Finland and Sweden NATO Accession

This brief details the rationale behind Finnish and Swedish accession to NATO, highlighting historical tensions between the Nordic nations and Russia, as well as obstacles Finland and Sweden face in the ratification of their accession. Finally, with regard to U.S. interests, it outlines the measures to ensure speedy ratification and clarification and clear communication of intent during the accession process.

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) acts as one of the largest intergovernmental security alliances in the world, with a total of 30 nations spanning most of Europe and North America. Founded in 1949 after WWII, NATO aims to safeguard the freedom and security of its member states against foreign threats through collective security, by adapting political and, if necessary, military means. Considering the escalating armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia, NATO protection serves as one of the greatest deterrents against Russian aggression. As such, non-member states, namely Finland and Sweden, after centuries of neutrality, have reconsidered joining the alliance.

On July 4th, 2022, Finland and Sweden completed accession talks at NATO's (North Atlantic Trade Organization) Headquarters in Brussels. The decision for accession comes after the 2022 Russia-Ukraine War, during which Russia launched a full-scale armed invasion of Ukraine. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, millions of Ukrainians have fled,  and the country has sustained tens of billions of dollars worth of damage. Following the invasion, Europe promptly began to ramp up defenses in case of further Russian encroachment, as well as calling on major alliances, namely the EU and NATO, to unify and collectively sanction Russia through every relevant international regime, ranging from excluding Russia from the SWIFT financial infrastructure, to banning the national team’s membership in UEFA. As the war continued, the threat of extended hostility from Russia was more imminent than ever, ultimately leading Finland and Sweden to submit an application for accession on May 18th, 2022, a historical shift from their centuries-long proclamation of political and military neutrality. 

Pointed Summary
  • The expansion of NATO within Europe acts as a deterrence against Russia 
  • Possibility of Russian retaliation against major actors such as Finland, Sweden, and the U.S.

Finland and Sweden’s accession would expand NATO territory within Europe, but more notably along Russian borders. Currently, the only two NATO states that share a border with mainland Russia are Estonia and Latvia, which share a combined 316-mile-long border. In comparison, Finland shares an 800-mile-long border with Russia and is in close proximity to various critical Russian population centers and metropolises, most notably St. Petersburg. As such, NATO expansion within the region would mean greater access to Russian formations and intelligence, but Russia may in turn respond with force or threat with the use of force. As a result, NATO membership within the Nordic region is a double-edged sword that NATO will have to wield carefully. Finland and Sweden may become key actors in deterring Russian aggression, a role that they, historically, have played many times. 


Russian interference within the Nordic region has been commonplace for centuries. Swedish and Finnish tensions with Russia go back to the 17th and 18th centuries when tsars of the Russian Empire repeatedly tried to conquer Finland, which was a hinterland of the Swedish Kingdom at the time.

Most notably, in 1808, Russia aligned itself with Napoleonic France, which was opposed by the British Empire. Sweden, which at the time controlled Finland, had allied itself with Great Britain, creating a potential risk to the Russian Empire.

Specifically, Finnish ports were capable of housing and docking the British navy and were relatively close to the then-capital Saint Petersburg. As such, to ensure the safety of its capital, Russia invaded Finland in the Finnish War of 1809. Even in the 1800s, Finnish proximity to Russian infrastructure served as a central threat to Russian states. 

Finland had been a part of Sweden for almost 700 years until the Finnish War of 1809, in which Finland became an autonomous part of the Russian Empire as the Grand Duchy of Finland. As a result of the Finnish War of 1809, during which Sweden had lost large swaths of land, including Finland and parts of modern-day Estonia, Germany, and Norway, Sweden decided to remain formally neutral in any future wars. Although Sweden and Russia have not been at war since then, tensions between the Nordic nations and Russia stayed volatile.

Finland would remain under Russian rule for the next century. However, unrest in Russia and Finland during the First World War (1914–1918) and the subsequent collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 resulted in the Finnish Declaration of Independence and the end of the Grand Duchy.

Despite gaining independence, Russia would challenge Finnish autonomy through the Winter War, in which the Soviet Union invaded Finland in 1939. Although Sweden had declared neutrality, it did support Finland to a limited extent and, miraculously, the Finnish ski troops inflicted heavy casualties on the Russian army.

