Friday, March 31, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Finland reverses course, prepares to join NATO without Sweden

Helsinki is taking its own steps toward joining the alliance after NATO’s secretary-general deemed it unnecessary to wait for Turkish-Swedish relations to cool down.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — Finland is now ready to drop plans for a partnered NATO entry with Sweden as Helsinki is unwilling to stay out of the military alliance for longer than necessary.

That was the core message from Finnish President Sauli Niinistö to the press Friday on the first day of a security conference in Munich, where international leaders are meeting to discuss the European defense situation.

“If Turkey approves Finland's NATO application before Sweden's, Finland cannot do anything about it,” Niinistö said.

The message comes just two weeks after Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin pledged that Finland would not enter NATO without its neighbor Sweden in a joint statement with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

The 30 current NATO members must anonymously approve a new country’s bid to join the alliance. When the pair of Nordic countries applied last year, Turkey was lukewarm about accepting them.

Turkey claimed that the duo remains lenient towards residents with connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as PKK, which Turkey, the European Union and the United States have labeled as a terrorist organization.

Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Sweden were further challenged after far-right Danish-Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan publicly burned a Quran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm last month.

Lately, Turkey has publicly stated that it is ready to welcome Finland into the alliance without its neighbor – an offer that now seems appealing to Helsinki, as a public opinion poll indicates that Finns are not willing to wait for Sweden.

On Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it is not necessary for Finland and Sweden to join simultaneously.

“The main question is that they are both ratified as full members as soon as possible. And I’m confident that both will be full members and we are working hard to get both ratified as soon as possible,” he told reporters.

Stoltenberg’s statement is the first to deviate from the previous official NATO line that aimed to synchronize the Nordic duo’s membership entrances.

“We will always respect each other’s decisions,” said Kristersson, the Swedish prime minister, when asked about Finland’s potential approval ahead of Sweden.

Steps towards Finland's NATO membership were already accelerating Friday, as the Finnish Foreign Affairs Committee voted in favor of the National Assembly aprproving the country’s entrance into the alliance, according to Norwegian newswire NTB.

Finland’s National Assembly is scheduled to vote for legislation needed to approve the move on Feb. 28. While details of the new legislation are unknown, it is already clear that Finland will not allow nuclear weapons on its land even after becoming a NATO member.

Initially, the plan was for Helsinki to vote on the legislation after the parliamentary election in April, but given shifting public opinion on the safety situation, officials have deemed it necessary to move ahead.

“We have a 130-mile-long border with Russia, but Sweden will always have Finland in between,” said Jussi Halla-aho, chairman of the Finnish parliament's foreign affairs committee, earlier this week, according to Swedish broadcaster SVT.

Several NATO countries, including Denmark, Iceland and Norway, have already pledged to help the two Nordic countries “by all means necessary” should they be subjected to any form of aggression during the application process.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.