Finland is officially to start the NATO application process, President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced Sunday. The move presents a major shift away from Finland's post-World War Two stance of military non-alignment and is expected to be followed by Sweden's accession to the alliance.
While Niinistö and Marin had already made an announcement Thursday morning that Finland would join NATO "without delay", Sunday's announcement, made in Finnish, Swedish and in English made this official.
"This is a historic day," said the head of state, the Finnish president, who had started Sunday – Finnish Memorial Day – by visiting the graves of war dead, the English-language portal of public broadcaster Yle reports.
The prime minister said: "These decisions will strengthen, not weaken, our security."
The announcement comes close to three months after the Russian Federation, which Finland borders, launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Finland's foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, meanwhile tweeted that: "NATO membership offers Finland the most security," noting that: "These decisions are not directed against anyone."
Finland's security environment has changed fundamentally.— MFA Finland (@Ulkoministerio) May 15, 2022
This warrants a reaction from Finland.
NATO membership offers Finland the most security.
Finland makes its own decisions on its security, and these decisions are not directed against anyone. #FinlandNATO pic.twitter.com/ELYRTxneAJ
While the Eduskunta, the Finnish parliament, has to debate the matter, starting Monday, this is likely a rubber-stamp formality, since nearly all political parties in Finland have approved the application, and the head of state and head of government both want the application process to start as early as Tuesday, where possible, Yle reports.
A meeting between President Niinistö and the Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy Sunday morning preceded the announcement; Yle reports that Finland's constitution, states that foreign policy is led by the president in cooperation with the government, and entry into international obligations must be confirmed by parliament.
Sweden is set to decide on its own application in the next few days, with the ruling Social Democratic Party saying it will announce its position Sunday evening.
Niinistö, who spoke to U.S. President Joe Biden Friday, said that while the U.S. supports Finland's application, it cannot not offer binding security guarantees during the NATO application process without a separate, and practically unprecedented, decision from the Senate.
As to any possible Russian retaliation following the application and in response to it, ahead of formally joining the alliance, Prime Minister Maran said that Finland had taken that into account.
Marin said: "Finland is a nation of preparedness, as we have seen during the pandemic."
"The decisions we're making this week will ensure that there will never again be a war in Finland," Marin went on.
Finland and Sweden both have engaged in partnership programs and joint, NATO-led exercises for close to a decade, Yle reports, but public opinion had not generally supported joining the alliance until Russia's invasion of Ukraine from late February, recent polls saw public support for joining the alliance rising from about a half to over three-quarters of the population. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Finland maintained its non-aligned stance, right up until this spring.
As to the potential obstruction of the application – potential new member states must get the nod unanimously from the existing members - Niinistö said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent statements that the country would block Finland's joining NATO were "confusing".
Erdogan had said it would be "impossible" for Turkey, a NATO member, to approve Finnish and Swedish accession to the alliance, on the grounds that, Erdogan said, both countries harbored large numbers of terrorists, principally belonging to Kurdish groups.
Niinistö added that around a month ago, during a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, the latter had said he would support a Finnish NATO bid, and added that he was prepared to discuss any issues with Erdogan.
A phone call on Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin had been calm in its tone, Niinistö added, and reported that Putin had said Finland was under no threat and was making a mistake in joining NATO.
Putin had previously issued threats over Finnish accession, Niinistö said.
The next stage, following the finalization of the report on Finnish accession to NATO Sunday morning, is for this report to be endorsed by the entire cabinet, before being submitted to parliament.
President Niinistö and Prime Minister Marin said Thursday morning that the country must apply for NATO membership without delay, an announcement greeted warmly on the other side of the Gulf of Finland. Marin's counterpart in Estonia, Kaja Kallas (Reform), stated on her social media account that: "You can count on our full support. We support a rapid accession process. From our side will make necessary steps quickly."
During World War Two, Finland lost vast swathes of territory to the Soviet Union, in effect the current Russian Federation's predecessor state, having to cede much of the Karelian region and the town of Viipuri, and also in the far north, including the arctic port of Petsamo. Throughout the entire Cold War era, Finland pursued a policy of strict neutrality, dubbed internationally as "Finlandization" and, more colloquially, as "bowing to the east without mooning the west". The policy was most strongly personified through the prime ministership (1954-1956) and lengthy presidency (1956-1982) of Urho Kekkonen (1900-1986).
Editor: Andrew Whyte