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The South Asian Insider

Finland wants to join NATO. But it may have to ditch an old friend to do so

(News Agency) When it comes to friendships between nations, not much comes between Sweden and my home country of Finland.
We’re not just neighbors; We are bound together by centuries of shared history. Parts of Finland were ruled for 500 years (sometimes uneasily, to be honest) by the kingdom of Sweden. And along with Finnish, Swedish is one of two official languages in Finland. Most Finns learn to speak the language passably well.In recent decades, our two countries have also been close military allies. In fact, Sweden is Finland’s closest defense partner. The two countries have been cooperating on defense since the 1990s. That close military cooperation is one of the reasons why, when many other countries in northern and eastern Europe rushed to join NATO, Helsinki and Stockholm chose to remain outside. We felt we had our mutual defense needs covered vis-a-vis Russia.
Finland also has robust military defenses which we developed as a matter of exigency, living in the shadow of a powerful Russian neighbor with whom we already went to war once before, back when it was part of the Soviet Union. Until one year ago, we Finns actually harbored the idea that our eastern neighbor had become a peace-loving trading partner, and no longer posed a threat to our national security.
Moscow’s brutal invasion of Ukraine changed all that. It quickly became clear that if Finland and Sweden are to have real security from possible Russian aggression, we are more likely to find it within the larger NATO military alliance than on our own. We were particularly keen for the protections afforded by Article 5 of the NATO treaty, the collective defense doctrine stating that an attack on one member is tantamount to an attack on the entire alliance. It’s been a cornerstone of the 30-member NATO alliance since its founding in 1949 as a counterweight to the Soviet Union.US President Joe Biden underscored the importance of the article during his meetings in Poland this week with leaders from the so-called Bucharest Nine countries – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia – on the frontline of any potential hostilities with Moscow.
“Article 5 is a sacred commitment the United States has made. We will defend literally every inch of NATO,” Biden told the group.
Finland and Sweden submitted applications for NATO membership last June, assuming we’d be on a fast track to accession. Our applications were submitted simultaneously to signal that we were united in our assessment of the Russian threat. And if all goes according to plan, in the next several months our two nations will be full-fledged NATO members.
But things have not gone according to plan – in fact, almost from the start, the accession process has hit some bumps in the road.
Twenty-eight NATO member states accepted the applications almost immediately, but two holdouts – Turkey and Hungary – have thrown a wrench into the application process, which requires unanimity from all of the 30 current NATO member states.
Political observers in Hungary say Budapest seems likely to relent as the application process proceeds this spring. Hungarian lawmakers have scheduled a vote on Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO bids in early March, and officials have signaled that they expect to approve both bids.