HELSINKI: Finland officially announced its intention to join Nato on Sunday and Sweden’s ruling party said it backed membership, paving the way for a joint application.

Less than three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the announcements are a stunning reversal of the two Nordic countries’ military non-alignment policies, dating back more than 75 years for Finland and two centuries for Sweden.

Public and political support for Nato membership has surged in Finland and Sweden in recent months, and they are widely expected to submit applications this week.

“This is a historic day. A new era is opening,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told reporters at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Sunday.

“The best thing for Sweden’s security is that we apply for membership now, and that we do it with Finland,” Social Democratic Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said several hours later in Stockholm.

The turnaround by her party, which has opposed Nato membership since the birth of the alliance, secures a firm majority in Sweden’s parliament in favour of joining.

Andersson said nonetheless that she would consult parliament on Monday before announcing her government’s official intention to apply.

The issue had divided the Social Democrats, with some members expressing concern that the decision was being rushed through.

If Sweden’s application were approved, the party would work to express “unilateral reservations against the deployment of nuclear weapons and permanent bases on Swedish territory”, it said in a statement.

According to recent polls, the number of Finns who want to join the alliance has risen to more than three-quarters, almost triple the level seen before the war in Ukraine began on February 24.

Support in Sweden has also risen dramatically, to around 50 per cent — with about 20pc against.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2022

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