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Ambassadors of Finland and Sweden Speak at CGAI Round Table

By James Careless

 

Finland and Sweden are ready and eager to join NATO, and willing to shoulder the expense and commitment of doing so. That was the message delivered in Ottawa September 13th by Finnish Ambassador to Canada Roy Eriksson and Swedish Ambassador to Canada Urban Ahlin. They were speaking at a “Round Table’ hosted by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. The event was held at the KPMG office in the city’s downtown core.

SUPPORT FOR NATO NOT NEW

There is no doubt that Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine spurred public support for joining NATO, the ambassadors said. “Many Finns drew a parallel in history to the Winter War of 1939 when the Soviet Union attacked Finland without provocation,” said Ambassador Eriksson. “The mood changed almost overnight,” he noted. A few weeks after that attack, “62% of the (Finnish) population was of the opinion that we should join NATO. And if you only went a few months earlier, the highest (percentage) would have been 28%.”

Swedes were similarly appalled by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine to see the value in joining NATO. This being said, “I don’t want to give an impression that it’s like Sweden and Finland suddenly realized that, ‘oh, our house is on fire and now we need insurance,’” said Ambassador Ahlin. Instead, he explained the decision by these longtime neutral countries to seek NATO membership now as the realization of a historical inevitability, by citing a story about Max Jakobson, former Finnish Ambassador to the UN.

“He (Jakobson) said, ‘if you ask the Finnish people if they would like to be a member of NATO, they (would) say with 80% certainty No’,” Ahlin recalled. “‘(But) if you ask the Finnish people if they think Sweden will join NATO in the future, 80% will say Yes. And the reason behind this is that the No answer is nostalgia, and the Yes answer is realism.’ And I can assure you that this is actually exactly what has been going on.”

In fact, Finland and Sweden have worked together with NATO since the 1990s, Sweden’s Ambassador to Canada noted. “We participated in NATO’s Partnership for Peace,” said Ahlin. “And then in 2014, after the Russian annexation of Ukraine, we both took part in the Enhanced Opportunities partnership. So it’s not something (working with NATO) that we have just recently decided on very quickly.”

RUSSIAN AGGRESSION NOT A SURPRISE
 

Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine may be the triggering event for Finland and Sweden applying to join NATO. However, Russian aggression comes as no surprise to them, since both countries have experienced conflicts with this nation for centuries.

This being said, Ambassador Ahlin ascribes the former Soviet Union’s recent history of military expansionism and interference as being due to P.I.S.S. This is an acronym for ‘Post Imperial Stress Syndrome’, which “the Russians have had for a long period of time.” he said. After all, Putin’s regime attacked Ukraine in 2014 when it occupied Crimea and overturned the peace in Europe. This is why “I don’t want to give an impression that it’s like Sweden and Finland suddenly realizes that, ‘oh, our house is on fire’,” quipped Ahlin.

SERIOUS ADDITIONS TO NATO

Following this line, Ambassador Eriksson pointed out that the inclusion of Finland and Sweden in NATO will provide the alliance with much needed military reinforcements in northern Europe.

Referring specifically to Finland, “I would say that we are a net provider of security,” he noted. “We have one of the largest armies in Europe. We have 280,000 troops and a reserve of 900,000, which is pretty amazing considering that we are only 5.5 million people. We have more artillery than any country in Europe —(and) we have more tanks than Germany. So, you are not getting a weak member. You get somebody who is ready to stand up for the values of NATO.”

“Both in Sweden and Finland, the populations of both countries — are happy to work closer and closer with NATO operations and activities,” Ambassador Ahlin added. “And as many NATO countries know, Sweden and Finland have actually been taking part in more NATO operations than some (NATO) members.”

AWAITING THE LAST THREE RATIFICATIONS

According to the Finnish and Swedish ambassadors to Canada, 24 out of 27 NATO members have already ratified their countries acceptance into the alliance. The three yet to give their okays are Hungary, Spain, and Türkiye (formerly known as Turkey). The first two ratifications are just a matter of procedure, according to the ambassadors. However, Türkiye’s approval is still under negotiation —although on June 28, 2022 the three countries did sign “a trilateral memorandum to address Türkiye’s legitimate security concerns, paving the way for Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership,” says the NATO website (www.nato.int).

Given the benefits that Finland and Sweden would bring to NATO, and the membership’s overwhelming support for their admittance, these last three votes are likely to fall into place eventually. And when they do, Russia will face a larger, more capable, and revitalized NATO —– the direct legacy of Vladimir Putin’s ill-advised, inhumane, and inept invasion of Ukraine.

 


James Careless is CDR’s Ottawa Bureau Chief

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