Karl Altau, JBANC
Finland has good reason to be the Happiest Country in the World. On April 4, 2023, the Republic of Finland formally became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), joining 30 other members in what was the fastest accession process in the alliance’s history.
Without getting into details about Finland’s historical relationship with Russia, and its balancing act between East and West during the Cold War, it suffices to say, as former Finnish Defense Minister Jyri Häkämies remarked at a Washington, DC, think tank on September 6, 2007, regarding Finland’s security policy (an event which the author of this article attended):
“Given our geographical location, the three main security challenges for Finland today are Russia, Russia, and Russia. And not only for Finland but for all of us.”
These words appear prescient but reflect an accurate reading and understanding of Russia and its inherent potential for aggression, destruction, and mayhem throughout history.
Russia’s massive new invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year was the final straw to break the camel’s back. Sweden and Finland simultaneously applied for NATO membership. To accentuate the point, the Finnish parliament in May voted 188–8 to support Finland’s accession to NATO. The green lights were on.
How did we get to this point?
Finland fought two wars against Soviet Russia during the span of the Second World War. The Winter War of 1939-40, born of the treachery of the Hitler-Stalin pact, brought universal sympathy for the Finnish cause. We can see echoes of this in the way that the global community has come together to support Ukraine’s current fight against Russia. From 1941-1944 Finland fought a Continuation War against the Soviets, essentially to reclaim the lands that Moscow had grabbed following the Winter War. My father fought during 1943-1944 together with over 3500 Estonians who volunteered to join the Finnish army instead of being taken into the occupying Nazi German one. Although Finland was again compelled to sue for peace with the Soviets and cede large swaths of territory in the east, its spirited mettle and determination helped preserve its independence as well.
Fast forward to the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, and to 1994, when cooperation with NATO began when Finland joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) in 1997.
In 1995, Finland joined the European Union together with Sweden and Austria (at that moment on January 1, the author was on the steps of the Finnish parliament to celebrate the occasion).
As a reference point, Estonia joined NATO and the EU nine years later in 2004.
In the meantime, Finland continued to field a well-armed large army which includes a sizable reservist force that is larger than the other Nordic countries combined.
Nothing could be taken for granted, and Finland prepared to go it alone, if need be, even though Finnish governments of the past sought to balance relations with Moscow. Direct Finnish cooperation with NATO was also a reality to a certain degree, but actual membership seemed unlikely up until February 2022. Russia’s undiminished brutality against Ukraine has brought back a sense of foreboding and memories of the violent past. Collective security was now the only path.
After submitting its NATO application in May last year, Finland and Sweden were invited to join the Alliance during the NATO Summit in Madrid on June 29, 2022.
NATO Allies signed Finland’s and Sweden’s Accession Protocol on 5 July 2022, after which all 30 national parliaments needed to ratify their membership.
NATO member states began ratifying accession protocols in their parliaments immediately, with four countries doing so on that first day: Canada, Iceland, Norway, and Denmark.
The Estonian parliament ratified the protocols the next day on July 6, with the United States Senate following suit on August 3. In the U.S. Senate, which is vested with the authority to consider and approve treaties, there were 95 votes for, and one against (Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri being the only one to dissent).
To compare, the 2003 vote in the U.S. Senate during Estonia’s membership round was 96-0, with Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia also joining during that cycle.
The U.S. House of Representatives, in a display of solidarity, passed a nonbinding resolution on July 18, 2022 (introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee European Subcommittee Chairman William Keating of Massachusetts) supporting Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO.
The results were 394 to 18 in favor (all nays were from Republicans). There were also 19 no votes, with 17 being from the Republican side.
Finland’s domestic ratification took place on March 23. After a long delay of six months, Hungary ratified the treaty on March 27, and Turkey three days later. Sweden needs those two countries to grant consent before they can join.
Upon becoming a member on April 4, Finland immediately voted to approve Sweden’s membership upon depositing its instrument of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty with the U.S. at NATO Headquarters in Brussels.
In an April 16 interview with RFE/RL, former Finnish chief of defense, retired General Jarmo Lindberg stated that for his country, “joining NATO means that Finland will have the Article Five security guarantees from a large alliance. That’s the most important factor and the big change here.”
Pointing out that 80 percent of Finns are now pro-NATO membership, General Lindberg also detailed Finland’s stocks: “We have long-range precision-guided munitions for all the services: army, navy, air force. We already have the main battle tanks – the Leopard main battle tanks – and armored capabilities in-country… Plus, the new F-35 fighter jets.”
This is in reference to the 64 F-35 stealth fighters, which Finland is purchasing to replace a similar number of F/A-18 Hornets ordered in the 1990s. Finland has already been actively exercising with NATO allies.
Estonia can share Finland’s happiness. Tervetuloa Natoon, rakas Suomi!