Andrew Harnik / AP
President Biden said on Thursday that Finland and Sweden have “complete, total, complete support” from the United States for their application to join NATO, the alliance that has been the cornerstone of Western defense since World War II.
Biden, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson spoke at the White House Rose Garden; Biden said he sent paperwork to Congress on Thursday to facilitate ratification of their bid.
“Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger,” Biden said. “And a strong, united NATO is the foundation of America’s security.”
The decision to ratify both countries’ tenders to NATO will be a rare two-party success, as both Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have expressed support for the move.
“I think the United States should be first in line to ratify the treaty for both of these countries to join,” McConnell said after a meeting with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Saturday.
Months into the war in Ukraine, Turkey still stands in the way of NATO expansion
The two countries applied to join the alliance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but their membership is far from certain. Turkey, which is also a NATO member, has said it will veto any application from the two Scandinavian countries because of its support for Kurdish groups that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan considers terrorist organizations.
“We are following developments in Sweden and Finland, but we are not of a positive opinion,” Erdogan said last week.
Biden seemed to nod to these concerns when he asked the Senate to approve the two countries’ membership “when the prospects for all allies have been taken up and NATO adopts the accession protocols.”
Finnish President Niinisto raised Turkey’s concerns about his country’s NATO membership and said that Helsinki is “open to discussing any concerns Turkey may have about our membership in an open and constructive manner”.
He said that some of these discussions had already begun and would continue.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Andersson called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “watershed for Sweden”, a nation that has maintained a policy of military freedom of alliance for hundreds of years, even during the two world wars.
Andersson said she appreciated the bipartisan support in Washington for her country’s NATO application, and, as Niinisto said, her country spoke with all NATO members, including Turkey, “at various levels to sort out any problems”.
Biden says adding NATO members is not a threat to Russia
Biden also raised concerns that a Finnish and Swedish membership of NATO could further incite neighboring Russia. Putin opposes NATO expansion and sees it as aimed at Russia and its borders.
“New members joining NATO are not a threat to any nation,” Biden said. “In the face of aggression, NATO has not become weaker or more fragmented. It has grown stronger, more united.”
Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who has worked in the office of the Director of National Intelligence and is now a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, told NPR that the threats that Finland and Sweden may face from Russia are not so drastic.
“I think Russia is too stuck in its war in Ukraine. And I think that is exactly the calculation that Finland and Sweden have, that they see that Russia is distracted, and that gives them this window to take a step,” he said. Kendall- sa Taylor.
Putin, for his part, said recently that he does not see Finland and Sweden joining NATO has a threat, but Kendall-Taylor points out that it can still reinforce the concerns of the Russian leader.
“For Putin, it underscores this idea, this fear that he has long had about Russia being surrounded by NATO,” she said.