Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre is ready to welcome Sweden and Finland into NATO, after both countries indicated interest in applying to join the defense alliance. Støre concedes their prospective membership would further raise tensions between the Nordic countries and Russia, but also increase Nordic cooperation and strength.
Støre told newspaper Klassekampen just before the weekend that the enhanced national security that NATO membership can give Finland and Sweden is more important than complaints from Russia. “It would contribute to a phase of more tension and less dialogue between the Nordic countries and Russia,” he said, but Russian leaders will need to accept that.
“Russia has now put itself into a situation where all of Europe sees what kinds of attacks and war they’re carrying out in Ukraine,” Støre said. “That clearly has consequences both for close neighbours and countries located a bit farther away. That’s why those of us in NATO are taking steps to give (NATO member countries) closest to Russia more security.” Norway’s decision to send soldiers to Lithuania, for example, was not made from an offensive perspective, he added, but from NATO’s collective security pact.
He also noted how Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to dictate which countries should be allowed to become members of NATO. “Finland and Sweden are modern democracies that make their own choices,” Støre told Klassekampen. Støre, a veteran diplomat who has worked closely with Russian leaders in the past, placed responsibility for any decisions by Finland and/or Sweden to join NATO squarely on Russia itself, because of the decision Russia’s leaders took to invade and try to conquer Ukraine.
If Finland and Sweden do decide to join NATO, Støre thinks it will lead to “stronger integration of military planning more joint military exercises and purchasing agreements.” The Nordic countries’ collective position within NATO would be stronger. The geographical positions of all three countries would also enhance NATO presence, with Norway positioned along the Barents Sea, Finland with a more “inland perspective” and both Finland and Sweden with a perspective south through the Baltic Sea. There could also be even more cooperation with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which have all been members since 2004.
Støre stressed that none of the relatively small Nordic and Baltic countries has an offensive agenda. They’re only concerned with contributing to European security and defense, he said. “I think the experience Russia has had with Norway as a member of NATO will be very similar to what they would experience with Sweden and Finland,” Støre told Klassekampen.