Eventually, the war ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty of 1940, where Finland ceded border areas – southeastern Finland, namely the Karelian Isthmus and Lake Ladoga – to the Soviet Union. However, once again in WWII, the Fins and Soviets would engage in the Second Soviet-Finnish War (Continuation War), where, once again, Sweden would provide limited support to the Finnish. The constant threat of Russian invasion has kept Sweden and Finland on high alert ever since. 

Tried Policy 

Following WWII, Finland and Sweden’s geographical proximity to the Soviet Union put both countries in precarious positions. Finland was in a tenuous position due to its capitalist economy, and the fact that it shared an Eastern border with the USSR. Sweden, which had remained neutral since 1809, was also cautious of the Soviets, who were ever more armed and dangerous as a result of the Cold War.

Nevertheless, Sweden was in a partially better position due to their neutrality, however, due to fears of Russian aggression, Sweden had a defense agreement with the US if the Soviets tried to invade. Although Finland was capitalist, they held fears of agitating the USSR. Because of this, Finland refused to join the Marshall Plan.

In 1948, Finland also signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union. This treaty isolated Finland militarily from Western Europe and the United States and fostered closer relations with the Soviet state. However, Finland still continued their policy of impartiality.

Even as Finland refused to join NATO, the Finno-Soviet Treaty of 1948 also allowed them to avoid joining the Warsaw Pact, which would have forced them into a mutual defense pact with the USSR. After World War II, both Sweden and Finland pushed many resources into national defense. Both countries continued their policies of mandatory military conscriptions and built up their arms stockpiles. 

After the USSR fell in 1995, Finland and Sweden both joined the EU, and later joined the Eurozone after they had adopted the Euro as their currency. This brought both countries closer to Western Europe economically, but not militarily.

Both Sweden and Finland refuse to join military alliances like NATO for fear of provoking Russian retaliation, even after the 2014 Russian Invasion of Ukraine. However, Finland and Sweden have for decades been NATO's closest partners, despite their official "non-alignment.”

Current Stances 

While the Invasion of Ukraine in 2014 was not enough for Sweden or Finland to join, the 2022 Invasion of Ukraine proved to be different. In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed the Crimean peninsula. 2014 polls showed that only 37% of Seeds and 34% of Finns agreed to NATO membership. At the time, the invasion was too small a cause for the two nations to break their neutrality.

However, that would change in February of 2022, when Russia launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine with over 200,000 soldiers, setting the geopolitical landscape of Europe aflame. Public support for NATO membership in the Nordic countries shot up virtually overnight after Russia invaded Ukraine, with a strong majority in both countries now in favor of joining the alliance.

The Finnish government agreed with public opinion, with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö saying his country is seeking NATO membership because “Russia's invasion proved that the Kremlin does not respect officially non-aligned countries''. Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson echoed similar sentiments, stating, “Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is not only illegal and indefensible, but it also undermines the European security order that Sweden builds its security on."

As such, the Finnish and Swedish governments formally applied for membership on May 18. On July 4th, 2022, Finland and Sweden completed accession talks at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. Both countries officially confirmed their willingness and ability to meet the political, legal, and military commitments of NATO membership, which is now waiting for ratification with the approval of all 30 member states. 

On the other side, Russia has been vocal about its opposition to NATO expansion, especially in regard to Finland, which shares an 800-mile-long border with the country. Russia has repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden against joining NATO, saying there would be “serious military and political consequences” of such a move and would only cause it further to strengthen its defenses in the Baltic Sea region. Specifically, Russia claims that it has no disputes with Sweden or Finland, unlike their territorial disputes with Ukraine. Moscow’s warning gives NATO a dilemma.

As such, according to the Kremlin, Sweden and Finland joining NATO would only destabilize and further provoke Moscow. According to the Kremlin, unlike Finland and Sweden, Ukraine was becoming "anti-Russian," with those "who feel themselves a part of the Russian world" being persecuted. Vladimir Putin has also issued warnings that Russia would respond in kind if NATO set up military infrastructure in Finland and Sweden after they joined the military alliance. However, Russia’s attention is split. Moscow only has limited military capabilities to influence the NATO expansion process, as a large part of Russia's efforts is tied up by the war in Ukraine.

Policy Problem


With the announcement that Sweden and Finland wanted to join NATO, 28 NATO member nations such as the United Kingdom and Germany have ratified their accession already. Furthermore, Finland and Sweden meet most of the requirements for membership, as both the Finnish and Swedish militaries are compatible with NATO requirements and have participated in multinational operations and exercises with NATO members for decades.

