Finland officially confirms intention to join NATO

Finland officially confirms intention to join NATO
A meeting between NATO and Finland leaders in 2016. Credit: NATO

In a press conference on Sunday, Finland officially announced its plans to apply for NATO membership after months of speculation, with the move breaking decades of military neutrality.

President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced on Sunday afternoon that Finland is officially seeking to join NATO. Finnish leaders are persevering with the move despite the ongoing threats from the Kremlin.

The move is a direct response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which it feels has changed its security situation. Finland is seeking to bolster its defence guarantees with the West, claiming it has a right to "maximise its security" as most countries would.

Ahead of an official bid to the US-led military alliance, the move will first need to be ratified by the Finnish parliament. "We hope that the parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership," Prime Minister Narin said in the press conference.

She claimed the move will be put to a vote and will be based on a strong mandate, and that throughout the decision process Finland has been in close contact with governments of NATO member states and NATO itself.

"We are close partners to NATO but it is a historic decision that we will join NATO and hopefully we are making the decisions together," Prime Minister Narin added.

Once an official bid has been put in, it will take some months before it is ratified. That means that Article 5 of the charter on collective defence will not be applicable until an official confirmation as members of NATO. Under the treaty, collective defence means that "an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies".

The Minister of Defence, Antti Kaikkonen, also speaking at the press conference was clear when it came to Finland's security: "never again alone.”

Putin phone-call

Finland shares a 1,300km border with Russia, with the move coming as a direct response to the Kremlin's decision to invade Ukraine, in what analysts may claim will be another huge blow to Russia's strategic interests.

In a phone conversation with Vladimir Putin on Saturday and ahead of the announcement, President Sauli Niinistö laid out the reason's directly to the Russian President.

President Niinistö was clear that the invasion of Ukraine had altered Finland's security situation, and that the membership bid was designed to "maximise the security" of Finland, rather than a 'move away' from Russia.

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The conversation was described by Finland as frank and without aggravations.

The President also believes that Russia will not respond militarily to move, but said on Sunday that “it’s always worth remembering that total vigilance is in place.” In Finland, military service is still compulsory for men.

International response

US President Joseph Biden has welcomed the move, saying he expressed support for NATO's Open Door policy, and each country's right to choose its own security arrangements.

One complication Finland may face in their NATO application process is Turkey.

Turkey has signalled an unwillingness to back the NATO membership bid of both Finland and Sweden over their support for Kurdish rebels, but on Sunday also signalled they were 'open to talking'. Sweden is deciding its official position regarding NATO membership on Sunday, with the country also expected to make an announcement.

Last week, the United Kingdom, Finland and Sweden announced mutual security agreements, with the UK agreeing to come to the Nordic countries' aid should either nation come under attack.

This security guarantee would also protect the two countries in case of any military retaliation or attacks by Russia during the NATO membership process, and ahead of ratification or applicability of article 5.

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