Admitting Finland and Sweden into NATO would worsen European security
Andrew Korybko
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, the U.S., March 4, 2022. /CFP

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, the U.S., March 4, 2022. /CFP

Editor's note: Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily those of CGTN.

The Times reported recently that Finland and Sweden could join NATO as early as this summer. This follows recent polls showing that Russia's ongoing special military operation in Ukraine, which Moscow commenced to ensure the integrity of its national security red lines there but which Kyiv and the West regard as an "illegal invasion," has encouraged a majority of people in those countries to support membership in this U.S.-led anti-Russian military bloc.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned against that scenario. He told reporters on Monday: "We have repeatedly said that the alliance remains a tool geared towards confrontation and its further expansion will not bring stability to the European continent." While all countries have the sovereign right to join any group of states, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of which those two are part officially has a principle of indivisible security.

The outcome of its 1999 Istanbul Summit and the 2010 Astana Summit specified that this mustn't occur at the expense of any third countries, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reminded the West of in his written message to their foreign ministers in early February. One of the triggers for the Ukrainian conflict was Russia's concern that NATO's allegedly clandestine military infrastructure in that neighboring country posed a threat to regional security according to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

His country's officials also expressed worry about the U.S.' regional deployment of so-called "anti-missile systems" and strike weapons that they claimed were intended to neutralize Russia's nuclear second-strike capabilities and therefore destroy the strategic parity between these nuclear superpowers. Finland and Sweden's potential membership in NATO could lead to an almost exact replication of this scenario that international relations scholars describe as a "security dilemma."

This concept refers to one state or group thereof taking certain actions in supposed defense of their own security that are interpreted by others as undermining their own security. In turn, the second state or group thereof then undertakes its own actions on the same pretext, which are interpreted in the same negative way, thus prompting the first state or group thereof to do the same and so on and so forth. The end result is an inadvertent increase in regional insecurity since neither side trusts the other.

The Ukrainian conflict has turned into a proxy war between Russia and NATO after the latter openly began dispatching arms and other military equipment to Kyiv to help it repel advances from the Russian armed forces. There exists no trust whatsoever between Russia and this anti-Russian bloc, which means that Moscow will certainly view Finland and Sweden's possible membership into NATO as a pressing security threat, especially since Finland borders Russia.

The NATO flag is seen under the arch of the Cinquantenaire in Brussels, Belgium, June 11, 2021. /VCG

The NATO flag is seen under the arch of the Cinquantenaire in Brussels, Belgium, June 11, 2021. /VCG

Those two countries' potential inclusion into this anti-Russian bloc will therefore worsen European security by risking a replication of the Ukrainian scenario. Not only that, but since both are Arctic states, it could also contribute to the further militarization of the Arctic region. That eponymous ocean is becoming increasingly important as a conduit for East-West trade through what many nowadays describe as the Northern Sea Route.

The U.S.-led West's unprecedented (and according to Russia, preplanned) sanctions have increased the costs of overland trade across Eurasia via Russia and even cut off some of it entirely. There presently don't exist any alternatives that have similar costs and shipping times, which is why the Northern Sea Route might naturally become more attractive in the event that the sanctions remain in place indefinitely and until other overland routes can be pioneered.

The sudden militarization of the Arctic through Finland and Sweden's possible membership in NATO by this summer at the earliest, however, could complicate shipping there. That would be detrimental for Russia's, China's and the EU's objective economic interests but cynically prove profitable for the U.S.' own. To explain, America is in the process of reasserting its declining unipolar hegemony over Europe, which explains the pressure it put upon those countries to "decouple" from Russia through sanctions.

The creation of artificial political obstacles to the EU's trade with its Russian neighbor is intended to create economic troubles for the bloc. These could in turn be exploited to weaken the dollar's euro rival and create opportunities for U.S. companies there, including by possibly taking their competitors out of business or even buying them up. This strategy could be intensified if the U.S. creates artificial security obstacles to the Northern Sea Route's viability through another military crisis this summer.

Hopefully that worst-case scenario won't come to pass and those two countries will realize that joining this anti-Russian bloc will actually worsen European security and risk exacerbating the EU's ongoing economic troubles. There's also the possibility of an alternative whereby Finland and Sweden enter into a military alliance together with the U.S. as a third party, though this weekend's report about that from an influential Finnish foreign policy official was denied by the Finnish and Swedish defense ministers. 

In any case, all countries should exercise judiciousness when it comes to major decisions like joining foreign military blocs, especially considering the very tense security context in the present day. It's not wise to rush into making such decisions since they deserve to be thoroughly thought-out and studied in detail. Sometimes the most well-intended decisions lead to unforeseen consequences. Russia's already signaled its concern, which should hopefully be taken into consideration by Finland and Sweden.

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