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Norway hails ‘historic’ NATO expansion

UPDATED: Finland and Sweden will be welcomed into NATO with open arms by their neighbouring Norwegians. There’s broad support in Norway for both Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership applications, after both countries felt compelled to join the defense alliance after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, addressed NATO troops that included visiting Swedes during last winter’s Norwegian-led Cold Response winter exercises. Now Finland and Sweden have decided to join NATO themselves, marking an historic change in security policy. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Torbjørn Kjosvold

“This means a lot for Norway,” Karsten Friis, a senior researcher at Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “What’s happening now amounts to the biggest change in security policy in the Nordic area since World War II.” And that change will be for the better, he thinks, not only for Norway but also for the entire Nordic region and NATO itself.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, wholeheartedly agrees. He stated even before the weekend, when Finland and Sweden were formally still deliberating, that both countries “will be wished a warm welcome,” and that the membership process “will be quick and flexible.”

Putin’s invasion has simply “shown what he’s willing to do” to a neighbour country, said Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, who confirmed on social media Monday that Sweden will seek NATO membership, just a day after Finland officially decided the same. Linde called it “an historic day for Sweden,” adding that the Swedish Parliament’s foreign affairs commitee had informed Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf of the government’s intentions to end Sweden’s two centuries of neutrality, also during both World Wars.

The Russians’ attack on Ukraine in late February changed everything. The looming inclusion of the two Nordic countries into NATO was also being called “historic” in Norway, where support for Finland and Sweden runs across all party lines. Even Norway’s Socialist Left Party (SV), which has long opposed even Norway’s membership in the defense alliance, accepts the expansion after watching Russia try to destroy Ukraine. SV, noted newspaper Dagsavisen, will also, through NATO, finally get the joint Nordic defense alliance that it’s advocated for years.

The answer to that question now appears to be “yes,” after Sweden and Finland have both announced plans to apply for NATO membership. GRAPH: Statista.com

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who already has expressed his support for the inclusion of Sweden and Finland in the defense alliance, promised over the weekend that Norway also will offer security support for Sweden while its membership application is being handled. He recently visited Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, who said on Sunday that Sweden would be in an “insecure” position if it remained the only country in the Baltic region that wasn’t a member of NATO.  “The best thing for our country’s security is that we seek membership in NATO, and that we do it now,” Andersson said.

Putin, meanwhile, has threatened both military and political reactions if Finland and Sweden sought NATO membership. He moderated that on Monday, claiming now that their membership presents “no threat” to Russia. French news bureau AFP reported that Putin’s spokesman also suddenly downplayed Finland’s and Sweden’s decisions to join NATO, claiming they can’t be compared with Ukraine’s desire to join NATO.

Immediate security assurances from Norway and from the US, Great Britain, France and Denmark remain important for both Finland and Sweden, however. Newspaper VG reported on Monday that the current Nordic NATO members Norway, Denmark and Iceland have been working on a joint declaration that will contribute towards Sweden’s and Finland’s defense during the months to come, while their applications are under review. It will likely include both political and military support for Finland and Sweden, the latter of which has already posted defense forces on its Baltic island of Gotland and had to fend off Russian fighter jets buzzing Sweden’s airspace.

GRAPH: Statista.com

Støre, leader of Norway’s Labour Party, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he thinks Swedish and Finnish membership in NATO “will make the world less dangerous” by contributing to security in the entire Nordic and Arctic area. “Sweden and Finland will be more oriented towards the Baltic like we are towards the Atlantic,” Støre said. “Together, that will be good for Norwegian security.”

Støre also declared that Denmark and Norway “will be among the first to ratify an agreement on their membership, approve it in our parliaments and follow up the Nordic tradition of committing ourselves to support our neighbours if their security is threatened.”

The Norwegian prime minister also has full support from his party’s biggest opponent in the Norwegian Parliament, the Conservatives. Ine Eriksen Søreide, a former defense- and foreign minister in the former Conservatives-led government, told NRK that NATO’s Nordic members must help make the membership process go “as quickly and smoothly as possible.” Søreide, who now leads the foreign affairs and defense committee in Parliament, said that “will send an important signal to Sweden and Finland that we stand together, and to Russia that the Nordic region stands together, and that none of us will let ourselves be pressured or frightened by Russian rhetoric.”

Trouble from Turkey
It’s also important because NATO member Turkey has raised objections to Sweden’s and Finland’s membership. Turkey wants both countries to send 33 people with alleged ties to Kurdish militants back to their homeland, but Reuters reported Monday that both Sweden and Finland have turned down the request.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims Sweden and Finland support the Kurdish party (PKK), which Turkey views as a terrorist organization. The Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers planned to travel to Turkey this week to discuss the issue, but on Monday evening, Reuters reported that Erdogan said he didn’t want to receive them. Since his own spokesman denied as late as Sunday that Turkey would block Sweden’s and Finland’s membership, Erdogan seemed to have changed his mind and does want to block them after all. Erdogan, it should be noted, has received support from Putin and Russia in the past and that Turkey has purchased military equipment from Russia, despite protests from other NATO members.

Under current rules, all 30 NATO members must approve applications from new members. Most all other than Turkey are expected to support Sweden’s and Finland’s membership, and ensure that the process is swift. Negotiations clearly loom, since the majority views Swedish and Finnish membership as highly positive and the vast majority of other NATO members won’t take kindly to Turkey’s objections.

Opportunities remain
A recent report from the Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI is positive as well, claiming that NATO’s Nordic expansion will open up a wide range of new defense possibilities in the Nordic region. They include joint use of the entire region and its airspace in case of crisis and war, allowing for much more freedom of movement for forces on land and in the air. There will be more flexibility to use Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish forces together, thereby strengthening the entire defense alliance, and there will be better supply lines.

“The entire Nordic and Baltic regions will become much stronger both in terms of security policy and militarily,” editorialized Dagsavisen, “and, of course, become a more important and stronger player within the alliance. It’s a big plus for Norway that two of our most important and closest neighbours will now also be our allies in NATO.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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