The Alliance’s founding document explicitly states that any decision on enlargement must be made by unanimous agreement, meaning that the veto of even just one member can override the supermajority approval of the remaining states.  

All but two nations have approved their entry –  Hungary and Turkey are hesitant, as according to the Turkish president, Finland, and Sweden gave protection and residence to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – the major armed group resisting Turkey’s harsh treatment of its millions of Kurdish citizens.

PKK’s guerrilla movement has been in conflict with Turkey since 1978 and is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S., and the EU. Turkey demands that they’ll ratify Finland and Sweden, “only if they (Finland and Sweden) agree to extradite Turkish dissidents to face trial, adjust their definitions of terrorism, and allow arms exports to Turkey.”

While the arms embargo has been lifted, Turkey accuses the aspiring member states of refusing to extradite the perceived terrorists. Yet, with Turkey holding a reputation for repeatedly violating international human rights law, Sweden’s and Finland’s democratic governments will find it hard to proceed with the decision to extradite amid Turkey’s possible breach of human rights. Furthermore, Turkey's ratification of accession has likely been slowed by recent earthquakes that have devastated the country and parts of Syria. 

Nevertheless, on June 28, Turkish, Swedish, and Finnish diplomats signed a trilateral memorandum in June during the Madrid NATO summit to assure Turkey of the conditions. Sweden and Finland both pledged to refuse support to the PYD (a Syria-based Kurdish militia, the People’s Defense Units (YPG), or Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), and reaffirm that they consider the PKK a terrorist organization, which Turkey signaled it was content with the progress made.

Yet, just four months after, in October, Erdogan halted discussions, telling legislators that he would block their membership bids if Finland and Sweden did not fulfill their promises. Paul Levin, director of the Institute for Turkish Studies at the University of Stockholm pointed out that while the Turkish parliament decides upon the NATO application, it is “Erdogan who decides - and he is an emotional person who can absolutely choose to punish a counterpart if he feels offended." 

On the other hand, Hungary, another authoritarian state, is the most pro-Turkey member of NATO and has aligned with Erdogan on several issues. Not only were Hungary in favor of Turkish accession to the European Union, but they also backed Turkey’s concern about Swedish and NATO membership.

However, after negotiations with EU and NATO officials, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on November 24, 2022 that their parliament would approve Finland and Sweden’s membership in 2023, which has yet to occur. 

Given the agreement between NATO and Hungary’s legislature, Turkey will likely be the only roadblock to membership moving forward. Indeed, there remains uncertainty whether it is in Turkey’s interest to support NATO expansion, given the potential of straining Turkey’s relationship with Russia. Turkey might also be stalling the NATO accession decision to pressure Americans to approve a deal to sell Turkey F-16 and F-35 fighter jets.

Ultimately, experts see Turkey’s stalling as a way to exert leverage, and while Turkey has not yet given a clear timeline on when they will set or pass the motion, it is likely that Turkey will eventually approve Finland’s and Sweden’s membership. 

Nonpartisan Reasoning

Finnish and Swedish membership is expected to significantly strengthen NATO’s defenses, specifically in stretching NATO’s border with Russia. This means that NATO would be able to detect Russian military advances in critical Russian regions where nuclear capabilities are stored, such as St. Petersburg or the Kola Peninsula.

Furthermore, the Baltic Sea would become dominated by NATO forces following Sweden and Finland’s accession, with the only nearby Russian strongholds being St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad. With control over the shallow seas, the Gulf of Finland, and the Danish Straits, NATO can easily communicate within the region and swiftly detect and deter Russian advances. 

Furthermore, NATO would gain access to Gotland, the largest Swedish Island located in the Baltic, which can harbor a NATO aircraft carrier that can facilitate NATO presence in the waters and airspace in the Baltics. Finland and Sweden can also increase NATO deterrence in the Arctic, where Russia has invested heavily in commercial and military infrastructure.

Nevertheless, Finland and Sweden are unlikely to allow establishing NATO military infrastructure lest they instigate Russian aggression. Hence, Sweden and Finland are likely to refrain from major NATO projects, though NATO influence in Northern Europe, the Baltic, and Arctic Circle may increase. 

Policy Options

The Western world has largely made its decision on Sweden and Finland’s bid for NATO membership — 28 of the 30 member states, including the U.S. vis-a-vis the Senate, have formally ratified the Nordic countries' bids. The remaining challenges are getting foot-dragging member states to join the broader consensus and prepare the alliance for the challenges presented by two new member states, one of which shares the potentially longest border with Moscow out of all NATO states.

