Brussels (Belgium)- After Finland and Sweden submitted membership requests, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that the military alliance is ready to seize a historical moment and move quickly to allow them to join its ranks.
The official applications, submitted by the ambassadors of Finland and Sweden to NATO, start the security clock ticking. Russia, whose war on Ukraine prompted them to join the military organization, has warned that such a move would be met with hostility and that it may respond.
“I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners,“ Stoltenberg said. “All allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together, and we all agree that this is a historic moment which we must seize.”
“This is a good day at a critical moment for our security,” Stoltenberg said as he stood alongside the two envoys, with NATO, Finnish and Swedish flags at their backs.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that the alliance stop expanding toward Russia’s borders, and several NATO allies, led by the United States and Britain, have signaled that they stand ready to provide security support to Finland and Sweden should he try to provoke or destabilize them during the time it takes to become full members.
The countries will only benefit from NATO’s Article 5 security guarantee — the part of the alliance’s founding treaty that pledges that any attack on one member would be considered an attack on them all — once the membership ratification process is concluded, probably in a few months.
For now though, the application must now be weighed by the 30 member countries. That process is expected to take about two weeks, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden joining.
If his objections are overcome, and accession talks go as expected, the two could become members within a few months. The process usually takes eight to 12 months, but NATO wants to move quickly given the threat from Russia hanging over the Nordic countries’ heads.
Canada, for example, says that it expects to ratify its accession protocol in just a few days.
Stoltenberg said that NATO allies “are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions.”
Public opinion in Finland and Sweden has shifted massively in favour of membership since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Finland and Sweden cooperate closely with NATO. They have functioning democracies and well-funded armed forces and contribute to the alliance’s military operations and air policing. Any obstacles they face will merely be technical or possibly political.
NATO’s membership process is not formalized, and the steps can vary. But first their requests to join will be examined in a sitting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) of the 30 member countries, probably at ambassadorial level.
The NAC will decide whether to move toward membership and what steps must be taken to achieve it. This mostly depends on how well aligned the candidate countries are with NATO political, military and legal standards and whether they contribute to security in the North Atlantic area. This should pose no substantial problem for Finland and Sweden.
Moving forward, during accession talks that could be concluded in just one day once the terms of those negotiations are set, the two will be asked to commit to uphold Article 5 and to meet spending obligations concerning the NATO in-house budget, which runs to around 2.5 billion dollars, split proportionally among what would be 32 member countries.
Finland and Sweden would also be made aware of their role in NATO defence planning and of any other legal or security obligations they might have, like the vetting of personnel and handling of classified information.