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NATO: Sweden, Finland boost unity against Putin

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert
June 29, 2022

NATO's ambitions are growing. Sweden and Finland are set to join and the alliance is strengthening its eastern flank with more troops. This is the right approach against Vladimir Putin, says Bernd Riegert.

A Finnish machine gunner sitting atop an amoured vehicle
Finnish soldiers are well-trained and well-equipped and will provide a boost for NATO capabilitiesImage: Naina Helen Jama/TT News Agency/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has miscalculated. He is not getting less NATO, as he demanded earlier this year, but instead finds himself confronted with a larger alliance.

Sweden and Finland now look set to join at record speed. Beyond that, NATO's door will remain open — as promised in 2008 — to Ukraine and Georgia, as well as other European countries. Putin's murderous attacks on Ukraine have welded NATO together more tightly than at any time since the end of the Cold War. It's not hyperbolic to describe the NATO summit in Madrid as historic or a turning point in time.

The alliance will not only become larger but will also adopt a new strategy that sees Russia as the greatest threat and no longer as a possible partner. Putin is forcing Europe, the United States and Canada to refocus on territorial defense along NATO's eastern flank. This will have far-reaching consequences for armies and societies in Europe. More money, more personnel, more weapons and new strategic thinking are needed to deal with the return of imperialistic war to Europe. The 300,000 soldiers to be kept on standby in the future are only the beginning. Permanent deployments on the eastern flank, including German Bundeswehr soldiers, will be necessary if Putin and his system continue to hold on to power.

Blocking Sweden and Finland made no sense

DW editor Bernd Riegert
DW Europe correspondent Bernd Riegert

Turkey dropped its pointless veto against Sweden and Finland joining the alliance just in time for the summit. Rejecting the Nordic applicants would have sent the wrong signal, weakened NATO unity and provided Putin with the perfect gift.

Ultimately, Turkey, Sweden and Finland, with strong US backing, did what might be expected of friendly countries in the middle of one of the most serious crises since NATO's founding and came to an agreement for the good of the greater cause. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has secured promises on counterterrorism, better access to buying American fighter jets and a boost for his domestic standing as he grapples with an economic crisis. He can sell that back home as standing up for Turkish interests.

Meanwhile, Sweden and Finland can easily take in their stride the pledges they have made to Turkey. They will examine the possible extradition of Kurdish terror suspects to Turkey. Whether it happens also depends on whether Turkey can assure rule-of-law procedures, which appears unlikely. In return, Sweden and Finland will receive more security and solidarity as members of the alliance.

Another 1,300 kilometers (807 miles) will be added to NATO's eastern flank due to Finland's direct border with Russia. It must be protected at all costs. This is what the other 31 NATO members have promised Finland, which, in return, brings an excellently trained and equipped army to the alliance that should keep any Russian ambitions to attack in the north at bay. The Finnish and Swedish armies will be a valuable addition to NATO. Soldiers from Finland and Sweden will soon play a greater role in defending the Baltic states and dominating the Baltic Sea.

A map showing NATO's eastern flank troop deployments

'Brain-dead' NATO remains a danger

NATO's future course is clear: to provide a united defense against the Russian threat with all conventional means, with deterrence, with massive troop contingents. The outcome of Russia's war in Ukraine will determine the next challenges for NATO. If Ukraine falls, then the Baltic States, Moldova or Georgia could be the next targets of Putin's megalomania. If Russia is beaten back, NATO will have to pursue massive containment policies.

The success of NATO's future strategy depends substantially on its largest and most important ally, the United States. The Biden administration is firmly committed to the alliance, so there is little to worry about there. But if a Republican, or even Donald Trump, wins the 2024 elections, NATO could face the next crisis. Whether the Europeans will follow the French proposal and be "sovereign" enough by then to defend themselves is doubtful.

For now, the alliance is alive and kicking, but French President Emmanuel Macron's comments in 2019 about NATO experiencing "brain death" should serve as a warning. After all, Trump and company would be willing to sacrifice Ukraine to accommodate Russia's rulers.

This piece was originally published in German.

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union