Sweden and Finland both took a major step toward joining NATO this week. Finland will make its decision on whether to apply for membership in “weeks rather than months,” Prime Minister Sanna Marin said yesterday in a joint press conference in Stockholm alongside her Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson. Sweden will reportedly wait until after Finland makes a final decision, but Swedish media are reporting that Andersson’s Social Democrats are already sold on the idea and have decided to push for Sweden’s NATO membership.
The bombshell announcement makes for yet another groundbreaking development in European security policy since Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized the invasion of Ukraine in February. Finland has historically steered clear of NATO membership since the end of World War II, and Helsinki formalized its neutrality in conflicts between great powers in a 1948 treaty with Moscow as a way to stave off a potential attempt at annexation by the Soviet Union. Despite the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, successive Finnish governments have deemed that agreement to still be in force, and a 2019 poll found that a slight majority of Finns opposed NATO membership for their country.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears to have triggered a shift in public opinion, with almost 70 percent of Finns now favoring membership in the trans-Atlantic alliance. Sweden’s neutrality is older, dating back to a decision taken following its disastrous defeat in the Napoleonic Wars, when it lost Finland—which had been a part of the Swedish Empire for centuries—to Russia. In Sweden, too, a majority now favors ending this 210-year-old neutrality policy.