Finland and Sweden in NATO are strategic assets, not liabilities

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In the two weeks since ambassadors from all NATO member states signed Finland and Sweden’s accession protocols to join the alliance, around half of member countries have now ratified decision. But since countries like Hungary, Turkey and the United States have yet to ratify, it is worth taking stock of the benefits the alliance would derive from adding the two Nordic countries.

Finland and Sweden will bring two relatively small but advanced armies into NATO, adding significant military capabilities and increasing the alliance’s ability to deter further Russian aggression. And contrary to suggestions by opponents of NATO expansion, adding the two countries would strengthen transatlantic security and decrease the likelihood of Russian aggression against the alliance.

Consider some of the specific air, sea, and land capabilities that Finland and Sweden will add to the alliance arsenal.

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance 2021 report, the two countries will collectively supply more than 150 combat aircraft, including 96 JAS-39 Gripens and 62 F/A-18 Hornets. By the end of the decade, Finland intends to acquire 64 fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets. This compares to Polish plans to acquire 32 F-35s and Italian plans to acquire 90 F-35s.

Sweden is also set to acquire two GlobalEye advanced airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft, more capable platforms than the aging E-3A AWACS aircraft that NATO currently uses to monitor airspace. European. AEW&C aircraft are essential components of an effective air defense system. Indeed, at their June 29 summit in Madrid, NATO members endorsed a strategy to “ensure the seamless delivery of the next generation Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and related capabilities” .

Sweden also has a skilled navy with Visby-class corvettes and Gotland-class submarines. These would improve NATO’s ability to deter and defeat maritime aggression and protect maritime lines of communication. Islands belonging to Sweden and Finland, especially the Swedish island of Gotland in the middle of the Baltic Sea, will significantly complicate potential Russian naval operations.

Finland and Sweden would also bring significant land warfare capabilities to the alliance. Finland has one of the strongest artillery forces in Europe, with M270 multiple rocket launcher systems and hundreds of towed howitzers. Finland has more artillery pieces than France, Germany or the United Kingdom. Together, Finland and Sweden have 220 active Leopard main battle tanks, which almost matches Germany’s 245 Leopards, another significant contribution to deterring an attack on NATO territory.

Sweden has also operated the Patriot air defense system since November 2021, while Finland operates NASAMS, the same system that protects Washington, DC. Additionally, both countries are planning to purchase Israeli-made air defense systems, which would further increase their contribution to the NATO alliance.

While NATO militaries have been working with their Finnish and Swedish counterparts for years, their membership in the alliance will allow these capabilities to be embedded in NATO’s war plans and deepen the level of integration. This will create additional dilemmas for Russian military planners, making aggression against the alliance less likely.

Some opposed to Finnish and Swedish membership acknowledge their military contributions but suggest that they would be compensated by a new obligation to defend these countries against Russian aggression.

It is certainly true that NATO members would be expected to come to the aid of Finland and Sweden if they were attacked. After all, the heart of the NATO alliance is Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America will be considered an attack on all of them”.

But that’s exactly the point.

It is no coincidence that Russia has invaded and occupied Georgia and Ukraine (which are outside NATO) but has not dared to invade a NATO member for over seven decades. Putin seems to understand that an attack on a NATO member country would risk provoking a war with the United States. Moreover, by complicating Russian military planning, Finland and Sweden can also strengthen NATO’s deterrence against Russian aggression against other members.

In times of relative peace and stability, non-Finnish NATO deployments there can and should be managed with care to avoid unnecessary tension with Moscow. But if Moscow waved its saber against NATO members in the Baltics or elsewhere, additional NATO forces could be moved to Finland.

Additional capabilities there would force Russian military planners to monitor the 832-mile border and redirect limited combat forces northwest of Moscow. This would distribute Russian forces more thinly across a wider front and make any potential aggression scenario even less feasible for the Kremlin than it currently does.

Strengthening NATO’s deterrence in this way could hasten the day when Russian leaders realize that the best path to peace and security is to respect the borders and sovereignty of its neighbours.

In the meantime, a careful examination of Finland’s and Sweden’s military capabilities and the geostrategic advantages associated with their NATO membership clearly shows that their membership would strengthen the alliance’s deterrence against Russian aggression and serve the transatlantic security interests.

That is why the other NATO member countries should welcome Finland and Sweden into the alliance without delay.

Bradley Bowman is senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Ryan Brobst is research analyst, Jack Sullivan is associate researcher and John Hardie is senior research analyst. Ashlyn Cox contributed to this article.

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