Long-time neutral two Nordic countries bordering Russia, Finland, and Sweden formally applied for the US-led military alliance, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership on May 18, 2022. Finland and Sweden have claimed that they have applied for NATO membership after Russia launched an “invasion” in Ukraine and they think NATO can give them security guarantees.
But if Finland and Sweden become members of NATO, will their security be guaranteed? Of course not. Once these two countries become members of NATO, security risks will increase rather than be secure. Their membership adds more problems than solutions. The pitfall of Finland and Sweden’s decision to join NATO is several ways. First, Finland and Sweden’s choice to join NATO brings severe risks. They have maintained a crucial balance as members of the European Union and a part of the Western world. Still, none of them has been antagonizing their nuclear superpower neighbor, Russia. They invited utmost “security dilemma” than a security guarantee by opting to join NATO. The “security dilemma,” in international relations and political science, is a situation in which any security initiative taken by one state to bolster its own security invites a more significant response from other states; as a result, that leads to a weakening of the shield of initiating country instead of an enhance in the previous level of security.
The concept of a “security dilemma” was introduced in political science by Cold War American political scientist John Herz in 1950. When less powerful states (here Finland and Sweden) look to increase their power by joining a powerful alliance (here NATO) to balance their powerful neighbor (here Russia), the latter will likely consider the former’s move a severe security threat. Then it takes harsh consequential counter-responses.
Many Western analysts think that Finland and Sweden’s application for NATO membership is an unintended consequence of the Russian “invasion” of Ukraine. Russia wanted to push NATO back from Russia’s borders, but the opposite has happened precisely. If Finland and Sweden become a member of NATO, it will add more of hundreds of miles of NATO presence to the Russian border. It leads to more deployment of Western troops and missiles system near Russian borders. Consequently, the war backfired for Russia not only militarily but geopolitically. This analysis is partially true that NATO’s presence increased more at Russia’s frontiers, and the US succeeded in uniting Europe as the US president Joseph Biden promised in the presidential election campaign in 2020.
However, this is not a solution for Finland, Sweden, and the rest of Europe; instead, it mounts the risk of more confrontation up to the nuclear escalation in Europe. Dmitry Medvedev, a former president of Russia and the incumbent chairman of the Russian Security Council, said, ”There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored. Until today, Russia has not taken such measures and was not going to.” In addition to Medvedev’s warning, Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin’s press secretary, termed the application for NATO membership move as “a tool geared towards confrontation.” He warned that Finland and Sweden joining “will not bring stability to the European continent.”
Second, Finland and Sweden need to spend at least two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. Finland and Sweden have to increase defense spending significantly. They need to purchase military logistics and arsenals and train their professional military to enhance combat capability as per NATO standards. They need to invest massively to match the level of professional armies with specialized combat capabilities and improve their capacity to partner with NATO members. Enormous resources will be squandered on military, arms, and ammunition, and consequently, both countries have to incur a huge opportunity cost of standard of living for their citizens. There is a clear tradeoff between defense spending and welfare schemes for people. The economic dictum goes like this, “If you need to produce more guns; you need to produce less bread and butter.” If Finland and Sweden join NATO, it creates a market for the US and other arms producing NATO members’ military industries.
Third, the straight-line distance between Moscow and Finland is about 965 kilometers, and St Petersburg and Finland are about 400 kilometers. Similarly, the distance between Sweden and St Petersburg is about 700 kilometers, and Sweden and Moscow are 1200 kilometers. After Finland and Sweden join NATO, it will deploy short, medium, and intermediate-range nuclear missiles targeting Moscow and other Russian cities. The targets are in the distances of 3 to 5 minutes, and these are very short time ranges.
Obviously, Russians should deploy their short, medium, and intermediate-range nuclear missiles system having less time range than the system installed by NATO to defend themselves. Russians have no choice but a compulsion to install an automated missile defense system to counter possible NATO strikes from the systems installed in Finland and Sweden.
If NATO launches any missiles from Finland or Sweden, the Russian automatic system will automatically detect and strike against it. The Russian automatic missile defense system is likely to respond to the rockets launched by any country for military purposes and scientific research, or other purposes. Besides, the automated missile defense system possibly counterstrikes the civil aircraft in error. Due to the very little time and a short-range, no risk can be taken. The automatic missile defense system is an inevitable option, and nuclear escalation due to an error will be highly likely. Thus the risk of a nuclear strike over Finland and Sweden will naturally increase. Finland and Sweden are subscribing risk knowingly.
Fourth, due to NATO expansion to Finland and Sweden, Russia’s doorstep, Russia may feel that it is inadequate to balance power with non-nuclear arms to NATO. With the time and money required to outmatch the non-nuclear capabilities of NATO, and Russia perceives an existential threat from expanding NATO onto its border, Russia will have no choice but forced to use a preemptive nuclear strike as a measure of the last resort.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has clearly warned the Western countries that he will use the nuclear strike if his nation is confronted with a threat that his country cannot mitigate by other means. Putin can use Russia’s newly developed hypersonic cruise missiles and nuclear warheads.
There is a consensus among the nuclear arms experts that the NATO allies have not yet succeeded in developing a hypersonic missile defense system for accurately detecting the path and velocity of Russian hypersonic cruise missiles.
Consequently, Russians are confident that they can successfully lunch a preemptive nuclear strike on NATO command and control systems anywhere in Europe before NATO allies launch a counterstrike successfully. The game-changer of Russian hypersonic cruise missiles would give Russia a clear advantage in surviving a nuclear war against NATO allies. Experts suggest in case of nuclear escalation, Russia is at least in a better position than the NATO countries.
Lastly, The United States is not a reliable country as American politics is very complex, and foreign policy plays a crucial role in shaping public opinion during the election. There is no guarantee that Biden will be reelected and continue to lead NATO beyond 2024. If Donald Trump is reelected in 2024, he will dump NATO again as he did in his last presidency. Even if another Republican candidate wins the presidency, the United States will surely be less committed to NATO than Biden. The decision by Finland and Sweden to join NATO will only help Biden win the US mid-term election is to be held five months later and the 2024 presidential reelection bid.
Going for NATO membership, Finland and Sweden need to bear all the risks and costs. In contrast, all their membership benefits go to the US, the UK, France, and Germany. As the English proverb goes, Finland and Sweden’s seeking security guarantee will look like a situation, ‘out of the frying pan into the fire.’