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US Senate Ratifies NATO Membership for Finland and Sweden

·4 min read

(Bloomberg) -- The US Senate ratified adding Sweden and Finland to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a move intended to bolster the military alliance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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The vote was 95-1, far exceeding the two-thirds majority required for the approval of treaties. If the ascension wins approval from all current members of the alliance, Finland will join Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Norway as NATO countries that share a land border with Russia.

The vote comes more than five months after Russian President Vladimir Putin shook the world order with his invasion of neighboring Ukraine. In response, NATO has moved to offer more protection to the exposed Baltic countries along the alliance’s eastern border.

“Putin is strengthening the NATO alliance and nothing shows it better than the vote,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

The vote marked a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation between the Senate leaders.

“If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote no, I wish them good luck,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said ahead of the vote. “This is a slam-dunk for national security that deserves unanimous support.”

After consulting with officials from the two countries this spring the leaders dispatched a bipartisan congressional delegation to Europe in late June to build support for their inclusion at a NATO summit in Madrid.

Should they join NATO, Article 5 of the organization’s founding treaty would dictate a Russian attack on either country would be considered an attack against all member nations.

Energy and food prices have soared since Russia’s invasion, causing political instability globally. After the US and its allies bombarded Russia with sanctions, NATO now looks to reposition itself militarily to curb further Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.

Only GOP Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri voted against ratification, arguing that the US should focus its foreign policy on China and keep American interests the country’s priority. Kentucky Republican Rand Paul voted present.

“I fear that some in this town have lost sight of that,” Hawley, considered a 2024 presidential contender, said. “They think American foreign policy is about creating a world liberal order.”

The Senate did accept by voice vote an amendment offered by Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan calling for every NATO member to commit to minimum defense spending equal to 2% of its GDP as outlined in the 2014 Wales Summit Declaration. It also calls for 20% of defense budgets to be used on major equipment, including research and development, by 2024.

Still, McConnell said the move was unnecessary as Finland already meets NATO’s 2% spending target and Sweden is ramping up its investments to modernize its military. He said they will bring “meaningful interoperable military capabilities into the alliance on Day One.”

Both countries already have participated in NATO exercises, developed professional fighting forces, invested in cutting edge interoperable technologies, and built robust military industrial bases, McConnell said.

“Together they’ve set an example that many current treaty allies would do well to follow,” McConnell said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised the vote, saying Finland and Sweden “will continue to bring crucial support to the mission of the West and all freedom-loving countries to counter Putin’s aggression, bolster security and stability in the region and preserve democracy for the world.”

Turkey is one of seven members who have yet to ratify the treaty. The country’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is set to speak with Putin on Friday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said the country would veto membership for the two Nordic countries if they don’t fulfill their promises to combat terrorism and extradite suspects under a memorandum of understanding reached at NATO’s summit in Madrid in July. Erdogan has criticized countries that he says shelter Kurdish groups he considers terrorists.

But lawmakers said Tuesday that they were confident that Finland and Sweden will ultimately prevail. Senator Jack Reed, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said in an interview their pending membership sends a clear message to Putin.

“He thought he could weaken NATO and divide us, and now it appears that we’re not only more united, but we’re growing,” the Rhode Island Democrat said.

The Senate last voted to expand NATO in 2020, when North Macedonia joined the partnership.

How Russia Pushed Finland and Sweden Toward NATO: QuickTake

(Corrects to include Norway among NATO countries bordering Russia. An earlier version was corrected to add Poland and Lithuania to such countries.)

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