On Aug. 3, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved Finland and Sweden joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The vote was 95 to 1, far more than the two-thirds required for approval. This supports expansion in the strategically vital Arctic, which will significantly extend Russia’s borders with NATO members.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, an occasional collaborator with Russia, initially opposed admission of Finland and Sweden. His concerns included the presence in Scandinavia of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units. Turkey’s government strongly opposes such separatist groups.
At the end of June, the three nations’ leaders signed an accord on the matter. Turkey has a very large and effective military. Expanding NATO to the north while not losing Turkey in the south represents a major strategic victory.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine represents the most serious crisis and challenge in Europe since the Balkan wars of the 1990s. President Vladimir Putin no doubt anticipated a quick victory. Ukraine’s heroic self-defense to date has energized as well as united NATO. Russia is paying a high price for aggression.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict overall is a long-term affair. In 2014, Russia seized Crimea and the eastern portion of Ukraine. Crimea had been part of Russia until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula to the authority of Ukraine in 1954.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, followed by the disintegration of the Soviet bloc of satellite states and then the Soviet Union, represented a historic strategic victory for the West. The end of the Cold War confirmed the policy of restraint and deterrence termed “Containment,” initiated by the Truman administration.
Poland, a NATO member since 1999, is active in the collective effort to provide arms to Ukraine. The new coalition government in Germany led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz began with a low profile regarding Europe, in considerable contrast to the assertive long-term leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel. This changed abruptly when Russia invaded Ukraine, and Germany now provides arms and other aid.
Both of the potential NATO members bring significant qualities. The Soviet-Finnish War of 1939-1940, ended through negotiation, demonstrated Finland’s military prowess against a far larger enemy. Cold War Sweden practiced variations of often obviously anti-American “neutrality.” Both nations in NATO strengthen deterrence of Russia in the north.
During the early phases of the Cold War, the Arctic was the focus of intense security concern. NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command, was formed in 1958 to coordinate Canada and U.S. military activities. (In 1981, it was retitled the North American Aerospace Defense Command.) The threat of Soviet long-range bombers attacking after crossing the Arctic was a prime concern.
Less visibly, President Dwight Eisenhower secured demilitarization of Antarctica in 1959.
In the North today, Russia has taken the lead in commerce, exploration and military bases. Moscow also pursues serious disputes with other Arctic nations. One example involves Canada and Denmark regarding control of the Lomonosov Ridge.
In 2021, Russia succeeded Iceland in chairing the Arctic Council, which also includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the U.S. Finland and Sweden in NATO will effectively isolate Russia as the only non-member of the alliance.
Agreement within an enlarged NATO will facilitate effective strategy to counter Russia’s potentially significant expansion in the Arctic region, a vital area largely ignored by U.S. presidents since the turn of the century.
Russia has reconfirmed the validity of NATO.
Arthur I. Cyr is author of “After the Cold War – American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). He is also the director of the Clausen Center at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisc., and a Clausen Distinguished Professor. He welcomes questions and comments at email@example.com.