In early August, the U.S. Senate almost unanimously approved Finland and Sweden’s accession to The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), describing the move as a “slam-dunk” for U.S. national security.
President Joe Biden has pushed for the two previously non-militarily aligned northern European nations to gain entry as soon as possible.
“This historic vote sends an important signal of the U.S. sustained, bipartisan commitment to NATO, and to ensuring our Alliance is ready to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Biden said in a statement. “I am looking forward to signing the protocols and welcoming Sweden and Finland, two strong democracies with highly capable militaries, into the greatest defensive alliance in history.”
NATO and its 73-year-old pact of mutual defense among the U.S. and democratic allies in Europe took a significant step forward last Wednesday with the U.S. Senate’s 95-1 vote. Sweden and Finland had previously avoided military alliances before Russia’s war against Ukraine.
All 30 current NATO member countries must give their approval before the two Nordic nations can become members of the alliance. More than half of NATO’s member nations have already ratified the candidacies of the two prosperous Northern European countries in the roughly three months since they applied.
The rapid pace of the ongoing approval process is intended to send a message to Russia about its six-month-old war against Ukraine’s pro-Western government.
“It sends a warning shot to tyrants all over the world who believe free democracies are just up for grabs,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar said before the vote. “Russia’s unprovoked invasion has changed our outlook on global security.”
To calm conservative fears about the alliance’s expansion, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell argued that Sweden and Finland could shoulder their fair share of the defense burden.
McConnell hoped for unanimous approval during a trip to Kyiv earlier this year. In a speech to the Senate, McConnell mentioned Finland and Sweden’s well-funded, modernized military, calling it a “slam-dunk for U.S. national security.”
“Their membership will strengthen NATO and increase America’s security,” he said.
Sen, Josh Hawley voted no, the only senator to do so. Hawley used the Senate floor to accuse European security alliances of diverting attention away from the United States’ “greatest foreign adversary,” China, rather than Russia.
Hawley stated that allowing Finland and Sweden to join Nato would require “more United States’ forces in Europe — more manpower, more firepower, more resources, more spending — not just now, but over the long haul.”
He argued that the U.S. should instead focus on deterring China from world domination. “We can’t do both,” Hawley said, describing his foreign policy as a “classic nationalist approach.
Sen. Tom Cotton argued against Hawley’s claim that expanding NATO would mean more obligations for the world’s largest military, the United States.
Cotton was among many who cited the two countries’ military advantages, including Finland’s experience securing miles of border with Russia and its ground military and Sweden’s well-resourced navy and air force.
Cotton noted that Finland and Sweden are “far larger, for more capable, and far more strategically situated” than the last two countries granted accession to NATO — Montenegro and Macedonia.
“Let’s be honest: who can deny Finland and Sweden have much stronger cases?” Cotton asked, describing Finland and Sweden as “two of the strongest members of the alliance the minute they join.”