WASHINGTON (CN) — In a broad bipartisan vote, the Senate agreed Wednesday to ratify Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO, a significant geopolitical move for the Western alliance in the wake of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
While Finland and Sweden have long-held strategies of foreign nonalignment, the nations formally applied for membership to the alliance in May and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invited the European nations to join the treaty back in June, marking a major shift in Western politics.
The change of security policy from the two Nordic nations comes more than five months after Russia invaded Ukraine, sparking a military conflict that has rattled and reshaped the geopolitical climate.
The resolution ratifying the two countries' membership to the military security alliance garnered broad bipartisan support from congressional leaders, who view the move as a necessary means of bolstering unity between the U.S. and European nations as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his brutal attack on Ukraine.
"Even closer cooperation with these partners will help us counter Russia and China. Their accession will make NATO stronger and more secure," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said on the chamber floor Wednesday.
The resolution marked a rare moment of bipartisan unity, passing the chamber by a margin of 95-1, well above the two-thirds majority it needed for passage.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri was the only senator to vote against the bill and Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky voted 'present.'
"If Vladimir Putin thought that by invading Ukraine he could somehow inhibit the future of NATO or, in some way, limit its future, the opposite has occurred. NATO is stronger than ever and the United States commitment to NATO is stronger than ever," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said.
All 30 members of NATO need to approve of and ratify Finland and Sweden’s applications before they can officially join the alliance, making the Senate’s vote just the latest step forward for the countries aiming to join the alliance.
Earlier this summer, Turkey objected to the prospective new members, raising concerns that the countries were not staunch enough opponents of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the PKK, which Turkey and the U.S. consider to be a terrorist organization.
But Finland and Sweden agreed during talks earlier this summer to oppose activity by the PKK and Turkey later rescinded its protest to the potential members.
Tensions throughout Europe remain high as Russia's war on neighboring Ukraine intensifies, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordering the evacuation of the Donetsk region of the country, an area that has long-been in the crosshairs of Kremlin forces.
"Expanding NATO at this moment is a clear message to Mr. Putin, that we stand with the democratic countries of Europe and we are prepared to expand our NATO alliance to guarantee their protection. These two stalwart democratic nations, Finland and Sweden, have been robust partners to the United States and Europe on countless fronts," Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Hawley was the only senator to oppose the legislation, arguing that the Nordic countries do not spend enough money on their militaries and will create a financial burden for the United States to carry the brunt of military support.
He argued the U.S. should be focused on countering the influence of China, rather than Russia.
"I'm not arguing for isolation. What I am arguing for is an end to the globalist foreign policy that has led our nation from one disaster to another for decades now. What I am arguing for is the return to a classic nationalist approach to American foreign policy, the one that made this country great," he said on the chamber floor Wednesday.
The Senate adopted an amendment proposed by Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, asking all NATO nations to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense, a pledge all member nations agreed to in 2014.
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of several lawmakers who visited Ukraine back in March, said admitting Finland and Sweden to the alliance is a critical response to the brutal war in Ukraine.
"Sweden has been increasing its arms spending and the country has advanced defense industrial capabilities. The addition of both these nations to NATO will bolster deterrence against Russia in the Arctic, Nordic and Baltic regions," Collins said.
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