Sunday, April 9, 2023

Map: Finland Joins NATO

Map of NATO allies in 2023, with all members color-coded in dark blue including the newest country to join, Finland.  Also labels Sweden which hoped to join at the same time as Finland, and Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine led to Finland and Sweden choosing to join. The map is projected to appear as if the viewer is looking at a globe, with the North Atlantic Ocean in the center. The left side is dominated by large NATO members the US and Canada, while on the right side the smaller continent of Europe is mostly made up of blue NATO member countries, with a few noticeable gaps. Finland is located at the far upper-right corner, stretched out north-to-south adjacent to the border of non-member Russia, while just to its left, Sweden forms the largest gap in European NATO, surrounded by member countries Finland, Norway, and (across a narrow strip of sea) Denmark, Germany, Poland, and the Baltic countries (colorblind accessible).

Graphic modified by Evan Centanni from this map by Wikimedia user Addicted04 (CC BY-SA).

New NATO Ally: Finland

The northern European country of Finland has been admitted as a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Its membership officially went into effect on Tuesday, April 4 after the final paperwork and exchange of documents was completed. Finland is the 31st country to join NATO.

Last week major news outlets incorrectly reported or implied that Finland wouldn't become a NATO member until July, when the organization hopes to welcome both Finland and Sweden to its annual meeting of the member countries' leaders. (Sweden has also applied to join, but its membership is currently being blocked - see below for details.)

Organization Name:

• North Atlantic Treaty Oganization (English)
• Organisation du traité de l'Atlantique nord (French)
• NATO (English)
• OTAN (French)
Membership: 31 independent countries
Founded: 1949 in Washington, DC, United States
Headquarters: Brussels, Belgium

What is NATO?

Created by Western European and North American countries after World War II, NATO is a military alliance that guarantees cooperation between all its members at times of war. Though NATO is famous for the "collective defense" clause in its founding treaty, which legally obligates member countries to help each other if one of them is attacked on home soil, it also coordinates lots of other kinds of military cooperation.

Member countries participating in NATO's military command structure have joined forces in various international operations in recent decades, but the obligation to defend each other from attack has only been activated once ever. That was in response to the 9/11 attacks in the US, when fellow members provided military support to help prevent any more attacks. NATO's participation in the war in Afghanistan came soon afterwards, but wasn't directly triggered by the collective defense clause.

During the Cold War, NATO was seen mostly as a unified defense against potential attacks by the Russia-led Soviet Union (USSR), leading to the creation of the rival Warsaw Pact between the USSR and its communist allies in Eastern and Central Europe. But after the fall of the European communist governments at the end of the 1980s, and the breakup of the USSR in 1991, NATO has expanded eastward. Today, most of the former Warsaw Pact countries have become part of NATO, though so far the countries that emerged from the USSR itself haven't (except for the Baltics - Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - which consider themselves to have been Soviet-occupied independent countries the whole time).

In recent decades, NATO has still often been seen as a counterbalance to Russia, which is still a nuclear-armed country not allied with Western Europe. And Russia 's government has often criticized NATO for expanding into its neighborhood, claiming that was one of the reasons it chose to invade Ukraine, which was hoping to join the alliance. But that invasion in turn has led to a new NATO expansion: Finland and Sweden, which both had been more or less trying to stay neutral in the NATO-Russia rivalry, chose to join after a surge in support for membership from their people.

See Also: Map of Russian Control in Ukraine (February 2023)

Why did Finland become part of NATO?

For Finland, the main reason to join NATO is to strengthen and guarantee the support of powerful allies like the US as a way to prevent Russia from invading it next. That might sound far-fetched, but so did Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, until it happened. And Finnish people remember well that Russia has invaded Finland before

Finland had already been cooperating fairly closely with NATO for decades, but becoming an actual member will make it easier to ramp up that cooperation. Maybe more important, membership basically guarantees that every NATO country would fight to protect Finland if Russia did invade, because of the NATO treaty's collective defense clause. Finland and its NATO allies probably hope that that guarantee would prevent Russia from attacking the first place.

Flag of Finland Short Name:  
• Finland (English, Swedish)
Suomi (Finnish)
Official Long Name:  
• Republic of Finland (English)
• Suomen tasavalta (Finnish)
• Republiken Finland (Swedish)
• Helsinki

So what does NATO get out of it? Well, adding Finland as a member brings a powerful military player into the alliance - because of its vulnerable position bordering Russia, the country has put a lot of resources into its own military strength, and reports say it even has the strongest artillery forces in "Western Europe".* And the collective defense promise goes both ways - Finland itself is now obligated to help if any other NATO country is attacked.

