Finland became the newest member of NATO today, as the country's flag - a blue cross on a white background - was raised over the defense alliance's headquarters in Brussels.
At the ceremony, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced, "For almost 75 years, this great alliance has shielded our nations and continues to do so today. But war has returned to Europe and Finland has decided to join NATO and be part of the world's most successful alliance."
In a statement, President Joe Biden praised the addition of Finland to NATO, and pointed out it was the fastest ratification process in NATO's modern history.
"When Putin launched his brutal war of aggression against the people of Ukraine, he thought he could divide Europe and NATO," Biden said. "He was wrong. Today, we are more united than ever."
Why did Finland join NATO?
Finland raced to join NATO after Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year. It applied in May 2022. After years of public opposition to joining NATO inside Finland, polling now shows Finns embrace the move.
Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center's Reimagining U.S. Grand Strategy Program, says that the Finnish people "have a long history of self-defense, resilience. They fought a war against Russia in the 1930s and into the 1940s for their own self-defense against the Soviet Union, and they kept that up through the Cold War."
As a result, she says, they bring a long view to NATO that is "a lot of other European states could learn from."
What is the impact of Finland joining NATO?
Finland shares a 832 mile border with Russia. Adding Finland to NATO will more than double the size of NATO's border with Russia; and it will double security on the border.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov separately told reporters that Finland's accession to NATO was forcing Moscow to take countermeasures to ensure its security. On Monday, Russia promised to strengthen military capacity in its western and northwestern regions in response to NATO's expansion.
But some analysts warn that European states become less self-reliant once they enter NATO, and more reliant on the US military capabilities.
Sweden was also supposed to join NATO but has not yet been able to. What impact does that have?
In President Biden's statement on Tuesday, he pointed out that both Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership at the same time, close to a year ago.
"Both countries are strong democracies with highly capable militaries, who share our values and vision for the world," President Biden said. "I look forward to welcoming Sweden as a NATO member as soon as possible, and encourage Turkiye and Hungary to conclude their ratification processes without delay. "
Sweden is still waiting to join. Hungary and Turkey - both NATO members - have resisted; Turkey accuses Sweden of harboring Kurdish separatists whom it regards as terrorists.
Emma Ashford of the Stimson Center points out that this is a problem for the military operations of Finland and Sweden, since they have long had integrated defense cooperation.
"It's going to add technical challenges as NATO's defense planners try and bring Finland into all of the alliance's strategic planning," Ashford said. "They have to basically accept that Sweden is outside and Finland is inside for right now. Finnish leaders obviously felt that it was better to be inside the alliance and reduce that sort of risk of this limbo period even if Sweden weren't there. But it's hardly an ideal circumstance."
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Finland officially joins NATO today. The Nordic nation will double the security alliance's border with Russia. Finland's leaders race to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine. And after years of public opposition, polling shows Finns have come to embrace the move. But are there any downsides? Our next guest thinks so. Emma Ashford is a senior fellow at the foreign affairs think tank Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. Emma, before we get into the cons of Finland joining NATO, what's a pro?
EMMA ASHFORD: You know, the Finns have a long history of self-defense, resilience. They fought a war against Russia in the 1930s and into the 1940s for their own self-defense against the Soviet Union. And they kept that up through the Cold War. So the Finns, I think, bring a mindset to NATO that is very beneficial. And I think a lot of other European states could learn from.
MARTÍNEZ: So what should be the biggest concern, then, for the world for Finland joining NATO?
ASHFORD: So the big problems are the same as they often are when the NATO alliance expands. You know, Finland is - borders Russia. It adds - in fact, it almost doubles the length of NATO's border with Russia. And that opens us up to sort of a new space in terms of, you know, we're exposed to Russian attacks going forward. Adding another member to NATO also makes the alliance more unwieldy. This has always been the case as the alliance has grown in recent years. And finally, there's that risk of, you know, burden sharing, right? As I said, the Finns have this long history of self-reliance, of self-defense. But what we've seen is many European states, as soon as they're admitted to NATO, move away from that and start to rely more and more on U.S. capabilities. So, you know, I think there's upsides to Finland joining NATO, but I do think there are those downsides we should be aware of.
MARTÍNEZ: Does this move allow Vladimir Putin to tell Russians, look, I was right, you see? NATO is trying to creep in on Russia.
ASHFORD: You know, I think that's always a concern. I am somewhat more concerned about the loss of states in Europe that have this sort of neutral mindset that can help to mediate between Russia and the West, that can help to act as, you know, a conduit between Russia and the West. And what we've seen with the war in Ukraine - I mean, this is entirely at the feet of Vladimir Putin. It is his fault that this is happening. But what we have seen is very much a hardening of that European environment into, you know, Russia and everybody else. And there are very few countries left that can play that mediation role.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, we thought it was supposed to be Finland and Sweden joining NATO together. But Sweden's admission gets held up continuously by Turkey so far. So what effect will that have on defense in the region to just have one of the two?
ASHFORD: Yeah, it's not ideal. So, you know, Finland and Sweden, in fact, have long had defense cooperation. Their militaries are very integrated. And so, you know, it's going to, I would say, add technical challenges as NATO defense planners try and, you know, bring Finland into all of the alliance's strategic planning and operational things, you know, that they have to basically accept that Sweden is outside and Finland is inside for right now. Finnish leaders obviously felt that it was better to be inside the alliance and reduce that sort of risk of this limbo period, even if Sweden weren't there. But again, it's hardly an ideal circumstance.
MARTÍNEZ: What does Turkey have to gain by holding up Sweden?
ASHFORD: Turkey has some serious policy disagreements, some with Finland, more so with Sweden, mostly related to the Kurdish question. And there's also some suspicion, I think, that Turkish President Erdogan is probably delaying his decision on this question until after Turkish elections in order to try and sort of bolster his - the notion at home that he is standing up to the West. So there's a possibility that after the elections, he will change his mind on Sweden. But in general, there are these policy disagreements. And this, again, is one of these problems with expanding the alliance too far is we end up in a place where members inside the alliance have serious policy security disagreement.
MARTÍNEZ: Really quick in the last few seconds we have here, is it a safer world with Finland in NATO?
ASHFORD: You know, I think we would all hope so. Certainly, Finns believe so, that the number of people in Finland in favor of joining NATO has swung dramatically since the invasion of Ukraine last year. But, again, I do worry we have moved the NATO alliance right up to the border with Russia. We have expanded our nuclear umbrella that far. And there are these security risks that we need to bear in mind.
MARTÍNEZ: Emma Ashford, senior fellow at the Stimson Center. Emma, thanks.
ASHFORD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.