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22nd Feb 2020

Finland and Sweden revive debates on NATO membership

Until recently, discussion of possible NATO membership has not been a lively political topic in neutral Finland and Sweden, but Russia's actions in Georgia have encouraged those who back membership to become more vocal.

"We need to reconsider our security policy," said the Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb in an interview with Austria's Die Presse on Saturday (30 August).

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Traditional conflicts are making a comeback in the post-9/11 era - he argued - saying Finland needs to begin to consider NATO membership, that the Georgian conflict has highlighted the UN's problems and the need for a more active security policy.

"The talk about how nothing has changed is inconceivable to me," said the conservative Mr Stubb, who represents the smaller coalition party in the government.

"It makes sense now to take into consideration a NATO bid. The time for a decision in this regard has not come yet, but we need to be flexible and quickly adapt our security policy. This must not take place in slow motion."

In Sweden, the liberal People's Party – a government coalition partner - is also trying to launch a NATO membership debate.

Allan Widman, the party's foreign policy spokesman, championed his country's membership to NATO in an interview with the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

The People's Party has always been in favour of membership, but respected the coalition agreement not to place the topic on the public agenda. This has changed since the Russian invasion of Georgia.

The leader of the Social-Democrat opposition strongly rejects Sweden's NATO bid, however. The Scandinavian country has had a long tradition of being a neutral country, even though neighbours Denmark and Norway are part of the Western security alliance.

Finnish NATO split

In Finland, Mr Stubb was appointed earlier this year as foreign minister, after being a member of the European Parliament for four years. He is a vocal supporter of his country's membership in NATO but promised to be reserved on the issue in his new job, due to internal division within the governing coalition.

The Centre Party lead by Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen is split on the issue, as are the Social Democrats. The current president, Social Democrat Tarja Halonen, is a strong opponent of the NATO bid. Her mandate ends in 2012.

Finland has a 1,200 km long border with Russia, something that caused much consternation for Finnish foreign policy during the Cold War.

The country inched closer to NATO in March when it announced its intention to join future operations of the alliance's rapid reaction force. It has developed technical capacities alongside NATO for several years and would be ready to join quickly if the decision was made.

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