May 18, 2022 - World

Finland and Sweden formally apply to join NATO

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg displays documents from Sweden and Finland in Brussels on May 18.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg displays documents from Sweden and Finland in Brussels on May 18. Photo: Johanna Geron/Pool via AP

Finland and Sweden handed over their NATO applications on Wednesday to Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who hailed the "historic moment" and urged all 30 allies to move quickly to ratify the Nordic countries' membership.

Why it matters: NATO's ninth enlargement since its founding in 1949 will fundamentally transform European security, adding 830 miles of border with Russia along the Finnish frontier and reversing 200 years of Swedish military non-alignment.

Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine galvanized Finland and Sweden, two historically non-aligned countries, to join the defensive alliance. Public support for NATO membership in the Nordic countries shot up virtually overnight after the start of the invasion.

  • Russia has responded to their potential memberships with half-veiled threats — Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Finland that the move "could have a negative effect" on relations.
  • Russia's Foreign Ministry warned last week that Moscow would "take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature" if Finland applies.
  • Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, threatened last month that Russia would deploy nuclear weapons to its Kaliningrad enclave if Sweden and Finland join.

What they're saying: "I warmly welcome and strongly support the historic applications from Finland and Sweden for membership in NATO and look forward to working with the U.S. Congress and our NATO Allies to quickly bring Finland and Sweden into the strongest defensive alliance in history," President Biden said in a statement Wednesday.

  • "Sweden and Finland have made the important decision to seek NATO membership after thorough and inclusive democratic processes in each country," he added.
  • "NATO guarantees the security of one billion people in Europe and North America—united by our shared commitment to democratic principles and our vision of peace and prosperity in Europe and around the world. And my commitment to NATO and Article 5 is ironclad."

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö said earlier this week that Finland is seeking NATO membership because the invasion of Ukraine proved that the Kremlin does not respect officially non-aligned countries.

  • "What we see now, Europe, the world, is more divided," Niinistö said. "There's not very much room for non-aligned in between."

The big picture: Secretary of State Tony Blinken is set to meet with his Turkish counterpart in New York on Wednesday after Turkey threatened to oppose Finland and Sweden's NATO bids.

  • President Biden will meet with the leaders of Finland and Sweden on Thursday.

Go deeper: Why NATO formed and why Finland and Sweden want to join the alliance

Editor's note: This article has been updated with a statement from President Biden.

Go deeper