Finland and Sweden to Join NATO – Yes? No? Maybe?

                         by David Parmer / Tokyo

In 2017 media interest has been constantly shifting, from the South China Sea to the Korean Peninsula, to the Middle East to the India-China border and seemingly back again in an endless loop. One vital area of global interest, the Nordic region has received little attention, perhaps because of a lack of “incidents” during the year.

But the stakes at the top of the world are real to the countries themselves, to Europe, to NATO and to Russia.

Russian actions in Ukraine and Crimea have re-energized debate in both Sweden and Finland concerning possible NATO membership. These two countries have done an intricate dance, being both non-members of NATO but cozying up to the organization. Since the 1990s Finland and Sweden have participated in the NATO Partnership for Peace, but have stayed away from applying for full membership.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has issued a blunt warning to Sweden that NATO membership for Sweden would be seen in a very negative light and as a threat to Russian security. It seems that Russia draws the line with Sweden and Finland although Norway, Iceland and Denmark are full NATO members.

Over the years both countries, Sweden and Finland, have walked a thin line, attending to their own national interests yet not wanting to antagonize their powerful neighbor to the east. The topic of NATO membership is likely to emerge as a key element in the 2018-19 presidential and parliamentary elections in Finland.

Polls suggest that 50% of Swedes are now against NATO membership and 55% of Finns also oppose membership.

Finally, how does the situation look from the Russian perspective? Surely viewing NATO maneuvers and cooperation with her close neighbors, and the presence of US troops almost everywhere in the region (limited in numbers though they may be) must make Russia more than a bit uneasy.

How will this situation play out in the near and mid term? Will some “incident” occur in the near future to put the Nordic region on the world’s TV screens? Please give us your thoughts on NATO and on this matter.

Photo:  Finnish Soldier in Latvia, by US Army Europe via flickr