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There is a plethora of news about Turkey opposing Sweden and Finland from joining NATO, suggesting that this will be quite a long process.

Being part of NATO offers an important advantage (besides others) due to collective defense (article 5), but I am interested mostly in the de facto advantages here based on the following rationale:

  • NATO successfully rolled out arms in Ukraine, a non-NATO member, which had an important role in pushing back the invading Russian army
  • Both Sweden and Finland's armies ensure interoperable capabilities with NATO, so I guess NATO helping them would be even easier than in Ukraine's case

That means that NATO (+ others interested to help) can effectively help a country resist a Russian invasion regardless of NATO membership.

Is there anything on the practical side that brings NATO membership for Sweden and Finland on the short-medium term (1-2 years)?

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    Well, it means that Russia is less likely to invade them in the near future.
    – RedSonja
    Jun 2, 2022 at 13:20
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    @RedSonja Judging by the progress in Ukraine, I do not think they will be able to invade another country anytime soon.
    – Alexei
    Jun 2, 2022 at 13:22
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    @Alexei the brave and intrepid Ukrainians are keeping us safe for the time being
    – RedSonja
    Jun 2, 2022 at 13:26
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    Advantages for whom? NATO or Sweden/Finland? Both? Jun 2, 2022 at 17:20
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    @convert - Which country? If Ukraine, the Soviet Union obviously did not invade it, because it was part of the Soviet Union. If Finland, it invaded it shortly before the Cold War (the Winter War).
    – Obie 2.0
    Jun 2, 2022 at 21:11

4 Answers 4

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There is a difference between providing arms and going to war. You are correct that under the current status quo, if Russia seriously threatened Sweden or Finland, NATO nations would unquestionably provide them with military aid. But the full extent of that aid and the form it takes would be a matter of debate.

But NATO membership means that an attack on one is an attack on all. Finland joining NATO would mean that a Russian attack on Finland would be considered an attack on the United States, an attack on the UK, an attack on France. That is to say, a Russian invasion would be a de facto declaration of war on the entirety of NATO.

Right now NATO is in something of a proxy war with Russia. If Ukraine had been in NATO, there would be no "proxy" about it, it'd just mean the full might of the UK, France, Germany, and US coming down on Russia. At absolute worst, it'd mean nuclear exchange, end of the world, that whole business.

If that sounds like something Russia would never, ever do, you're probably correct. And Finland and Sweden are hoping the same.

tl;dr- NATO membership is the difference between generous military support in the face of invasion, and a near-guarantee the invasion will never happen in the first place

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    Even without NATO membership, an attack on Finland would be an attack on France and Germany. Not US and UK, however, and Russia seems to take only the US seriously.
    – o.m.
    Jun 2, 2022 at 14:14
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    @o.m. If you allude to the EU memberhip of Finland and Sweden, the EU clauses are much weaker than NATOs. Germany could say we send "thoughts and prayers" and we'd fulfil the EU obligations.
    – Polygnome
    Jun 2, 2022 at 21:59
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica "an armed attack against one [...] shall be considered an attack against them all" is a much stronger commitment. If you have any doubt about what article V is and what it isn't (and what article 42 TEU is and isn't), please read up on some actual legal expert opinions on that topic. Your own source states " it does not go so far as to confer a security commitment, akin to NATO's Article V". And also look into the history of Article 42 TEU and why it is stated that way and specifically, what it was designed not to be.
    – Polygnome
    Jun 2, 2022 at 22:33
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    We'll agree to disagree. You claim the treaties are inherently different. Their exact wording is not all that dissimilar, including opt-out clauses. At the end of the day, each country, whether it is acting as an EU member or a NATO member will act as it sees in its best interest: following the spirit of the treaty - mutual defense - if it feels forced to by circumstances, invoking some legalese opt out if it wants to shirk those responsibilities. The wording is similar in both cases and I only picked that link for the full text. Remember the UK has long been dubious on EU military. Jun 2, 2022 at 22:43
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    @o.m. Actually, the UK has a mutual defense pact with Finland, and with Sweden, announced last month. Jun 3, 2022 at 7:29
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It's probably more a political gain in clarity than a straight out military gain.

First, let's start out that neither Finland nor Sweden are like Ukraine. They are long time Western-aligned, rather than Ukraine's unfortunate and not very voluntary membership in what Russia considers its near-abroad club. They are also EU members, which brings in formal mutual defense guarantees, again unlike Ukraine. And they have very little in the way of Russian sympathizers to stir up trouble to justify "assisting ethnic brothers" with. Last, the Nordics generally look out for each other and Norway and Denmark, NATO founding members both, would bring extra pressure to assist them.

So, even in the absence of NATO membership, Russia would be foolish to assume that it could pull a Georgia(South Ossetia) / Moldova(Transnistria) / Ukraine(Crimea) on them and not get the West involved (remember many EU members are also in NATO).

Both countries found it best not to get too lined up with NATO during the Cold War. Finland was treaty-bound not to do so in any case, but their reality is that are rather near Russia and NATO in the 70s and 80s would have been stretched to win a conventional war in Germany/northern Europe, let alone assisting Finland at the end of the Baltic Sea.

