Five things to know about Finland, Sweden joining Nato

The Finns are expected to finalise their membership to Nato soon, while Sweden continues to face opposition. PHOTO: REUTERS

HELSINKI - After decades of staying out of military alliances, Finland and neighbouring Sweden announced bids to join Nato in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

After Turkey became the final member to ratify Finland’s bid on Thursday, the Finns are expected to finalise their membership in the coming days, while Sweden continues to face opposition.

Here are five things to know about the two countries’ membership bids:

Historic U-turns

For decades, most Swedes and Finns were in favour of maintaining their policies of military non-alignment.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked sharp U-turns.

The change was especially dramatic in Finland, which shares a 1,300km border with Russia.

Prior to the application, public support for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) membership had remained steady at 20 per cent to 30 per cent for two decades, but a February poll suggested 82 per cent were happy with the decision to join the alliance.

A Swedish poll in January had 63 per cent of Swedes in favour of joining Nato.

During the Cold War, Finland remained neutral in exchange for assurances from Moscow that it would not invade. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Finland remained militarily non-aligned.

Sweden adopted an official policy of neutrality at the end of the 19th-century Napoleonic wars, which was amended to one of military non-alignment following the end of the Cold War.

Split entry

The Nordic neighbours were originally adamant they wanted to join the alliance together, agreeing to submit their applications at the same time.

Despite assurances they would be welcomed with “open arms”, their applications quickly ran into opposition, primarily from Nato member Turkey.

Bids to join Nato must be ratified by all members of the alliance.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in mid-March asked Parliament to ratify Finland’s bid, but delayed Sweden’s following a litany of disputes.

Similarly, when Hungary ratified Finland’s bid on Monday, Sweden’s was pushed until “later”.

Finland decided to move forward, even if it meant leaving Sweden behind.

Since Finland’s Parliament has already approved the application, all it needs to do now that all ratifications have been secured is deposit an “instrument of accession” in Washington to finalise the membership.

Sweden v Turkey

Sweden, Finland and Turkey signed a trilateral memorandum at a Nato summit in June 2022 to secure the start of the accession process.

But Ankara has repeatedly butted heads with Stockholm, saying its demands have remained unfulfilled, particularly for the extradition of Turkish citizens that Turkey wants to prosecute for “terrorism”.

It has accused Sweden of providing a safe haven for “terrorists”, specifically members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

Negotiations between the countries were temporarily suspended in early 2023, after protests – involving both the burning of the Quran and a mock hanging of an effigy of Mr Erdogan – were staged in Stockholm.


Swedish policy long dictated that the country needed a strong military to protect its neutrality.

But after the Cold War, it drastically slashed defence spending, turning its military focus towards peacekeeping operations.

Combining its different branches, the Swedish military can field around 50,000 soldiers, about half of whom are reservists.

While Finland has similarly made defence cuts, it has maintained a much larger army than Sweden. The country of 5½ million people has a wartime strength of 280,000 troops plus 600,000 reservists.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, both countries announced increased spending.

Sweden said it was targeting 2 per cent of gross domestic product “as soon as possible”, and Finland added more than €2 billion (S$2.89 billion) to its €5.1 billion defence budget over the next four years.

Memories of war

While Sweden has sent forces to international peacekeeping missions, it has not gone to war in more than 200 years.

Finland’s memories of warfare are much fresher.

In 1939, it was invaded by the Soviet Union.

Finns put up a fierce fight during the bloody Winter War, but the country was ultimately forced to cede a huge stretch of its eastern Karelia province in a peace treaty with Moscow.

A 1948 “friendship agreement” saw the Soviets agree not to invade again, as long as Finland stayed out of any Western defence cooperation. The country’s forced neutrality to appease its stronger neighbour coined the term “Finlandisation”. AFP

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