The world’s most powerful military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO, just welcomed another member to its ranks, a move that Russia had hoped to prevent with its “special military operation” in Ukraine. On Tuesday, April 4, 2023, Finland officially broke their security policy of neutrality dating back to the end of World War II, to join NATO as its 31st Member State. In a stark contrast to the security landscape of Europe just two years ago, NATO has added over 800 miles to its border with Russia, a development that Russia desperately tried to avoid.
One of the major reasons behind Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine was that NATO territory was encroaching dangerously close to Russia’s border. While Putin’s advisors may have assumed that major fractures would be revealed in the alliance’s resolve, this has continued to be proven as a horrible miscalculation by Russia. As the Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, resounded in Brussels at the accession of Finland, “Instead of less NATO, [Putin] has achieved the opposite. More NATO.”
Russia’s aggression in Eastern Europe has not only given ample purpose to NATO’s existence as an alliance, but has also empowered other nations in Europe to take a serious look at their own security. States like Finland and Sweden have remained neutral for decades, even through the Cold War. But, given the unpredictability of current geopolitics, Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership almost a year ago, and have been officially added, or are close to being added, to the collective security alliance.
From a historic perspective, Finland was controlled by Russia from the time of the Napoleonic Wars up until the Russian Revolution of 1917 when the Bolsheviks recognized Finland as an independent state. Although this new beginning was welcomed by the Russians, over the next century, relations between Finland, and the then Soviet Union, were characterized by Finnish resistance against Russian invasion. In the period after World War II, Finnish foreign and security policy were specifically guided by one premise: the deterrence of Russian aggression and the preparation of Russian invasion.
Finland has largely achieved deterrence by maintaining friendly diplomatic relations with Russia by presenting a neutral stance in security relations dealing with Russia or the West. However, the moment that Russia invaded Ukraine, Finland soon realized its policy of neutrality as a feeble and untrustworthy guarantee of security against the backdrop of the War in Ukraine. Finland’s decision to join NATO was made out of a position of both paranoia and empowerment to capitalize on a newfound moment of unity among the Western powers.
Symbolically, Finland’s entrance into NATO reveals not only the miscalculation of Russian officials and Vladimir Putin in analyzing the consequences of their invasion, but it also represents the powerful scale of NATO’s influence. Article five of the NATO Treaty classifies “an attack on one [as] an attack on all”, a doctrine that is essential to the success of the alliance in continuing to rally support and aid to Ukraine against Russia. Considering the West’s response to the War in Ukraine, new reassurances and meaningful trust has rallied the allies and persuaded those on the periphery to reap the benefits of NATO.