Sweden, Finland, and NATO

What a difference a year makes. A year ago, the share of Swedes opposing NATO membership reached 50 percent, up by 10 percentage points from a year earlier. But now only 35 percent oppose NATO membership, compared to 48 percent who support it. That’s the first time NATO membership has been Swedes’ top choice, reports the Swedish news agency TT. According to the same survey, a majority of Swedes wants to reintroduce conscription, and, in a remarkable turn of events, almost 60 percent want to increase defense spending, a 100 percent increase compared to only three years ago.

In neighboring Finland, NATO membership is not just a matter of opinion polls. On April 5th, Finns will vote in parliamentary elections, and it’s hardly surprising that NATO has become a crucial issue. Yet the parties are cagey about whether they’re in favor or against. Here’s why: Russia would not be pleased if Finland joined NATO. In fact, Russia would take great offense. “Do you want to start a third world war,” asked Vladimir Putin’s personal envoy in an interview with the Finnish daily Hufvudstadsbladet last year. “Anti-Semitism led to the Second World War, Russophobia can lead to a third world war. Finland is one of the most Russophobic countries in Europe, after Sweden and the Baltic states.”

No wonder the Finns, brave though they are—the Winter War, when Finland’s heroic soldiers held off the vastly superior Red Army for four months during World War II, remains a source of pride—find themselves on the fence over NATO membership. Joining NATO, to be sure, brings great benefits: security guarantees, access to plenty of state-of-the-art equipment, money savings as allies pool resources. But Finland, and to a lesser extent Sweden, are also exposed to their large neighbor’s inevitable wrath. Rather predictably, Russian media channels including Sputnik are active participants in the discussion, enthusiastically spreading news such as Finnish Finance Minister Antti Rinne’s recent comment that joining NATO would increase risks to Finnish security policy.

The added dilemma is this: When it comes to NATO, Sweden and Finland, joined at the hip as they are, have to join or stay out together. April 5th may bring big news, in a very discreet way of course.

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