The debate over Sweden’s and Finland’s possible admission to NATO has been reshaped by the war against Ukraine.
Newton’s Third Law of Physics states that for every action, there will be an equal and opposite reaction. Diplomacy can sometimes lead to unreasonable or irrational reactions.
Diplomacy involves trying to understand the thoughts and actions of an adversary, as well as predicting their response. However, in times of war, the tendency to act rashly over rationality can lead to a lack of understanding for the threat posed by your enemy.
Leaders in a Hegelian march towards freedom all over the world often confess that they aren’t concerned about what their enemies do or say. However, refusing to acknowledge or understand the demands of an enemy is a recipe for constant war.
While there are no grounds for Putin’s invading Ukraine, it is hard to argue that he did not telegraph it.
When Western intelligence agencies worked with Ukrainian Maidan protesters to topple the Russian-backed leader of Ukraine in 2014, Putin reacted by taking Crimea. Putin invaded Ukraine after the Biden administration signed an agreement with Ukraine, reiterating a request for Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Although nothing can justify the invasion, it’s wrong to claim that it wasn’t predictable.
History will probably judge Putin’s invasion as a failure. This has unites Europe and increased its resolve to be independent from Russian oil and gas. It also encourages Sweden and Finland not to accept neutrality but to move forward with NATO membership.
The invasion of Ukraine by Putin completely altered the public’s opinion about Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Sweden’s over-100-year policy of neutrality was swiftly discarded.
How will America benefit from Sweden and Finland joining NATO? Is there more war or less?
A reaction is the opposite of an action. How does the adversary respond?
Putin’s immediate response to the development was that Russia “does not have a problem” with Sweden or Finland applying for NATO membership, but that “the expansion of military infrastructure onto this territory will of course give rise to our reaction in response.”
There you go. Russia will likely tolerate Sweden and Finland within NATO, but will likely not accept certain weapons systems in Finland. Do you remember the U.S. response to placing Russian missiles into Cuba and how it responded? )
If having Sweden and Finland join NATO doesn’t lead to conflict it will back the claim that NATO acts as a deterrent against war. However, NATO expansionists will have to admit that having Sweden and Finland within NATO can lead to conflict. This was the case with the NATO agitation against Ukraine.
Provocations like these are not only dangerous for conventional war. Are there any consequences if these actions cause overreactions such as nuclear warfare?
NATO expansion advocates say that we shouldn’t be taken hostage by Russia’s threats. Perhaps. Perhaps.
The Russians already declared that Finland should not have certain weapons systems. The question isn’t whether the red line was justified. It is worth taking the chance to push missiles into Finland if you know your enemy’s position.
The world has changed after Putin invaded Ukraine. The argument that Russia could be propelled by Sweden or Finland joining NATO is less persuasive now as Putin’s actions have shown that he can provoke Russia with other things than actual NATO admission.
Diplomats should, however, try to imagine how the Ukraine conflict might end. As Zelensky stated, one possible solution would be a neutral Ukraine that is not militarily linked with the East or West. Sweden and Finland could also remain neutral, and not be part of NATO. This might make it possible to reach a compromise on peace. It is unlikely that this will occur. It seems like the train is gone.
But, it’s worth considering. It doesn’t necessarily have to be weakness. It is possible for neutral nations to act as mediators in conflicts resolution. Our discussions with Iran often use neutral Sweden to facilitate our negotiations. Who will act as mediators when all countries are in agreement?
The U.S. Senate is expected to vote in the summer for NATO membership of Sweden and Finland. Before Putin invaded Ukraine, I was an “automatic no” to NATO expanding beyond Russia’s borders. This expansion has been viewed as a needless provocation by me.
But Putin’s invasion of Ukraine changed the world. A realistic perspective of foreign policy changing as the world changes is possible. This new world makes me less determined to stop NATO’s expansion into Sweden and Finland.
I will soon propose conditions for the treaty that Article 5 doesn’t supersede Congress’ constitutional requirement that Congress declare War before engaging in hostilities. Also, that the U.S. won’t bear any cost resulting from the accession of Sweden and Finland into NATO.
I still sympathize with the view of Doug Bandow, who wrote here at The American Conservative: “Russia’s poor military performance demonstrates that, contra its pre-conflict reputation, Moscow could not conquer its many neighbors, let alone the entire continent, even if it desired to do so.
However, Putin’s war against Ukraine has influenced the situation. Arguments against Sweden or Finland abandoning neutrality seem less likely. Putin’s aggressive behavior has changed the game. Russia is now refusing to sell its oil to once-timid European nations. All across Europe, countries have changed their minds.
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It is more difficult to claim that NATO expansion was provocative, when Putin has already been provoked. The Russian invasion of Ukraine must make everyone aware of the harsh realities of war among peers. We should be cautious and fully understand the risks and potential consequences.
Make no mistake: war between Russia and the West, even if they don’t result in nuclear Armageddon would be catastrophic and not limited to Europe. It is unacceptable to muddle through words in order to gain political and emotional support. When we talk about NATO expansion we need to be very clear: the former Soviet Union states will not be allowed into the alliance.
As for Sweden and Finland we need to have a serious, rational and objective discussion about the benefits and costs of admitting these historically neutral countries, who enjoy such privileged geographical positions in relation with Russia. Prior to the Russian invasion I was a strong supporter of their accession. However, due to Russian actions, my position has changed from one that opposes NATO admission to another. I now support NATO’s inclusion and am neutral. As a result, I will vote “present .”