russia. In 1995, both countries joined the EU with the fall of the Soviet Union. Still, the threat from Russia all these years made Finland not look at NATO. Sweden is now following in the footsteps of Finland. Both countries are aware that they would invite the wrath of Vladimir if they joined NATO. Still, they feel that it would be easy to face Russia if they were part of the alliance.
On May 11, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson entered into mutual security agreements with Finland and Sweden. The agreements are a political declaration by the UK to show strength towards Russia. The UK’s armed forces would train, operate, and exercise together with Finland and Sweden. They have pledged that they would come together for one another’s help when required.
Even before Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership, NATO’s Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, welcomed the alliance. The North Atlantic Treaty, under Article 5, mandates that all members consider an attack on one an attack against all. This is mainly to thwart war designs by Russia against weaker countries. Even a smaller democratic country can get support from the US or any other powerful country by being in NATO.
But for the Ukraine war, these two countries would not have moved from neutrality to NATO. GlobalData, a data analytics and consulting firm headquartered in London, says that Finland is expected to increase its defence spending to $3.5 billion by 2025. But now it may further increase due to the threat from Russia. Sweden’s economy is expected to reach $12.5 billion by 2027 in the next 5 years, and the increase is 7.9%. The increase will be used to strengthen the military by purchasing aircraft, submarines, and missiles, which will significantly upgrade Sweden’s capabilities, the company says.
Finland, with a 55 million population, has a military force that has about 12,000 active troops. During a war, approximately 2,80,000 people served as reservists. This is no comparison to Russia’s two million army personnel. Besides the 1500 artillery, Finland is purchasing 64 Lockheed F-35s to replace old fighter jets. In the case of Sweden, with just over one million people, its armed forces consist of a mix of volunteers and conscripts, meaning those on mandatory service. These two countries so far were not focussing on strengthening their military because of their neutral policy.
NATO, NOT A MAGIC
By joining NATO, both countries would not see an immediate increase in military power. It is more about being part of the alliance and getting military training from other member countries.
How easy is it for these two countries to get NATO membership? According to Reuters, NATO diplomats said that processing the applications would take at least a year because the legislatures of all 30 members must unanimously approve. The next summit is in June this year.
The hiccup is Turkey, a member of NATO. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, has declared that his country has no positive opinion of Finland and Sweden joining NATO because both countries harbour “terrorist organizations.” But if Erdogan is bargaining for something from NATO, then the discussions would go on a different trajectory. A point not to be forgotten is that Turkey enjoys good relations with Ukraine and Russia.
While peace-favoring countries settle for self-progress in terms of technology and finance, Russia and China are after either retrieving the lost land or expanding the boundary. Vladimir has often said that he is not comfortable with NATO spreading its wings to come closer to Russia. He sought assurance from NATO that it would stop expanding eastward. Indirectly, Vladimir has become the reason for the expansion of NATO after the Ukraine war. There is no guarantee that Vladimir would spare any country which would possibly be a threat to Russia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said NATO expansion is not going to make the world safer. His country would react depending on how far and close the country’s border would face threat from military infrastructure.
One thing is sure – either bigger or smaller countries in the West, in particular Europe – would be focusing more on its defence forces. This also means that they would be spending more public money on the defence budget to recruit people and purchase arms. The market share of the leading exporters of major weapons like America, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and Israel among others would further go north.
While those who can purchase futuristic weapons may feel safer, smaller countries in the West would have to collectively fight. But the question is – whether political dynamics and compulsions would allow the countries in the West to remain united to take on Russia and China? A difficult question to answer because changes are permanent in geopolitics.
(Author is Aerospace and Defence Expert & Director
ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd ( An Indo- German company). Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).