In Finland and Sweden, the Ukraine crisis has led to a new debate on whether to join NATO. In Finland, one argument goes both for and against.
On Monday afternoon, NATO Secretary General met Sweden and Finland’s Foreign Ministers in Brussels. None of the countries is a member of NATO. But the crisis in Ukraine has put Sweden and Finland in a special situation.
In Sweden, they have sent armored vehicles and soldiers to Gotland. Politicians in both countries are concerned about the situation.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that NATO, Finland and Sweden exchange information and analyzes about what is happening now. He described this as very important.
– There are no other countries that are closer partners with NATO than Sweden and Finland, Stoltenberg said at a press conference.
He stressed that he respects that they are not members and said that each country must choose its path. But add that NATO’s door is open.
This shows the polls
Russia demands that NATO not take on new members in the east. Finland and Sweden have made it clear that they will decide for themselves.
What do Swedes and Finns really think about NATO membership?
Few experts believe in any immediate membership. But in Finland, opposition to NATO membership has never been less, according to a poll conducted for Helsingin sanomat newspaper in early January. And more are uncertain.
28 percent stated that they were for membership in the defense alliance. For the first time, less than half (42 percent) were against. One third were insecure.
In Sweden is the people mostly divided into three, in yes, no and do not know. The proportion who are in favor of membership increases, and the proportion who are against it decreases.
A single measurement for Aftonbladet showed for the first time more who were for than against. 46 percent answered yes to the question of NATO membership, an increase of 10 percentage points in two years.
This is how they argue
Charly Salonius-Pasternak is researching security policy at the Finnish Institute of Foreign Policy. He says that the NATO debate is taking place both among politicians and ordinary Finns right now. The researcher points out that for the first time, some key politicians have also thought aloud about the situations in which membership may be relevant.
He says that one argument is repeated on both sides of the debate: Russia.
Those who want Finland to join NATO are keen to be present around the table where European security is being discussed. In addition, they are concerned with acting as a deterrent to Russia, says Salonius-Pasternak.
But he says that opponents of NATO membership are also concerned about Russia. They want to avoid annoying their big neighbor to the east.
– Russia is the big, clear, but not always mentioned reason. It’s a bit like Finland never says why they have such a large defense. Everyone knows why, says the researcher.
He also believes that there are historical reasons why many Finns are skeptical of NATO membership: a distrust of whether someone will come to their rescue and a fear of being drawn into wars between great powers.
He is very uncertain whether Finland will sign up. In that case, Salonius-Pasternak believes that the president or prime minister must say out loud that they want it.
Finland’s Social Democrat Prime Minister Sanna Marin said recently to Reuters that she does not think Finland will join NATO in the first place. Afterwards critics thought she in practice, the door closed for NATO.
Sweden moves soldiers and armored vehicles. In Finland, they choose a slightly different twist.
Changed ten years ago
Joakim Berndtsson at the University of Gothenburg is researching the Swedes’ views on NATO membership. He says that there was a change around 2012–2013 and when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Several Swedes were positive about NATO membership.
– But the largest group are still those who answer “do not know” or “neither or”, says Berndtsson.
– It is speculated that the Swedes are not fully aware of what NATO membership will entail. And then there are many who are skeptical of the obligations it entails. The issue of nuclear weapons, which in the extreme is the guarantee in NATO, is also sensitive, says Berndtsson.
He also believes that being neutral or non-aligned lies deep in the Swedish people’s soul, even though Sweden cooperates closely with NATO.
Berndtsson says that the most important argument used for NATO membership is that the Swedish defense is not doing well enough alone. The main argument used against membership, is that it will mean too much change for alliance-free Sweden.
He is unsure whether the change in the polls is lasting.
– I think one should be careful about saying that it is an actual change. It could be a stomach reaction due to the security situation right now and what many perceive as Russian threats. But it is conceivable that this will be a question in the election campaign towards the autumn, says Berndtsson.