Senate approves NATO membership of Sweden and Finland

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The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to admit Sweden and Finland to NATO, approving an expansion of the alliance that supporters say would send a message condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The 95-1 vote made the United States the 23rd of 30 NATO members to ratify the proposed addition, which leaders in Helsinki and Stockholm began considering this spring in response to the aggressive cross-border campaign of Russia.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) called the vote “a signal to Russia that they can’t bully America or Europe.”

President Biden applauded the Senate for the speed with which it ratified the membership protocols, adding that joining Finland and Sweden will “further strengthen NATO’s collective security and deepen the transatlantic partnership.”

Sweden’s and Finland’s membership in NATO would strengthen the alliance’s military assets, especially since the considerable arsenals of artillery, warplanes and naval weapons of the two countries are already compatible with NATO systems.

The expansion – adding that Finland would more than double the area of ​​the organization’s territory directly bordering Russia – “is the exact opposite of what Putin envisioned when he ordered his tanks to invade Ukraine. “said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (DN.J.).

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According to Article 10 of the NATO charter, additional European countries can only be added to the ranks “by unanimous agreement”. In the United States, approval of NATO expansion falls within the treaty power of the Senate; the House will not vote on the matter.

Among the seven countries which have not yet ratified the accession of Sweden and Finland, some where the opposition could constitute an obstacle, like Hungary and Turkey.

After initially raising objections to the offer, Turkey struck a deal in late June in which it would drop its opposition to the bid. the addition of Finland and Sweden if they agreed to shut down the recruitment and funding networks of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and meet Ankara’s demands to deport some affiliates.

At the time, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Sweden and Finland should “do their homework” before the Turkish parliament considered ratifying their bids for NATO membership. And in the weeks that followed, he warned that Turkey could still “freeze” the process in its tracks, suggesting he was unhappy with their progress on the terms of the deal.

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Meanwhile, Hungary, whose authoritarian right-wing leader Viktor Orban, is set to address the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas this week maintains an enigmatic stance on how he will handle Sweden and Finland’s bid.

Even in the United States, there is a small but vocal contingent that opposes NATO expansion. In a provocative speech ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) argued that allowing Finland and Sweden into NATO would be against U.S. interests because “expanding NATO will require more American forces in Europe, more manpower, more firepower, more resources, more expenditure, and not just now but in the long term.

“Our biggest foreign adversary is not in Europe, our biggest foreign adversary is in Asia,” he insisted.

Hawley’s opposition was strongly decried by members of his own party.

“Closer cooperation with these partners will help us counter Russia and China,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, calling the membership a “national security slam dunk.” “.

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), meanwhile, stressed that it would be “odd indeed” if the senators who voted for North Macedonia’s NATO membership in 2019 – a group which includes Hawley – suddenly oppose the candidacy of Finland and Sweden.

“Let’s be honest, who can deny the much stronger case for Finland and Sweden? Cotton said, arguing that these countries were “much larger, much more capable and much more strategically located”.

Hawley’s opposition was all the more stark as Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who opposed North Macedonia joining in 2019 and Montenegro joining in 2017, voted in favor of Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the only other senator to oppose the candidacies of North Macedonia and Montenegro, voted “present” on Wednesday, noting on the ground that following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “I am less adamant about preventing NATO expansion with Sweden and Finland.”

The Senate rejected Paul’s efforts to attach an amendment to the ratification that would explicitly state that the United States’ obligations under Article 5 to defend member nations would not supersede the constitutional right of Congress to authorize the use of military force.

Menendez said the amendment was “unnecessary” to protect the constitutional role of Congress. He told colleagues it was potentially “deeply damaging” and “self-destructive to do anything that casts doubt on our ironclad commitment to NATO”.

The Senate voted to approve an amendment stating that it expects all NATO members to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defence.

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