NATO launches membership process for Sweden and Finland

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has called for a “quick, quick and smooth ratification process” for Sweden and Finland – Copyright AFP Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS

Marc BURLEIGH and Alex PIGMAN

NATO launched key membership procedures for Sweden and Finland on Tuesday, aiming to expand the military alliance to 32 countries in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“This is a historic day, for Finland, for Sweden, for NATO and for Euro-Atlantic security,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said after signing the protocols launching the process of ratification required in all alliance countries.

The foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland, alongside Stoltenberg, also called the occasion “historic”.

“The membership of Finland and Sweden will not only contribute to our own security, but also to the collective security of the alliance,” said Finn Pekka Haavisto.

The two Nordic countries have long maintained a non-aligned status, even though they have held exercises with NATO and have interoperable weapon systems.

They announced their intention to join NATO in May, sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February and the ongoing war there.

In a sudden change of course, Sweden and Finland – the latter having fought off a Soviet invasion in 1939-40 and sharing a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with Russia – asked to come under the mutual defense umbrella. of NATO.

Their offers hit a snag when NATO member Turkey threatened to block their entry.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Sweden and Finland of being havens for Kurdish militants he has sought to crush and of promoting “terrorism”.

He also demanded that they lift the arms embargoes imposed for the 2019 Turkish military incursion into Syria.

But Erdogan dropped his objections last week, in time for a NATO summit in Spain, after talks yielded concessions – and a US promise of new fighter jets for Turkey.

The summit ended up inviting Sweden and Finland to formally apply, leading to lightning-fast negotiations on Monday and then signing on Tuesday.

– Safety commitments –

Erdogan says he could always slam the door if Sweden and Finland don’t keep their promises, which include possible extradition deals.

The months-long period in which all NATO countries must ratify the Nordic countries’ membership is a risky moment, not only because of the Turkish threat, but also because NATO’s mutual defense clause does not is not yet applicable.

Stoltenberg said, “I’m counting on allies to put in place a quick and smooth ratification process.”

He underlined that “many allies have already made clear commitments to the security of Finland and Sweden” during the interim period, and underlined an enhanced NATO presence in their region.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said security guarantees had been given by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland and the NATO members in the Nordic and Baltic regions.

Several NATO members reported accelerated ratification for Sweden and Finland.

“Moments after Finland and Sweden’s accession protocols were signed in Brussels, I summoned my government and proposed to the Estonian parliament to meet tomorrow for expedited ratification,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted. .

The German parliament was on the verge of ratifying as early as the end of this week. Sources within the ruling coalition said a first reading of the text was likely on Wednesday, with the final two readings on Friday.

“This is the fastest accession process in NATO’s history so far,” Stoltenberg said.

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