Finland and Sweden will be able to join NATO quickly should they decide to ask for membership in the Western military alliance, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.
Stoltenberg’s remarks came as public support in Finland and Sweden for NATO membership mounts in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Media speculation in the two countries suggest the two might apply in mid-May.
“If they decide to apply, Finland and Sweden will be warmly welcomed and I expect the process to go quickly,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels, adding he planned to speak with the Finnish president later in the day.
He gave no precise time frame, but did say that the two could expect some protection should Russia try to intimidate them from the time their membership applications are made until they formally join.
He said he was sure arrangements could be found for the interim period between an application by the two Scandinavian countries and the formal ratification in the parliaments of all 30 NATO members.
“I am confident that there are ways to bridge that interim period in a way which is good enough and works for both Finland and Sweden,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO’s collective security guarantee ensures that all member countries must come to the aid of any ally under attack. Stoltenberg added that many NATO allies have now pledged and provided a total of at least $8 billion in military support to Ukraine.
Both countries put an end to traditional neutrality by joining the European Union in 1995 and deepening cooperation with NATO. However, a majority of people in both countries remained firmly against full membership in the alliance – until now.
Despite tightening cooperation with the military alliance since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the Nordic countries have since opted to stay out. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which it calls a “special operation,” has forced Sweden and Finland to examine whether their longstanding military neutrality is still the best means of ensuring national security.
The two countries will together express their wish to join NATO next month, tabloid newspapers Iltalehti in Finland and Expressen in Sweden had reported on Monday.
Russia, with which Finland shares a 1,300-kilometer (810-mile) border, has said it will deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad if Finland and Sweden decide to join NATO.
Finland has a conflict-ridden history with Russia. Finns have taken part in dozens of wars against their eastern neighbor, for centuries as part of the Swedish Kingdom, and as an independent nation including two fought with the Soviet Union from 1939-40 and 1941-44.
In the postwar period, however, Finland pursued pragmatic political and economic ties with Moscow, remaining militarily nonaligned and a neutral buffer between East and West.
Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, choosing a path of peace after centuries of warfare with its neighbors.