Moscow scores a self-goal
- Russia’s aggression made Finland and Sweden abandon neutrality and move closer to NATO
On Sunday, Finland officially declared that it will apply for membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) — the American-European strategic military alliance that has been the bedrock of western security architecture since 1949. The same day, Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party said it will take forward Sweden’s membership application to NATO as well. In both countries, their parliaments are expected to endorse the move. Finland and Sweden’s entry, despite Turkey’s concerns, is a foregone conclusion. NATO officials have said that they will expedite the process. In the interim grey zone — before NATO’s Article 5 provision of collective defence kicks in — security guarantees are likely to be provided to both Stockholm and Helsinki.
Finland has a 1,300-km-long border with Russia. Despite a history of conflict with the erstwhile Soviet Union, it chose to remain militarily non-aligned in a diplomatic balancing act. Sweden took pride in its neutrality and presented a vision of the world devoid of hard power (while, ironically, being a major arms seller). For these two countries to formally enter into a western alliance represents a significant rupture in Europe. It will add to Europe’s focus on hard power and the security domain. It will also lead to a further expansion of NATO close to Russia’s border — the precise outcome Moscow has sought to avoid; indeed, the apprehension that Ukraine would join NATO was a trigger for Russia’s war. Finland and Sweden’s decision should show Moscow, which is upset and is considering punitive measures, the perils of its overreach. Russia’s actions have bred insecurity all across the Nordic countries, eastern and central Europe. They are looking westward for security. This has given a fresh lease of life to NATO and the United States (US), which sees an opportunity to “weaken” Russia, and is only too happy to see its influence expand.
But even as Russia should introspect about its actions, it is important that NATO does not sound triumphalist and proceed with its expansion in a manner that does not escalate tensions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s well-timed Europe visit and engagement with the Nordic countries would have given him a first-hand sense of the churn underway in Europe and the need for New Delhi to make policy adjustments in light of the evolving balance of power. The expansion and strengthening of NATO and a stronger US-Europe partnership works well for India — as long as the transatlantic alliance also remains alert to China’s threat in the Indo-Pacific.