Some have described what is about to happen between Finland, Sweden and NATO over the next few months as “wedding vows”.
Now that Stockholm has formally acknowledged that it will follow Helsinki in its bid to join the Western military alliance, the long and anxious journey down the aisle begins with the membership talks.
And so begins what is likely to be several months of tension for two nations committed to NATO but not quite part of it – and not yet protected by its security guarantees.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson warned that her country would be in a “vulnerable position” during the bid period and urged her fellow citizens to prepare for Russia’s response.
“Russia said it would take countermeasures if we join NATO,” she said. “We cannot exclude that Sweden is exposed, for example, to misinformation and attempts to intimidate and divide.”
The decision of Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership is historic for many reasons. For Sweden, this means ending two centuries of military non-alignment.
And while there is enthusiasm for NATO expansion in most quarters of the alliance, the marriage itself will not be legal until the existing 30 members ratify the new memberships. .
For now, the prospect of the two northern nations being stuck at the altar is downplayed. Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Monday she believed ways could be found to address the concerns raised by Turkey, which has already expressed its opposition.
WATCH: Approval of NATO bids by Sweden and Finland could be quick, says Foreign Minister Joly
Membership talks – where NATO officials go over all the different obligations of membership – are expected to conclude before alliance leaders meet in Madrid at the end of June. During these talks, each nation will be asked a series of questions, the main one being – “Do you agree to abide by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty?”
After Finland and Sweden agree to the one-for-all, all-for-one provision of Article 5 – which obliges members to defend each other if attacked – a number of administrative elements will follow, such as the cost-sharing arrangements and discussions on each country’s roles in defense planning. There are also legal and security obligations to discuss.
“Some people called it the wedding vows,” a NATO official said in a background chat recently.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said over the weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin responded “calmly” when told Finland would apply to join NATO.
‘We are not afraid’
Defense and foreign policy experts say no one should interpret the warm and somewhat frosty welcome too much.
“Of course there are concerns,” said Terhi Suominen, general secretary of the Atlantic Council of Finland. “We are not afraid and we know that Russia is not happy. If Finland will join NATO, we know that Russia has not been happy with NATO enlargements, but that is something something that I think we in Finland, internally, discussed in depth.”
Putin spoke Monday at the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a meeting of the military alliance between six states that were once part of the Soviet Union: Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
He said Russia had no problem with Sweden and Finland joining NATO – but he warned that the movement of troops or weapons into these new NATO states would cause a reaction Russia.
It is a clear marker.
“We just have to manage these next few months,” Suominen said.
The UK has recently strengthened security guarantees outside the NATO framework which promise help in case Sweden or Finland are attacked.
Canada will support the UK but will not offer similar commitments, Joly said.
Suominen said giving his country and Sweden seats at the table would make NATO “more European,” which could be important in long-term relations with Russia.
“I think we’ll bring some [of a] different approach on how to deal with Russia. Because we have to remember, despite what we see now in Ukraine, we have to try to see the world after this disaster,” she said.
“And I think we still have to find ways to deal with Russia and communicate with Russia, no matter how much we condemn what they’re doing right now.”
Steve Saideman is the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa. He said that, given their proximity to Russia, NATO is unlikely to plan to have military bases in Sweden and Finland anytime soon.
There are other, perhaps more important, benefits of NATO membership, he said in a recent interview.
“We’ll probably get a better intelligence picture of Russia’s northern territory on their side of the fence,” he said.
It will go both ways, the NATO official said.
“These countries are extremely close partners of NATO. We work with them all day, every day,” the official said.
“Since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, we have activated what is called the enhanced interaction modalities, which gives us much more regular consultation and allows us to share more classified information with them.