A Unified NATO Is Set To Expand, Countering Russian Aggression - What You Need To Know

By 

Wesley Smith

|
May 19

5 min read

Foreign Policy

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The flimsy, non-believable excuse that Vladimir Putin gave for invading Ukraine was partly the threat posed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and his goals of both dividing NATO and making sure that no more countries sought to join the defensive alliance. Putin’s plan not only failed, but his actions had the opposite effect on his goals.

NATO is not a threat to Russia, it never has been, and it exists only to counter the threat posed first by the Soviet Union, and now by Putin’s Russia. NATO is only a threat to Russia if Russia attacks a member of the NATO alliance. Putin knows this, but the contrived threat from NATO was his excuse for illegally invading a sovereign neighbor, unprovoked. NATO has not experienced this much solidarity since the end of the Cold War. Ukraine, while not yet seeking to join the organization, has been armed, supplied, and supported as if it were a part of NATO—minus only the security guarantees afforded full members. Meanwhile, Finland and Sweden plan to join NATO soon.

If Russians had access to the internet and international media, they would be roundly disenchanted and disgusted by President Putin. A megalomaniac like Putin has a fragile ego—thus his clamping down on media coverage of his military failures in Ukraine. He knows Russians would despise him if they knew the truth, and that would be more than a man of his moral weakness and malevolent character could handle.

Finland is a strong candidate for NATO membership. While it has an 830-mile border with Russia, it also has such a robust military that it will not need NATO forces to assist them in protecting the border, short of an all-out attack by Russia. Finland has a larger number of artillery pieces than any other nation in all of Europe. It recently agreed to purchase 64 F-35 fighter jets from the U.S. It has a relatively large active-duty standing army and over 900,000 reserve soldiers. NATO requires that member states spend 2% of their Gross Domestic Product on military defense. Unlike some members of NATO, Finland already spends more than this amount on defense.

It is easy to understand why Finland feels threatened by Russia. Polls indicate that one year ago, only 20% of Fins wanted to join NATO. Today almost 80% of the people favor joining the alliance. The change in support for NATO membership is directly related to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In the last few days, Putin has expressed nonspecific threats against Finland if they seek NATO membership. This has only strengthened Finland’s resolve to join. Elderly Fins remember the invasion and atrocities of Stalin’s Russian troops when they attacked in 1939, not unlike what is happening in Ukraine today.

Sweden has a 200-year history of neutrality and military nonalignment. One may thank Vladimir Putin for this historic shift in this Nordic nation. Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson called it “a historic change in our country’s security policy,” as she spoke to lawmakers in the Swedish capital.  Her announcement came after serious discussions in the Riksdagen, or parliament, last Monday indicated huge support for joining NATO. Of eight Swedish political parties, only two small, Left-leaning parties opposed it.

Once a strong military power, Sweden has avoided military alliances since the end of the Napoleonic Wars.  It remained strictly neutral throughout the Cold War. However, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Sweden began officially discussing NATO membership and reached out to the U.S., France, Germany, and the United Kingdom for support.  Sweden will expedite their application for NATO membership.

There will be broad support for the inclusion of Sweden and Finland in the NATO alliance, with the possible exception of Turkey. All 30 members of NATO must approve a nation’s request to join the group. For several years, Turkey has been a troublesome and unreliable NATO ally.  President Erdogan has sought closer ties to Russia. Defying other NATO members, Erdogan agreed to purchase the Russian S-400 air defense system—a system that is not interoperable with NATO weapons systems and one that is designed to shoot down western and U.S. aircraft.  Notably, Turkey has not agreed to any sanctions against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. Turkey also has the second-largest military in NATO, after that of the United States.

More than likely, Turkey will come around and eventually approve NATO’s expansion. For now, Erdogan resents that Finland agreed to stop weapons sales to Turkey because of Turkish actions in Syria. The Kurdish YPG group was instrumental in defeating ISIS in Syria, yet Erdogan considers the group a terrorist organization because of its separatist views. Erdogan does not like the fact that both Sweden and Finland have accepted Kurdish refugees from Turkey.  Turkey considers Kurds serving in the YPG to be part of a terror network connected to the PKK, which is a separatist group inside of Turkey. Erdogan’s threat to veto Finland’s and Sweden’s application to NATO is likely an attempt to gain concessions from the two nations, perhaps by Finland lifting the weapons sanctions, or by both countries agreeing to list the PKK as a terrorist organization.

The good news is that most of the world continues to unite in their condemnation of Putin and their support of Ukraine.  It is encouraging that decent people roundly condemn the atrocities committed by Russian troops in Ukraine.  Putin seriously miscalculated the reaction of the world to his unwarranted attack on a neighbor.  Hopefully, there will be a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine.  Meanwhile, the adage remains true:  The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (or women) to do nothing. Putin has inadvertently rallied most of the world to do something about his unlawful and horrific actions in Ukraine.