Some analysts say it's also important that Finland is home to Nokia, one of the three companies leading the world's development of 5G infrastructure (next-generation cell phone towers), along with Huawei from China and Ericsson from Sweden.

*Finland isn't actually located in the western part of Europe - it's directly north of most "Eastern European" countries, and even Russia extends further west than Finland (because of Kaliningrad). But since the Cold War, when most countries in Europe's east had communist governments and none of the countries in the west did, it's been popular to use "Western Europe" to mean all the countries of the continent that were never communist-ruled.

Doubling the Russia-NATO Border

Letting Finland into the alliance more than doubles the total length of NATO member countries' borders with Russia. Before Finland joined, the only NATO countries bordering Russia were Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland - with the last two only bordering the small, disconnected piece of Russia known as Kaliningrad.

Though this border extension has often been listed along with the military benefits to the alliance, there's actually some disagreement over whether it's mostly good for NATO (because it makes a point to Russia and fills in a "strategic gap") or mostly a new challenge for NATO (because Russia is expected take it as a big provocation). 

Why have Türkiye and Hungary delayed Finland and Sweden's entry into NATO?

Sweden, which neighbors Finland, applied for NATO membership at the same time as Finland did, in May of last year, but it's currently being blocked from joining by current members Hungary and Türkiye (formerly Turkey). Both countries had also threatened to hold up Finland's membership, but recently approved it. Because NATO's rules require all member countries to agree on new admissions, any one of them effectively has the power to veto Sweden's membership.

The Turkish government accuses Sweden of being friendly with a rebel group in in Türkiye that it calls terrorists, as well as other anti-government figures. It had also delayed Finland's membership for similar reasons, but recently said it was satisfied with the Finnish government's efforts to fix the problems (PolGeoNow hasn't been able to determine what exactly Finland did to satisfy Türkiye).

Reports say the Turkish government has also been encouraged to block Sweden's membership after recent anti-Muslim protests in Sweden. Türkiye is officially a religion-neutral country, but its government says almost all its people are Muslims, and its current leadership is relatively pro-religion. Sweden's government, meanwhile, is officially not against Islam (the religion of Muslim people), but says its free speech laws protect such protests.

Hungary, meanwhile, is experiencing a rare moment of leverage over more-powerful fellow European Union (EU) member countries, who have been criticizing the Hungarian government for more than a decade for making the country less and less democratic (most EU member countries are also in NATO, with Sweden among the few exceptions). Hungary's legislature also delayed Finland's admission into NATO, and the Hungarian government says it's still too frustrated with Sweden, but that it supports letting the country in eventually.

Recent and Future NATO Expansion

NATO was founded in 1949, and many countries have been members ever since then, or since soon afterwards. Twelve ex-communist countries joined the alliance in the decade from 1999 to 2009, but over the next 14 years there were only two more additions: Montenegro in 2017, and North Macedonia in 2020.

Any European country is technically eligible to join NATO if the existing members all agree to invite it, though the rules are usually interpreted to exclude countries that aren't democracies. Besides Sweden, there are three countries currently in negotiations to join the alliance: Ukraine, Bosnia, and Georgia.*

See also: North Macedonia Joins NATO (2020)

*Georgia is sometimes considered to be in Asia rather than Europe, with different geographers using different versions of the line dividing the two continents, but politically it's more often grouped with Europe. Since Asia and Europe being separate continents is a completely made-up idea and not regulated by any laws, there's no right or wrong interpretation.

For past and future updates on NATO membership, view all NATO articles on PolGeoNow.

Correction: This article previously said that Finland's military is now "obligated to join the fight" if another NATO member is attacked. But the NATO treaty doesn't actually require every country to send in its military to defend an ally under attack - other kinds of help can also be acceptable. On the other hand, if NATO as a whole launches a coordinated military response to an attack, it seems very likely that Finland would be part of it.

Correction 2: Besides Finland, there are five NATO countries directly bordering Russia, though this article originally said there were only four. We forgot to include Norway, which shares a small but important border with Russia to the north of Finland. Very sorry for missing that!

Graphics of the NATO flag (source) and the Finnish flag (source) are in the public domain.