Assuaging Turkish Concerns

While both Hungary and Turkey initially protested the accession of Finland and Sweden to the NATO alliance, President Erdogan and the Turkish government remain the sole holdout, as Hungary has committed to a Parliamentary ratification procedure to take place in February. 

The alliance helped facilitate a trilateral memorandum of understanding between Turkey, Sweden, and Finland that — in vague temporal terms — committed Turkey to support Finland and Sweden’s bid for NATO in exchange for concessions on extraditions, terrorism definitions, and arms embargoes. But despite the Memorandum of Understanding, Erdogan has yet to initiate many of the formal procedures necessary to certify Turkish support for Sweden and Finland, effectively holding the alliance in limbo.

The U.S., and the alliance more broadly, must continue to apply delicate diplomatic pressure while facilitating trilateral talks, much as Secretary of State Blinken has sought to do with recent meetings with Finnish and Swedish representatives. 

The enduring concern is that, even if the Nordic countries’ joining is inevitable in the long run, sustained holdouts from Turkey would send the wrong signal to Moscow. The Western response to Putin’s war in Ukraine has been effective in no small part due to its unity, and Erdogan’s attempts to use Turkey’s leverage within NATO to advance country-specific goals risks jeopardizing that unified deterrent. 

Preparing for Integration and Hedging Russian Response

Even before final approvals from Turkey and Hungary are secured, the alliance can begin taking steps to hasten Finnish and Swedish integration into the military alliance once their joining is formalized. Especially given Finland’s direct border with Russia, military preparations must be made to secure the safety of the two countries beyond the reliance on NATO’s mutual security guarantee. This includes hard-detailed discussions on war planning, finding agreement on threat perception levels (specifically regarding Moscow), and deciding if and how troops should be reallocated under the alliance’s new shape. 

This is particularly important for the border-sharing Finnish nation, which may be vulnerable to a “fait accompli” Russian attack targeting “right protection [portions] of territory” intended to provoke offensive action. Nearly immediately upon Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, NATO needs to be prepared to deploy troops and capabilities at a level sufficient to present material complications to any Russian action, not just as a deterrent force posturing. 

Existing NATO member states must also clarify the purpose and implementation of Article V under these circumstances. Despite the broad public consensus that Article V compels member states to mount a comprehensive response to offensive action against fellow member states, NATO’s consensus-predicated decision-making means there's little guaranteed if Finland or Sweden were to come under a Russian offensive, especially given Turkey and Hungary’s apprehensions about their joining. 


While many of the political obstacles in the way of Swedish and Finnish NATO membership fell to the wayside with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the successful implementation of their membership both relies on the U.S. and its core allies' ability to persuade the likes of Turkey, and the alliance’s adequate preparation.

Though many assess Russia’s aggressive condemnation of the bid by Sweden and Finland, NATO must be prepared for a worst-case scenario that involves a broadening of Putin’s war in Ukraine. 


The Institute for Youth in Policy wishes to acknowledge Brady Zeng, Ahad Khan, Benjamin Chen, and other contributors for developing and maintaining the Policy Department within the Institute.

Works Cited


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Sarika Rahman

Foreign Policy Lead

Sarika is a high school senior located in Southern Georgia with an interest in Global Affairs and Geopolitical Conflicts. As such, alongside Public Forum Debate, she has been working for YIP as a Foreign Policy Lead since 2020. She aims to pursue a higher education for Economics and International Relations, with focus on Middle Eastern Conflict.

Kendall Carll

Policy Analyst

A first-year at Harvard studying Government and International Relations with a Secondary in History, Kendall is interested in American security policy, particularly nuclear, great-power, and East Asian issues.

Eli Pearl

Policy Analyst

Eli Pearl is a high school junior from California who's journalistic focuses are modern politics, history, foreign policy, the intersections between sports and politics, and food culture. In his spare time he enjoys film-making and improv.

Michelle Liou

Senior Vice President, Policy

Michelle Liou is currently a student at UCLA, studying Business Economics and Statistics. She hopes to attend law school in the future, and seeks to develop her interest in policy making, leadership, and business.

Chanhee Joy Park

Director, Policy Media

Chanhee (Joy) Park is a Foreign Policy Co-Lead based in Texas and Michigan, specializing in the history and politics of East Asia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.

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