MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next time The THE WORLD and everything in it, adding two new members to the world’s largest defense alliance.
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, founded in 1949, is based on the doctrine of “peace through strength,” which deters attacks by force. It is the world’s most powerful military alliance, with 30 member countries, including the United States, Canada, France and the United Kingdom.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Article 5 of its founding document says that an “armed attack against one or more of them shall be considered an attack against all of them.” And that security, together with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is the reason why Sweden and Finland now want to exchange generations of neutrality for membership in NATO.
The US Senate last week gave its stamp of approval for the Nordic countries to join, but there is still a lot of work to be done before it is official.
So what would their membership mean for the US and all other member states?
REICHARD: Now Bradley Bowman is with us. He is a former congressional officer on the Army Staff in the Pentagon. And has served as National Security Advisor to members of the US Senate.
Good morning, Brad!
BOWMAN: Good morning.
REICHARD: Let’s start with the big question. Why do we care that Finland and Sweden are likely to join NATO? What does their membership do for the US and its allies?
BOWMAN: I think what’s at stake here is nothing less than war and peace in Europe, which obviously affects America’s core economic and national security interests. And that, of course, will also have an outsized impact on whether US forces are engaged in a military conflict there. We know we were drawn into two world wars there over a 30 year period in the last century – all of this is not as much in the rearview mirror as we would like it to be.
Other reasons why listeners might want to care is that this isn’t something that happens every day. NATO has 30 members, including the United States. Twelve joined when the alliance was founded in 1949. Greece and Turkey in 1952. Germany in 1955. Spain in 1982. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999, and seven Eastern European countries in 2004. And then four more from 2009 to 2020.
It sounds like a lot. But remember, it’s over 73 years, and so this is something that we’ve seen before, but doesn’t happen every day. And when members are added, or when we consider whether to add a member, what Americans get is a combination of assets and liabilities.
And so by assets I mean, from a military perspective, what size military are they bringing with them, in what capability, capacity, readiness? Do they have any particular areas of strength or niche skills?
We also impose an obligation under Article Five of 1949 North Atlantic Treaty. And we say that if that country is attacked, that we will consider it an attack on our own country. So it’s no small thing. And it is an obligation that we should not take lightly.
And then finally, a point that you kind of implied that Finland and Sweden have long-standing positions of substantial neutrality. But you know, this formal departure from this generations-and if not centuries-long policy of neutrality is significant, and I think can only be seen as a natural response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
REICHARD: None of these countries are very large, so talk a little bit about what military resources they bring.
BOWMAN: My honest opinion after a detailed objective analysis is that we get more than we give by adding Finland and Sweden to the alliance. And I say that because when you look at their militaries, they’re not huge, but they’re pretty damn impressive. And just a few quick examples, you know, I’m not going to get too corny here. But if you look at the number of aircraft, the two countries will together contribute over 150 fighter jets — including 96 Gripens and 62 F-18 Hornets.
And by the way, they are getting the next generation F-35. You know, Finland will acquire 64 of them. I can go through their fleets and their ground forces and point to similarly impressive capabilities. And these are not people who come hat in hand. These are nations with significant militaries with special niche capabilities that, in my view, will, overall, increase deterrence against further provocation aggression from Vladimir Putin.
REICHARD: We mentioned that the US Senate ratified the membership of Finland and Sweden, but this process is, again, far from over. Where does the process go from here and what needs to happen before their membership is official?
BOWMAN: The United States has now basically ratified its accession protocols, but it’s not over yet. So we have the following countries still to ratify. Let me list them quickly: they are the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey. I just want to highlight two countries on that list: Hungary and Turkey. You know, Hungary is led by [Victor] Orban and has had, I would say, an unfortunate disposition towards Vladimir Putin. And Turkey has of course tried to extract a number of concessions as a price to get the thumbs up for Finland and Sweden joining the alliance.
REICHARD: Could Turkey still throw a wrench in things?
BOWMAN: You know, I’m not an expert on Turkish domestic politics. I would say that many times in the past, Erdogan, who leads Turkey, has been someone who is very problematic – who has not acted as a NATO ally.
Some of your listeners may recall that Turkey purchased the S400 Air Defense System from Russia. So a NATO member — acquiring an air defense system from the leading threat to the alliance — that’s an ally, not acting like an ally. But still, Turkey has provided TB2 drones that have been of great help to Ukraine – and have been used to great effect to take out Russian vehicles on the battlefield.
So Turkey is trying to play some kind of awkward balancing act. They have a very problematic history of hostage diplomacy. You remember the pastor who was held hostage there for a long time. And they also have deep concerns about what they call Kurdish terrorist groups. And so they try to get concessions on it. If I had to guess that in the end I would say they will support the two countries being added to the alliance after getting all the possible concessions they can get.
REICHARD: There is a good chance that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would never have happened if Ukraine had been a NATO member. Why was Ukraine not a member?
BOWMAN: I think your premise is correct for what it’s worth. I mean, and this is a little bit about what’s another reason why I think it’s wise to add Finland and Sweden – some people say, oh, you know, this is provocative. You are provocative against Vladimir Putin. I think that is completely wrong. I think Putin knows that NATO is not an offensive threat to Moscow. The reason he hates NATO expansion is because he knows that once a country becomes a member of the alliance, he can no longer bully, coerce, invade and occupy them.
Okay, what’s your proof for that? Well, I have 73 years of proof that Moscow never invaded a member of NATO. But in 2008 he invaded and occupied part of Georgia. In 2014, he invaded and illegally annexed Crimea. He started a war against Ukraine’s Donbass since then, since 2014. And then, on February 24, of course, he launched the largest land invasions since World War II against Ukraine.
So not to self: Vladimir Putin invades, occupies and bullies non-NATO members. And for 73 years Moscow has not dared to argue with members of NATO. So that’s why I think it makes sense to add Finland and Sweden. Increases deterrence and creates all sorts of dilemmas for Russian military planners and Vladimir Putin, should they consider further aggression.
Ideally, we would one day get to the point where Russian leaders realize that the best path to security and peace for Russia is to recognize the sovereignty of its neighbors and their borders. Until then, I think we will need to continue to strengthen our security in Europe.
REICHARD: Bradley Bowman is a senior director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Bradley, thank you very much. Appreciate your time.
BOWMAN: Thank you.
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