Forward to the 90s and it didn't seem necessary to antagonize Russia. Sure, NATO was now dominant, but Russia could be lived alongside with. That was the popular belief in Finland against joining NATO.

Militarily? Both countries have good armies, certainly, but they are also quite unsuitable to attack Russia. Integrating them is easy, using them to "win" against Russia would not be:

  • Finland: small core army of professionals (15K?) with a massive conscription-based system that can bring it up to 280K on short notice. This is an army geared towards defense in depth, trading space for attacker attrition.

  • Sweden: 50k professionals-based army, with a small, 4k, conscripts call-up per year.

Again, operating from Finland, which can easily threaten St. Petersburg, means ferrying in troops through the Baltic, past Kaliningrad.

Russia, if it analyzes the military risks logically, will not be thrilled, but is not at any great risk of surprise assault. Then again, the US, with Cuba, shows how antsy a big power can be about having unfriendly neighbors.

So there is some gain, but also a heightened risk of confrontation with Russia along that now front-line 1300km long border. On the other hand, Russia is busy aggressing Ukraine right now so won't have much to be aggressive with in the short term. By the time it's recovered it will be in the same straightjacket attacking those 2 as NATO is in Ukraine: nuclear weapons make bloc-on-bloc direct combat suicidal and NATO's conventional forces can trounce Russia's.

Yes, there is undoubtedly more risk of confrontation on a longer, more sensitive border. But there is also a benefit to bring clarity and stop the temptation for partway adventurism by Russia that could escalate. NATO is on the hook formally, rather than being dragged in accidentally if Russia miscalculates.

For all parties involved, Finland and Sweden will become de-facto untouchable rather than something that needs to be thought about. Both countries' traditionally neutral-ish electorates have come to the conclusion that there is little to be gained by not antagonizing Russia, not because there is nobility in joining a military pact, but because Putin's Russia fundamentally can't be trusted.

p.s. the fact that they are both joining together is not a coincidence. They apparently have had a long standing agreement to take the jump together or not at all.

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    Based on what I've got from the Finnish media, I haven't had the impression that there'd been a agreement for joining together as such. Not before it now actually started to happen, anyway. Just an understanding of the reality that Finland joining with Sweden staying out would be somewhat awkward because of the geography, and it would be much easier e.g. to supply Finland from the West if crossing Sweden was part of the plans. And on the other hand, Sweden joining and Finland staying out would leave Finland very alone sitting next to Russia.
    – ilkkachu
    Jun 2, 2022 at 21:49
  • Hmmm, I am pretty sure I've seen somewhere that this is a previous actual agreement/understanding between the 2. It wasn't for joining together now, it was for coordinating accession, either to keep out or to get in. So it may not be very easy to find in current media, but there are hints about it all over NATO accession discussions pre-2022 and the 2 are always discussed together. Will look around. Jun 2, 2022 at 22:19
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Finland had declared a NATO-option, Sweden hadn't.
    – d-b
    Jun 2, 2022 at 22:20
  • Nice answer, but about They are long time Western-aligned... well, for Finland it is way more complicated than that.
    – SJuan76
    Jun 3, 2022 at 9:23
  • NATO in the 70s and 80s would have been stretched to win a conventional war in Germany/northern Europe — are you sure? I thought that the US had always been militarily far dominant over the Soviet Union in conventional military terms.
    – gerrit
    Jun 3, 2022 at 11:45
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That means that NATO (+ others interested to help) can effectively help a country resist a Russian invasion regardless of NATO membership.

It's not the same. The help that Ukraine received was rather small compared to what one could expect if Ukraine would have been a member of NATO. The war in Ukraine would certainly have looked very much different. I even guess that it would have never taken place at all. That is a very big difference.

Being a member of NATO is still way better than only being some third country, which is lucky to receive some help, in terms of security assurances.

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I think there are some long term advantages for Russia as well.

Russia needs to invade a neighboring country once in a while (likely once in a president term) in order to maintain its "power process".

If left out of available neigbors for invasion, the economy may take over the decision-making that is now dominated by police and military people.

It may as well (one can only hope) slowly turn into liberal democracy.

Or, at least, turn into a much safer economy-centered dictatorship like e.g. China (instead of the military-centered dictatorship it is now).

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    This is interesting, but very speculative. Could you back it up with some sources?
    – gerrit
    Jun 3, 2022 at 11:48
  • This is an answer to "What is the de facto advantage for Russia if more countries would be NATO members?", which is not this question here unfortunately. Jun 3, 2022 at 12:02
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    @Trilarion I'd say gradually nudging Russia towards abandoning its "wannabe superpower" politics is good for Europe or the NATO in general, Sweden and Finland included.
    – TooTea
    Jun 3, 2022 at 12:11
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    @gerrit Well, the past few decades provide multiple well-known examples of Russian invasions of neighbouring countries without a real reason apart from having something to show to the domestic audience. The rest is indeed just speculation (or perhaps wishful thinking).
    – TooTea
    Jun 3, 2022 at 12:15
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    @Trilarion The question does not specify advantages for whom.
    – gerrit
    Jun 3, 2022 at 12:28

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