NATO formalized its invitation to Sweden and Finland to join its alliance Wednesday, a historic expansion of the defense bloc that directly undercuts Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aims as his war in Ukraine grinds ahead.
The group collectively decided to approve countries’ applications to join after Turkey dropped its objections Tuesday, paving the way for NATO’s most consequential enlargement in decades.
“The accession of Finland and Sweden will make them safer, NATO stronger, and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure. The security of Finland and Sweden is of direct importance to the Alliance, including during the accession process,” the statement said.
The decision will now go to the 30 member states’ parliaments and legislatures for final ratification. NATO’s leaders said they expected the process to move quickly, allowing for an unprecedentedly swift accession and a show of unity against Putin.
The leaders entered Wednesday’s talks propelled by a diplomatic victory after Turkey dropped its objections to the two nations joining NATO, setting the stage for the two longtime neutral countries to enter the defensive bloc. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called the formal invitation from the alliance to Sweden and Finland to join the defense bloc a “historic decision.”
He recounted how two rounds of talks were held by senior officials in Brussels under his auspices in the advance of Monday’s consequential meeting between Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey agreed on Tuesday to drop its objections to their membership bids, removing a major hurdle to them joining NATO.
The expansion vote, paired with substantial new commitments bolstering NATO’s force posture in Europe, combined to make this week’s summit in Madrid one of the most productive in recent memory. The alliance endorsed a new “Strategic Concept” document that outlines NATO’s goals for the next decade. The document, last updated in 2010, lays out the security challenges facing the defensive alliance while outlining a course of action.
For the first time, the document outlined the China “challenge,” saying that the country’s “ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.” This was the first time the Strategic Concept document mentioned China; the 2010 version made no mention of Beijing. It also states that climate change is “a defining challenge of our time.”
The document identifies Russia as the “most significant and direct threat to allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area” and addresses NATO’s support for an independent Ukraine. In the 2010 version of the document, Russia was referred to as a “Euro-Atlantic partner.”
The outcome is exactly what Putin was hoping to fend off when he invaded Ukraine more than four months ago.