Updated: Aug 20, 2022
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Neutrality is a foreign policy in which concerned state is not associated with international armed conflict. While the policy may seem ideal, and an easy solution to achieve peace, in the globalised and interconnected world of the 21st century, disassociation from international conflict is an arduous feat to reach, let alone implement and preserve it for a couple of centuries. The Nordic countries of Sweden and Finland have recently made headlines due to their gradual shift from their long-held policy of neutrality. Their growing affiliations and friendly relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) proves this gradual shift which has potential to aid or destroy a peaceful future for Europe.
The origins of the Swedish policy of neutrality lie in the early 19th century, after their involvement in the Napoleonic wars, which witnessed the loss of Finland to Russia. The country saw a change in leadership which implemented the Policy of 1812 – making Sweden a neutral country. After the Second World War, Finland too, maintained a policy of non-alignment to deter Russian aggression. Ironically, in 2022, too, their foreign policy is again in response to Russian aggression. While the other Nordic nations, namely Norway, Denmark and Iceland were some of the founding members of NATO, Sweden and Finland chose to remain non-aligned. However, as members of the European Union, they inherently portray stronger affiliations to the west. Although the official policy of neutrality was dropped, Sweden maintains a non-aligned foreign policy. The Swedish army has been deployed through peace-keeping forces in international war zones such as Afghanistan. Thus, in true sense, the ‘neutral’ unofficial, foreign policy of Sweden has not been prominent in recent years.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia on 24th February 2022 send shockwaves all across a relatively peaceful Europe, increasing internal tensions as well as concerns for national security among countries viewing Russia as a threat. Finland's President Sauli Niinistö stated that his country is seeking NATO membership because Russia's invasion proved that the Kremlin does not respect officially non-aligned countries. Sweden’s Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson, too stated her concerns regarding Russia’s aggression – “Should Sweden be the only country in the Baltic Sea region that was not a member of NATO, we would be in a very vulnerable position.” Despite having only 30 member nations, NATO still stands as one of the most powerful organisations in the world.
Thus, NATO membership seems as the most logical way to ensure security and protection for the two Nordic nations.
Following the announcement by Finland, Andersson announced the government’s plan to join NATO. Both the countries view NATO membership as one of the few ways to protect the country against Russian aggression, contrarily, some believe stronger alliances with western powers will only increase tensions between Russia and the West. A broad majority of Swedish population is in favour of NATO membership; similarly, a vast majority of NATO members currently seem unopposed to their membership. Contrarily, Turkey has pledged to oppose Finland and Sweden’s membership as a consequence of the sanctions imposed by Sweden in 2019 which suspended arms sales to Turkey due to their involvement in Syria. Turkey has also accused the two Nordic nations of harbouring ‘terror’ groups, including the Kurdistan Workers Part (PKK), blacklisted by Ankara, the EU and USA.
To gain membership in NATO, both the countries require approval from all the member nations. Consequently, the opposition by Turkey could hinder the attempts made by the Nordic countries seeking protection. Finland and Sweden completed accession talks at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on 4 July 2022. Both countries formally confirmed their willingness and ability to meet the political, legal and military obligations and commitments of NATO membership.
The revival of the decade’s old tensions between Ukraine and Russia on such a large scale has brought instability and feelings of insecurity across Europe and the world, which has the potential to change the dynamics and alliances between nations. This is increasingly evident by Sweden and Finland’s shift from neutrality towards NATO. Once again, Europe finds itself in instability and tensions, leaving non-aligned countries scrambling for alliances to ensure some level of security and certainty for the near future. The sour truth is, as long as authoritarian, autocratic and fascist rulers remain in power, the existing seeds of aggression and hostility will continue to exist and intensify.
A. (2022, May 16). Sweden to apply for NATO membership. Hindustan Times. https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/swedish-takes-formal-decision-to-apply-for-nato-membership-101652707958447.html
Al Jazeera. (2022, May 17). Turkey confirms opposition to NATO membership for Sweden, Finland. NATO News | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/5/17/turkey-confirms-opposition-to-nato-membership-for-sweden-finland
Doherty, E. (2022, May 16). Why NATO formed and why Finland and Sweden want to join the alliance. Axios. https://www.axios.com/2022/05/16/nato-expansion-ukraine-russia-putin-finland-sweden