Finland and Sweden’s recent decision to apply for North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership is a major win for the military alliance, but a far more dubious one for these two countries. NATO badly needs a success at this moment, since neither the economic war on Russia nor the conflict in Ukraine seems to be going the West’s way. Whether officially adding two more Nordic countries would have a real military advantage for NATO remains to be seen, but at least it would be a clear public relations win.
However, this could become a PR debacle for the West if Turkey is serious about refusing to allow Finland and Sweden into the organization. As so often in recent years, Turkey does not align itself directly with the West, but chooses to pursue a path halfway between the United States and Russia. Nevertheless, considering the very public and congratulatory announcements of the Finnish and Swedish candidacies by NATO headquarters and members, it seems possible that Turkey will eventually yield, provided at least some of its significant demands are met. In any case, this episode has yet again exposed the amateurism and the lack of preparedness of Western political leaders.
It is doubtful whether the military security of Finland and Sweden would be increased under NATO. For a start, the famous Article 5 “protection” of the North Atlantic Treaty is actually not a guarantee of military assistance from the member states to the country in need. It only states that NATO shall take “action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security.” It would be foolish to think that NATO, and in particular the untrustworthy USA, would engage militarily if conflict were to erupt between, say, Finland and … Russia.
If potential future NATO members Finland and Sweden were to limit the number of NATO troops and infrastructure on their territory, like the Baltic states, the security situation in Europe would probably not worsen, though NATO would not gain much, strategically, from their membership. This is essentially what President Putin concluded in his first remarks on this topic. However, not surprisingly, the Russian defense minister has already announced an immediate reinforcement its Western Military District has, not surprisingly.
But, on the other hand, if Finland and Sweden, as members of NATO, were to decide—or be forced to accept—NATO missile launchers on their territory, like Romania and Poland have, a stronger Russian reaction should be expected. Were Finland to agree to host a potentially offensive NATO military base in Finnish Lapland, less than two hundred kilometers from the Russian naval and air bases in Murmansk, the whole northern European security balance would be disrupted. Russia would then understandably feel forced to try to resolve such a looming security threat.
Have the Finnish and Swedish governments thought through the implications of a NATO membership and how it could have the opposite effect of the increased security that they ostensibly seek? NATO is certainly not a defensive alliance, but clearly a tool of an aggressive US foreign policy, as has been evident on many occasions, from the attack on Serbia to the destruction of Libya.
The Benefits of Neutrality
The leaders of Finland and Sweden seem to have forgotten, or disregarded, the benefit of neutrality, particularly for small nations. In international relations, it is the logical position of a state that is weak relative to neighboring states. Neutrality in itself confers protection. There are, of course, cases where neutrality does not protect, as history has shown. But history has also shown that neutrality has often had advantages for those who practiced it.
Sweden in the past clearly benefited from its neutral status, allowing it to stay out of both world wars and keep cordial relationships across the Cold War blocs. For Finland, neutrality was even more important, since it secured Finnish independence after World War II and enabled peaceful relations with the Soviet Union afterward. Additionally, as neutral countries, Finland and Sweden punched far above their weight in international affairs; e.g., as mediators or hosts. But now, as political analyst Anatoly Lieven wrote:
By joining NATO, Finland is throwing away whatever remote possibility exists of playing a mediating role between Russia and the West, not just to help bring about an end to the war in Ukraine, but at some point in the future to promote wider reconciliation.
From a libertarian perspective, neutrality would also be the natural position of a (mostly) free society, with a state that is small in size and reach. Such a state, allowing significant economic and political freedom, would not have the right, the resources, or the interest to project power abroad and lead an aggressive foreign policy. Its main role would be the defense of private property within the territory it controls, including from foreign aggressors, while not taking sides in foreign con…