NATO candidacy: Sweden and Finland seek protection

Concerned about Russia’s reaction to their likely bids for NATO membership, Sweden and Finland are seeking reassurances of protection in the months needed for their formal entry into the Atlantic alliance, in the picture of deals with London announced on Wednesday.

In recent months, Stockholm and Helsinki have multiplied international contacts and meetings to ensure NATO members’ support for their accession.

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But more recently, talks have also aimed to get reassurances to protect Sweden and Finland, particularly from the most powerful members, according to the leaders of the two countries.

During the membership period – which includes in particular the ratification by all members, which takes several months – the applicant remains a non-member who cannot benefit from the mutual defense umbrella provided for in Article 5.

However, the secretary general of the alliance, the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, estimated that it would be possible to find “agreements”. For the Swedish case, he conjured up an “increased presence” of NATO forces in the Baltic Sea or in its immediate vicinity.

“If Sweden was attacked and turned to us, we would bring it to them,” Boris Johnson promised on Wednesday, signing a “declaration of political solidarity” with his Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson, including the military.

He is due to sign a similar agreement with Finland later today in Helsinki.

“It’s not as strong as Article 5, but we will have that in the transition period,” Joakim Paasikivi, a military strategy teacher at Sweden’s Defense College, told AFP.

It can be, for example, to increase its military presence in this sector or to say that we will support Sweden and Finland if necessary, emphasizes this lieutenant colonel.

Members of the European Union, Sweden and Finland also benefit from the mutual administrative assistance clause provided for in Article 42-7.

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Once a third country has decided to join, NATO members must unanimously agree to invite it to join, thereby initiating accession talks.

After the NATO chief has promised to welcome Sweden and Finland “with open arms” if they apply, this first phase of the process can be quick, on the order of “a few days to a few weeks,” estimates Charly Salonius – Pasternak, researcher at the Finnish Institute for International Affairs.

What to be ready for a NATO summit scheduled for late June in Madrid, analysts say.

Then there remains the process of ratification by all 30 member states, usually in parliament.

“Right now it’s difficult to see a country that would really try to slow down or stop the process,” notes Mr. Salonius-Pasternak.

However, a country could seize the opportunity to negotiate its support.

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic has urged his country’s parliament to reject membership until neighboring Bosnia reforms an electoral law.

Overall, the accession process for the 30th member, North Macedonia, took one year.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday his earliest NATO entry would be in October.

Even before the war in Ukraine, Moscow warned Sweden and Finland of the “political and military consequences of accession”.

Joakim Paasikivi, a professor of military strategy at the Swedish Defense University, expects “aggressive and menacing Russian rhetoric” as well as “hybrid” actions such as “cyberattacks more severe than those we’ve seen in the past,” targeting the financial system or energy infrastructure or Violations of air or sea borders.

Experts interviewed by AFP consider the scenario of a military attack to be very unlikely or even impossible, especially given that the Russian army is heavily mobilized in Ukraine.

According to Salonius-Pasternak, however, Moscow could imagine de facto blocking the accession process “by occupying an island or part of the territory”, since Russia “recently made decisions that, from our point of view, do not seem very rational”.

“But I think the NATO countries would see it coming and it wouldn’t be too difficult for Finland to deal with it militarily.”

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