Finland to become Nato member ‘in coming days’

Published April 1, 2023
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto shake hands during a welcoming ceremony in Ankara, Turkey March 17, 2023. — Presidential Press Office via Reuters
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto shake hands during a welcoming ceremony in Ankara, Turkey March 17, 2023. — Presidential Press Office via Reuters

BRUSSELS: Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that Finland would formally become a member within days, as he congratulated its president on clearing the final obstacle to joining.

“I look forward to raising Finland’s flag at Nato HQ in the coming days.

“Together we are stronger and safer,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.

After months of delays, Turkiye’s parliament removed the last hurdle for Finland on Thursday by becoming the last member of the US-led military alliance to ratify its application.

Stoltenberg said in a separate statement that “Finland has highly capable forces, advanced capabilities, and strong democratic institutions”. “So Finland will bring a lot to our alliance,” he said.

Nato foreign ministers are meeting at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels next week, when it is expected the membership could be formalised.

The Ukraine conflict has upended European security and pushed Finland and its neighbour Sweden to drop decades of non-alignment and seek to join Nato’s protective umbrella.

Stockholm’s application remains stuck, however, because of ongoing resistance from both Turkiye and Hungary.

But Stoltenberg insisted “all allies agree that a rapid conclusion of the ratification process for Swe­den will be in everyone’s interest”.

“I look forward to also welcoming Sweden as a full member of the Nato family as soon as possible,” he said.

Eastern flank

Finland’s membership of Nato adds a potent military to the alliance and a strategic puzzle piece that can better help defend its vulnerable eastern flank from potential Russian attack, officials and analysts say.

When President Vladimir Putin launched his all-out war on Ukraine last year, part of Moscow’s justification was the claim it needed to stop further Nato expansion in its backyard.

But 13 months on, Finland’s choice to join means the US-led alliance is now doubling its border with Russia in a move that changes the military calculus from the Baltic region to the Arctic.

“Now Finland needs Nato, but Nato needs Finland as well in the face of an aggressive Russia,” said Jamie Shea, a former senior Nato official who is an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank.

“Nato will find collective defence against Russia easier now that it has access to Finnish territory and the capabilities Finland brings to the table.”

Protecting the Baltics

Alliance military planners have fretted for years over how to protect its three Baltic members— Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—from a possible attack by Russia.

Concern focused on the Suwalki Gap, a 65-kilometre strip between the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus, where a lightning strike could sever the Baltic allies from the rest of Nato.

Now Finland’s membership could help Nato to dominate the Baltic Sea and, with Helsinki less than 70 kilometres across the water from Estonia’s capital Tallinn, provide a new route for reinforcements.

“Finland’s accession will strengthen Nato’s forward defence and contribute to deterrence by denial,” Estonia’s Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur said.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2023

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