Finland & Sweden Join NATO: Dramatic Strategic Change in Europe

Australia Institute

“The looming applications by Finland and Sweden for NATO membership together constitute the most significant strategic change in Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destruction of the Berlin Wall,” said Allan Behm, Director of the Australia Institute’s International & Security Affairs Program.

“This move will signal a monumental ‘own goal’ for Russia’s President Putin, whose attack on Ukraine has transformed two formerly neutral neighbours into US-aligned members of the most powerful military bloc in Europe.

“While Finland and Sweden have developed increasingly close professional military links with their NATO neighbours and the US over the past three decades, their policy shift signals a profound change in their national security assessments. They have decided that it is preferable to join the strategic majority in Europe, with the risks of Russian retaliation that entails, rather than continue to sit alone on the fence.

“Finland and Sweden’s combined military forces, especially their short-range air superiority fighters and Sweden’s conventional submarines, radically complicate Russian military calculations in northern Europe, especially in the Baltic. Air superiority and sea control are no longer a given for Russia, as the sinking of the Moskva by Ukrainian forces in the Black Sea reminds them all too recently. The fact that Russia is threatening nuclear weapon deployments in the Baltic indicates its sensitivity to the change. Interestingly, the threat also reflects its relative weakness in conventional force terms.

“Whether this is a positive strategic move for Finland and Sweden or for their European partners into the future is moot. There is no doubt that in the short-term, Russia is effectively stymied. But a caged Russia is a dangerous Russia. How a post-Ukraine Putin or a post-Putin Russia might evolve strategically is the critical question.

“To deal with that uncertainty, Finland and Sweden, along with their new security partners in NATO, have no option but to increase their defence spending significantly to ensure their long-term security against a possibly unconstrained Russia.

“That not only involves major opportunity costs as they redirect public spending away from social policy and infrastructure targets, but also introduces a new and potentially dangerous military brinksmanship into an already disrupted world.”

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