Finland joins NATO: was it a misstep for all?

By Rory McAlpine

Finland’s ascension to NATO member was ceremoniously marked by the raising of the Finnish flag outside the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, ending its long period of military non-alignment. The membership now extends NATO’s presence along Finland’s 1,340 km border with Russia and places the country under Principle 5 of collective security; that an attack against one NATO member is considered an attack on all.

Finland’s president Sauli Niinisto claimed the membership was ‘not targeted against anyone’, an attempt to recognise how Russia have constantly viewed NATO advancement as a threat and attempt to assure against this. However, it is clear Russia will perceive this latest move as a sign of escalation and increased threat from the alliance.

The invasion of Ukraine served as the catalyst for a sea change in public and political opinion in Finland, with support for NATO membership among the population rising from 24 percent in October 2021 to 85 percent in October 2022. The membership decision ends military non-alignment a long- held policy by Finland designed to maintain good relations with its Russian neighbour and ensure its security.

Yet Russia’s invasion of military non-aligned Ukraine and its rhetoric around securing its borders from Western and NATO threats has resulted in Finland discarding the belief that military non-alignment best serves their interests and protects them from a volatile Russia. Instead, they have turned to the collective security of NATO, with the backing and military power of the alliance to deter any future Russian aggression.

The United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in response to the membership claimed, ‘Finland is stronger and safer within the alliance, and the alliance is stronger and safer with Finland as its ally’. However, with clear headed analysis we can see how, in direct contrast, the membership represents an increased risk to Finland, the alliance and global security.

Finland’s NATO membership is a poor decision that offers little benefit to any side

Russian President Vladimir Putin has long painted NATO’s eastern expansion and movement of its military presence closer to Russian borders as an existential threat to Russian sovereignty. He has previously demanded NATO removed military infrastructure from Baltic states and offer Russia a veto in Ukraine’s membership of the alliance. A primary justification for his invasion of Ukraine was as a pre-emptive strike against Ukraine joining NATO and bringing western influence and military closer to Russia. Finland joining NATO only serves to escalate the situation by increasing the perceived threat against Russia as seen by Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov calling it an ‘encroachment’ on Russian security. In response Russia has already announced it may take counter measures and will strengthen its military power in stations in the north and northwest of the country near Finland, further actions that raise the risk of conflict.

Crucially in this instance, Finland did not require NATO membership and in opposition to its intention, being a member decreases its safety and security. Russia has never shown interest in the country and its military has been shown to be weak in Ukraine. The decision by Finland has been a reaction driven by shock and instinct for protection rather than clear thinking. Finland is now at greater risk as a NATO ally as should NATO engage with Russia, Finland will be required to follow suit even if it does not suit its interests. As a neighbour of Russia, it is likely it would receive a disproportionate amount of Russian military focus and bombing to prevent NATO using it as a strategic military location to attack Russia. Finland has lost important autonomy on whether or how to engage should a Russian conflict emerge amongst NATO countries. Before its membership Finland had a stable and good relationship with Russia, now it has damaged this relationship and will be treated as a threat to Russian interests adding a greater security risk.

Finland’s NATO membership is a poor decision that offers little benefit to any side. For Finland it has taken on greater risk of going to war with its neighbour and sacrificed good relations and safety for tension and being labelled a threat to Russia. For NATO its expansion to Finland has increased what the Kremlin have repeatedly labelled a threat and warned of countermeasures and retaliation, escalating tension and the possibility of conflict with Russia who are increasing feeling isolated and threatened. As a result, Finland’s membership will only serve to further destabilise Finnish, regional and global security by increasing the threat of a major conflict.

Image credit: U.S. Department of State via Wikimedia Commons

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