Brussels: Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the military alliance stands ready to seize a historic moment and move quickly on allowing Finland and Sweden to join its ranks, after the two countries submitted their membership requests.
The official applications, handed over by Finland and Sweden’s ambassadors to Nato, set a security clock ticking. Russia, whose war on Ukraine spurred them to join the military organization, has warned that it wouldn’t welcome such a move, and could respond.
“I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join Nato. You are our closest partners,” Stoltenberg said. “All allies agree on the importance of Nato enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together, and we all agree that this is an historic moment which we must seize.’’
“This is a good day at a critical moment for our security,’’ a beaming Stoltenberg said, as he stood alongside the two envoys, with Nato, Finnish and Swedish flags at their backs.
Turkey has surprised its allies in recent days by saying it had reservations about the new prospective members, but Stoltenberg said he thought the issues could be overcome.
Ankara has said it wants the Nordic countries to halt support for Kurdish militant groups present on their territory and lift bans on some sales of arms to Turkey.
US President Joe Biden will host the leaders of Sweden and Finland at the White House on Thursday to discuss the applications, the White House said.
After weeks in which Russia threatened retaliation against the Nato plans, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to abruptly climb down, saying in a speech on Monday that Russia had “no problems” with either Finland or Sweden, and that their Nato membership would not be an issue unless the alliance sent more troops or weapons there.
The countries will only benefit from Nato’s Article 5 security guarantee — the part of the alliance’s founding treaty that pledges that any attack on one member would be considered an attack of them all — once the membership ratification process is concluded, probably in a few months.
For now though, the application must now be weighed by the 30 member countries. That process is expected to take about two weeks, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden joining.
If his objections are overcome, and accession talks go as well as expected, the two could become members within a few months. The process usually takes eight to 12 months, but Nato wants to move quickly given the threat from Russia hanging over the Nordic countries’ heads.
Canada, for example, says that it expects to ratify their accession protocol in just a few days.
Stoltenberg said that Nato allies “are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions.’’
Public opinion in Finland and Sweden has shifted massively in favour of membership since Russia launched attacks on Ukraine on February 24.
Finland and Sweden cooperate closely with Nato. They have functioning democracies, well-funded armed forces and contribute to the alliance’s military operations and air policing. Any obstacles they face will merely be of a technical, or possibly political nature.
Nato’s membership process is not formalised, and the steps can vary. But first their requests to join will be examined in a sitting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) of the 30 member countries, probably at ambassadorial level.
The NAC will decide whether to move toward membership and what steps must be taken to achieve it. This mostly depends on how well aligned the candidate countries are with Nato political, military and legal standards, and whether they contribute to security in the North Atlantic area. This should pose no substantial problem for Finland and Sweden.
Moving forward, during accession talks that could be concluded in just one day once the terms of those negotiations are set, the two will be asked to commit to uphold Article 5 and to meet spending obligations concerning the Nato in-house budget, which runs to around $2.5 billion dollars, split proportionally among what would be 32 member countries.
Finland and Sweden would also be made aware of their role in Nato defence planning, and of any other legal or security obligations they might have, like the vetting of personnel and handling of classified information.