Topic Analyses

NATO’s Expanding (!) Problem

Expanding NATO to include Finland and Sweden has been on the minds of global leaders for years, and the conversation has resumed with the Russo-Ukrainian War. In this Topic Analysis, Vikram Menon defines NATO and the idea of expansion in the context of modern global conflicts.

In 1949, the global community permanently changed. After the conclusion of WWII, the U.S. and 11 other member states created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in response to the growing need for a western global military alliance. Over the next few years, NATO would further expand to include Greece, Turkey, and Western Germany. The acceptance of Germany into the alliance spurred the creation of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet “equivalent” to NATO. The history of this organization has numerous twists and turns, but how does its growth impact modern politics? In this article we’ll recap the important parts of NATO’s history, and why their problem keeps, well, expanding. 

As NATO has grown, it has come to include 30 nations. This doesn’t include the number of partnerships or alliances they have within the global community. Now, this number is looking to expand to 32, as Sweden and Finland, two Nordic states, are looking to join the ranks of this military alliance. This is a big step for the region, as Nordic states have typically  played the middle ground when it comes to military conflicts in modern Europe. But, seeing that their next door neighbor to their east is waging a full scale invasion, turning west doesn’t seem like the worst choice.

Why would these two states want to join NATO in the first place? NATO’s most important  agreement, Article V, states that any attack on a NATO member in Europe or North America “shall be considered an attack against them all.” Pretty big words, considering that it would mean that if Latvia was attacked, they would be backed by the U.S., Germany, and the other largest militaries of Western Europe. With Russia barking at Finland and Sweden’s door, the added protection of a mutual defense agreement all but guarantees security. What’s more, the sheer military size of Finland and Sweden could provide numerous benefits to NATO. There are benefits on both sides, so what’s holding it up?

For a country to be accepted into the alliance, all 30 states must vote unanimously on their joining. While Hungary (usually a trouble maker with the unanimity clause) has agreed to ratify Finland and Sweden’s entrance into NATO, there is one other state who has refused: Turkey. So it seems like Turkey has… beef? The nation has urged Sweden and Finland to take a more aggressive stance on Kurdish Militant Groups including the PKK, some of which are being harbored in the two Nordic states. Turkey has agreed to ratify their entrance into NATO, as long as Sweden agrees to expel some of the PKK members in their country, but a few Swedish courts have banned these expulsions. Then, when a right-wing Swedish politician burned a Quran (Turkey’s national religious text) on national television in response to the standoff, Turkey added to its stipulations. Now, President Erdogan has required Sweden to ban the burning of the Quran in exchange for admission. Such a ban would violate Sweden’s Constitutionally enshrined free speech laws, and is unlikely to be implemented. Thus their admission is left to a 29 to 1 vote that is impossible to override.

Finland and Sweden are both hoping to join soon. But, unless Turkey changes their mind this process might take a little bit longer than expected. This change in global politics could be a huge step for both nations and the global community, but only time will tell. 

Further Reading:

“Explainer: Why is Turkey blocking Sweden and Finland NATO membership?” Reuters.

“Timeline of NATO Expansion Since 1949,” Associated Press.

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