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Finland’s New Strategic Role in NATO, a Trigger for Russia

By: Kaitlyn Goldberg & Ethan An June 12, 2023


Finland is a Nordic country bordering Sweden, Norway, and Russia, with a population of about 6 million. It is a relatively small member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with a GDP of only about 300 Billion. The country was primarily agrarian until WWII when the government declared neutrality and focused on improving internal conditions. After their declaration, they built the country around the welfare state model, with a high PCI and general prosperity.

Yet, on March 1, 2023, Finland's parliament voted and approved legislation to enter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO members overwhelmingly approved this decision due to fear of Russian power expanding in Western Europe. The Finnish parliament convened and eventually came to a vote of 184-7, demonstrating new and broadened support for the military Alliance.

The swift decision to join the Alliance shocked the rest of the world due to Finland's preferred stance of neutrality. Their neutrality occurred after World War II when Finland signed an agreement for peace and mutual assistance called the Paasikivi doctrine with the Soviet Union. The doctrine included Finland's preferred exclusion from great power conflict, and the country remained neutral throughout the Cold War.

Finland is currently a member of the European Union but never accepted admission to NATO due to its long-standing commitment to neutrality. Yet, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, security concerns at Finland's 800-mile border with Russia made officials believe that joining NATO would significantly benefit the nation. Finland's need to shift away from neutrality has surprised many Finnish leaders, given that Finland perceived Russia far more affably pre-invasion. Even Finland's prime minister, Sanna Marin, had a reaction stating, "Russia is not the neighbor we imagined," at a press conference last May.

While the new induction into the organization may seem like a good deal for Finland, NATO countries Turkey and Hungary are still opposed to the idea of the new member. The application was previously a dual application with Sweden, but due to the Swiss and Turkish conflict, Turkish representatives opted to split the application. In addition, Turkey objected to Sweden's entrance because of the Kurdistan Workers Patry (PKK), which is a terrorist group based in both Turkey and Sweden. Turkey feels that Sweden needs to take a stronger stance against the group, unlike themselves. Yet, Turkey was still willing to accept Finland separately.

On the other hand, Hungary feels differently. Hungarian representatives are concerned that the addition of Finland will upset Russia, undermining its political agenda. In addition, in the past, Hungary has used its veto power in NATO and the EU to try to obtain other gains from other members focused on security against Russia. These gains have included items of their political agenda that are separate from the goal of Russian securitization.

Many believe this situation is similar, and the Hungarian holdout is another attempt to gain leverage over the Alliance. Despite this, there is still a looming among some member countries about the Russian reaction to Finland's upcoming new admission.

When the news of Finland and Sweden's application first broke, the Kremlin stressed that the admission of the countries would not be significantly beneficial to the NATO and European alliances. They have made it explicitly clear that new NATO admission would not affect Russia and would not hinder their efforts in Ukraine. Yet NATO's Alliance is built for cohesion and interoperability, two objectives that require sharing emerging technology among all member countries.

Therefore, the Kremlin stated that Russia would take a defensive approach to any NATO member's deployment of military resources to Finland. On Monday, April 3, 2023, the Kremlin responded by claiming they would improve their military capacity in the West. However, they also threatened "countermeasures" that they would ramp up the conflict in Ukraine.

There are three distinct ways that Finland could help benefit the Alliance through resilience, technology, and defense. Primarily, Finland has a strong strategy in terms of security. Their infrastructure consists of the Civilian Total Defense, which contains resources for times of crisis, such as oil, food, and weaponry. Finland's technological acceleration is also incredibly beneficial, as it gives NATO access to 5G technology, satellite technology, and cybersecurity. Yet most importantly, Finland gives NATO a geographical advantage, with their border with Russia and their large sum of artillery weapons.

Despite empty threats of rapid Russian militarization, Finland has already joined the Alliance. An official Russian response is expected yet has yet to actualize. Yet the benefits of adding Finland carry implications for Russian success in the future. It implies that Russian failure is only eminent and brings a new era of NATO dominance in the world order.

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