May 18, 2022 - World

Finland and Sweden bring military might to NATO

Breakdown of Sweden and Finland militaries, 2022
Data: Global Firepower Index; Table: Axios Visuals

Sweden and Finland's membership in NATO would integrate two of Europe's most highly capable and modern militaries right on Russia's doorstep, according to rankings and data from the Global Firepower Index.

Why it matters: Sweden and Finland are seeking to join to obtain security guarantees from the world's most powerful military alliance. But experts say they wouldn't be Article 5 freeloaders.

  • The Nordic nations will bring unique capabilities to an especially vulnerable Baltic region, where NATO has struggled to project power.

By the numbers: Sweden's defense budget for 2022 is estimated to total $8.6 billion, while Finland's is $6.3 billion, according to the Global Firepower Index.

  • Both Sweden and Finland have announced plans to dramatically boost their military spending in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, after years of failing to reach the 2%-of-GDP threshold NATO seeks from all its members.
  • The number of active military personnel in the Finnish Defence Forces is a modest 23,000, but the country boasts a wartime strength of 280,000 because of its massive conscription system.
  • A total of 900,000 Finnish reservists can be mobilized — a product of the deep-seated focus on security in a country that shares an 800-mile border with Russia, and was twice invaded in the 20th century.

Between the lines: In addition to the strength of their navies and air force, Finland and Sweden will bring unique intelligence capabilities to NATO specifically tailored to the threat posed by their Russian neighbors.

  • The Swedish military's control over the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea would also provide NATO with a crucial strategic advantage in the event of a regional conflict with Russia.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested Sweden and Finland's NATO membership will not pose a threat to his country unless they establish NATO bases and infrastructure.
  • Other Kremlin officials and propagandists, though, have warned of "far-reaching consequences."

What they're saying: "When you have military like ours, you really don't have that much to worry about. And Russia knows that," Alexander Stubb, Finland's former prime minister, told Axios about the Kremlin's saber-rattling.

What to watch: With NATO allies busy wrangling Turkey into dropping its opposition to Sweden and Finland's membership, President Biden will welcome the leaders of the two Scandinavian countries to the White House on Thursday.

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