Arthur I. Cyr
On August 3, the US Senate overwhelmingly approved Finland and Sweden to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The vote was 95 to 1, far more than the two-thirds required for approval. This supports expansion in the strategically vital Arctic, which will significantly expand Russia’s borders with NATO members.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an occasional partner with Russia, initially opposed Finland and Sweden. His concerns included the presence in Scandinavia of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units. Turkey’s government strongly opposes such separatist groups.
In late June, the leaders of the three nations signed an agreement on the matter. Turkey has a very large and effective military. Expanding NATO to the north without losing Turkey to the south is a major strategic victory.
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The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is generally a long-term affair. In 2014, Russia seized Crimea and the eastern part of Ukraine. Crimea had been part of Russia until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula to Ukrainian authority in 1954.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, followed by the dissolution of the Soviet bloc of satellite states, and then the Soviet Union, represented a historic strategic victory for the West. The end of the Cold War confirmed the policy of restraint and deterrence known as “containment” initiated by the Truman administration.
Poland, a NATO member since 1999, is active in the collective effort to provide arms to Ukraine. The new coalition government in Germany led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz began with a low profile in Europe, in stark contrast to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s independent long-term leadership. This changed abruptly when Russia invaded Ukraine, and Germany is now providing arms and other aid.
Both potential NATO members have significant characteristics. The Soviet-Finnish War of 1939-1940, which ended through negotiations, demonstrated Finland’s military prowess against a much larger enemy. Cold War Sweden practiced variants of often blatantly anti-American “neutrality”. Both NATO nations are strengthening deterrence against Russia in the north.
During the early phases of the Cold War, the Arctic was the focus of intense security concerns. NORAD, North American Air Defense Command was formed in 1958 (renamed North American Aerospace Defense Command in 1981) to coordinate Canadian and US military activities. The threat of Soviet long-range bombers attacking after crossing the Arctic was a major concern. Less visibly, President Dwight Eisenhower secured the demilitarization of Antarctica in 1959.
In the north, Russia has today taken the lead in trade, exploration and military bases. Moscow is also pursuing serious disputes with other Arctic nations. An example is Canada and Denmark regarding control of the Lomonosov ridge.
In 2021, Russia Iceland succeeded in chairing the Arctic Council, which also includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United States. Finland and Sweden in NATO will effectively isolate Russia as the only non-member of the alliance. Agreement within an enlarged NATO will facilitate an effective strategy to counter Russia’s potentially significant expansion in the Arctic region, an important area largely ignored by US presidents since the turn of the century.
Russia has reaffirmed NATO’s validity.
Arthur I. Cyr is the author of “After the Cold War – American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). Contact [email protected]