The US Senate ratified Finland and Sweden’s accession to Nato, a crucial step towards bringing the Nordic countries into the military alliance as the war between Russia and Ukraine grinds on.
The vote, which received widespread bipartisan support, represents a significant milestone for the two formerly neutral powers, which have shifted their stance in the face of recent Russian aggression.
The US is the 23rd Nato country to formally approve Sweden and Finland as members of the alliance, which currently has a total of 30 members. France and Italy also ratified the Nordic countries’ accession this week. All members must agree for a country to be included in Nato.
“There is just no question that admitting these robust democratic countries with modern economies and capable, interoperable militaries will only strengthen the most successful military alliance in human history,” said Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate.
Ben Cardin, a Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, added: “Expanding Nato at this moment is a clear message to [Russian president Vladimir] Putin that we stand with the Democratic countries of Europe and we are prepared to expand our Nato alliance and guarantee their protection.”
Finland, Sweden and Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg have pushed for the quickest accession processes in the military alliance’s history due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However Turkey may yet prove an obstacle, with president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan flip-flopping in recent months on whether or not he would permit the two countries’ inclusion. Having accused Sweden and Finland of acting as “guest houses” for groups that Ankara views as terrorists, Erdoğan then dropped his opposition to their accession in June.
He later warned that he would not ratify the Nordic nations’ accession if Sweden failed to follow through on what he said was a promise to extradite 73 terror suspects to Turkey — even though no such commitment appeared in the text of a joint memorandum that was signed by Turkey, Sweden and Finland.
Western officials fear that Erdoğan will exploit the issue for political gain as he gears up for challenging presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2023. “I think we are in for a rocky year ahead on this,” said one diplomat.
Henri Vanhanen, foreign policy adviser to Finland’s main opposition party, said he expected most of the remaining holdouts — the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey — to ratify by the end of September.
“A fast process is important to maintain the political momentum, to indicate strong support for Nato’s open-door policy, and also to incentivise all member states to proceed rapidly,” he said.
He added that Turkey’s willingness to ratify quickly was “unclear” as discussions with Ankara continue but that “if others are ratifying quickly, it also increases political pressure to reach consensus”.