WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Wednesday approving Finland and Sweden’s request to join NATO, a crucial step toward expanding the 30-member transatlantic military alliance.
The bipartisan show of support for Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO is a direct response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an act of aggression that has alarmed US and European officials. The vote was 95-1.
Finland’s and Sweden’s bid to join NATO will require approval from all other NATO countries, a process that could take months and which, when completed, would grant Article Five protection to the two historically neutral countries.
Meanwhile, the countries are considered NATO partners and have participated in military exercises with the US and other NATO countries.
What Senators Have Passed: A resolution approving the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO. Lawmakers passed one amendment requiring all NATO members to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense and 20% of their defense budget on key equipment, including research and development.
Who voted against it: sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.
When it comes into effect: Membership will not become fully effective until all 30 NATO member states have ratified the accession protocols.
Stumbling block: Turkey initially opposed Sweden and Finland’s bid to join the alliance, and parliament has not yet approved their membership.
What Turkey was looking for: Turkey had urged the two Nordic countries to waive support for a Kurdish militant group in Syria, demanded that they extradite people Ankara suspected of terrorist activity and urged that they lift an embargo on arms exports to Turkey.
Possible problems: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month said Turkey could “freeze” the process if Sweden and Finland do not adhere to a June agreement the three countries signed in Madrid at a NATO summit.
Defense expenditure: NATO countries have agreed to spend 2% of their GDP on defense spending. Sweden is currently on track to reach the full amount by 2028, but that timeline could shift depending on the outcome of the country’s upcoming elections. Finnish defense spending currently exceeds 2% of GDP.
What’s going to happen?
The document now goes to President Joe Biden’s office. He must sign the resolution twice before the State Department can apply the US seal to make it official. State Secretary Antony Blinken will also sign the document.
Washington had promised swift ratification of the resolution and the US hoped to lead NATO nations in welcoming the European nations to the alliance. But partisan arguments over unrelated expense accounts messed up the process. The United States is currently on track to become the 22nd country to complete the process.
what they say
“I think it is a very strong statement of our support for these countries to join NATO, and of our continued leadership position in NATO and in the world. If we do this, we will lead by example”, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, DN.Y., said before the vote.
sen. John Barrasso, a member of the GOP Senate leadership who sits on the committee, said ahead of the vote: “We want to send a strong signal that the United States is committed to getting the other countries lined up.”
sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., offered a “shoutout” to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, saying he made Wednesday’s vote possible. ‘We wouldn’t be here without you. You have done more to strengthen NATO than any speech I could have ever given.”
sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., warned that granting NATO membership to Sweden and Finland would come at a cost because Russia would not tolerate an expansion of weapons systems to Finland. “Is it worth the risk?” he asked.
Hawley said the US should focus on deterring China rather than expanding NATO, which he said would mean deploying additional military forces and firepower in Europe in the long run.
“This isn’t over until it’s over,” said Kathleen McInnis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Turkey is already starting to throw red cards into the mix.”
Karin Olofsdotter, Swedish Ambassador to the US, said in an interview with USA TODAY that without Sweden and Finland it will be “much harder to plan for the security” of the Baltic region.
Why it matters
Olofsdotter said the expansion would increase security in the NATO alliance. “We make it easier or less burdensome for the United States or any other NATO member to defend Northern Europe because we add security,” she said.
Want to know more? This is what you missed
‘A KICK IN THE GUT’:Finland and Sweden’s quest to join NATO, a defeat for Putin, a victory for the West
‘A CRITICAL MOMENT FOR OUR SAFETY’: Finland, Sweden apply for NATO membership driven by security fears over Russia
Contributors: Michael Collins
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Senate approves Sweden and Finland’s bid to join NATO amid Russian war