US Senate approves NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, opposing Russia

US Senate approves NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, opposing Russia
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 28, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo

In the past, Nordic countries have generally sidestepped major military alliances. With Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, though, we’re starting to see some exceptions to this. One big alliance that’s changing is NATO, the Western defense bloc made up of 30 democratic ally countries. About three months ago, Sweden and Finland both applied for NATO membership. For them to become members, all of the current NATO nations must approve, and, so far, more than half already have.

Yesterday, the US Senate almost unanimously approved Sweden’s and Finland’s membership to NATO. The vote won 95 to 1. Usually, the Senate’s NATO approval process takes longer, but it’s been sped up because of the war in Ukraine. Finland will probably exceed NATO’s 2% GDP defense spending target in 2022, and Sweden has committed to meet the goal, so the US sees them as “security providers" that can strengthen NATO’s position, especially in the Baltics.

Still, the countries may face some trouble getting approval from Turkey. Although Turkey supports the two countries’ entry, it has threatened to “freeze" the NATO process because of how the countries have handled Turkish Kurdish exile groups. As of last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Finland and Sweden had yet to meet Ankara’s demands for extraditing group members on terrorism-related charges in Turkey in exchange for approving their entry into the bloc. The three countries are set to meet in August to check in on the progress of the agreement.

Key comments:

“We can do more in Europe … devote more resources, more firepower … or do what we need to do to deter Asia and China. We cannot do both," US Senator Josh Hawley said after voting no on the approval.

“This historic vote sends an important signal of the sustained, bipartisan US commitment to NATO, and to ensuring our Alliance is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow," US President Biden said in a statement.

“Sweden maintains an ongoing dialogue with Turkey and Finland on the trilateral agreement which Sweden is following and will carry out in full in accordance with Swedish and international law," a spokesman at Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said in an emailed comment.