Takeaways From Finland Joining NATO – OpEd


In spite of the frequently contentious nature of its relations with Russia, Finland has adhered for a long time to the principle of neutrality. However, that same principle was shunned and Finland joined the NATO as its 31st member on April 4, 2023.

The fact that NATO security guarantees will be extended to this country, which has a border with Russia that is 1,340 kilometres long, makes this unquestionably an event of significant importance. Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General of NATO, made these remarks during a ceremony to raise the alliance’s flag in Brussels: “Finland is safer, and NATO is stronger with Finland as an ally.”

Rationale for the Establishment of NATO

In the wake of WWII, the North Atlantic Alliance was formed, aiming to counter the security threats posed by the Soviet Union at that point of time. Its main goals were securing peace in Europe, fostering cooperation among its members, and protecting their freedom. Twelve European and North American countries signed the treaty which was established in 1949. Democracy, individual rights, and the rule of law are all affirmed. The idea of collective defence is established in the treaty, which means that an attack on one Ally is treated as an attack on all Allies. The NATO guarantees that the safety of its European members is directly tied to the safety of its North American members. The organisation is also a rare platform for transatlantic discussion and collaboration.

Finland’s Neutrality to NATO Membership

Finland’s foreign policy has been defined by a steadfast commitment to the neutrality during its diplomatic history with Soviet Union. The aforementioned policy has significantly influenced the diplomatic ties of Finland with its neighbouring countries and major global players such as the Soviet Union, the European Union, and NATO. Against the backdrop of foreign domination of Finland is reflected in the country’s current commitment to neutrality. Finland was initially a part of the Swedish Empire and later came under Russian domination. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Finland became an independent country, but immediately following its proclamation were fraught with political and economic upheavals. After WWII, Finland established its neutrality policy and became a buffer state between the Soviet Union and the West.

The principle of non-alignment forms the basis of Finland’s neutrality policy, which states that the country does not take sides with any military alliances or coalitions. Finland’s foreign policy objective is to foster positive relationships with all countries, including those with which it disagrees on political and ideological issues as well. This means that Finland does not take sides in international conflicts or disputes and does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. Throughout its history, Finland’s neutrality policy several times has been put to the test, most notably during the Cold War. Finland faced pressure to align with the Soviet Union as a neighbour, but it maintained its non-alignment stance, allowing it to develop economic and cultural ties with the West as well. Despite political differences, Finland’s neutrality policy enabled it to maintain a unique relationship with the Soviet Union characterised by trade and cultural exchange. However, with the evolution of new geopolitical and geo-strategic environment in the recent past against the backdrop of increased tension between Russia and the West, as well as the emergence of new security threats like cyber attacks and terrorism, such emerging new challenges  has compelled to shun its neutrality policy and join the NATO. 

Why Joining the NATO 

At this juncture, question is emerging why Finland is insisting to join the NATO, when the same kind of case has already opened a Pandora Box, for instance Ukraine case. To trace out the answer this question, one has to trace out the roots, give a cursory look and peep into the Finland-Russo relations? 

Finland-Russia relations have been remained in see-saw mode characterized by war and peace over time. Finland declared independence from the Russian Empire after the latter’s defeat in World War I. The Soviet Union recognised this as being “in line with the principle of national self-determination that was held by Lenin” [1].  Relations between Finland and the Soviet Union were tense between the wars because Russians were seen as synonymous with Communists after the Finnish Civil War and the October Revolution. Given the official animosity towards Communism, the relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union during the interwar period was characterised by a palpable sense of tension. 

Finland waged two wars- the Winter War and the Continuation War with Soviet Union during the World War II, causing heavy men and material causalities/losses on part of both sides. During the Cold War era, Finland endeavoured to establish a neutral position between the Western and Eastern blocs, with the aim of placating the Soviet Union and averting the possibility of another conflict. Notably, Finland even conducted fresh elections in instances where the previous outcomes were deemed unsatisfactory by the Soviet Union. Following the commencement of the 2022 Russian invasion towards Ukraine, Finland as a member of the European Union, implemented sanctions against Russia. In response, Russia designated all EU member states as “unfriendly nations” [2]. 

The aggressive and belligerent actions on part of Vladimir Putin with respect to NATO in general and Ukraine in particular have damaged a long-standing sense of security and stability  in northern Europe, making Finland further apprehensive. Against this backdrop, Alexander Stubb, a former PM of Finland, declared his country’s membership in the alliance a “done deal” after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, 2022. Moreover, for many Finns, there is a sense of congruency is appearing before them with the unfolding events out of the Ukraine crisis. Iro Sarkka, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki, “Watching the war in Ukraine unfold was like reliving this history.” Finns were looking at their 1,340 km border with Russia, she said, and thinking: “Could this happen to us?”

NATO’s Paradoxes and Finland’s Takeaways

The NATO was set up in the wake of World War II.  It was established to counter the security threats posed by the Soviet Union and its communistic ideology in the post-World War II. The goals of NATO seem to have been to create a wonderful world in which peace could be secured and restored and maintained in Europe. One might think that “peace in Europe” means that there hasn’t been a lot of conflicts/wars or political instability since NATO was formed.  But whatever level of peace is reached in the continent, it is mostly due to the creation and growth of the European Union, which has made it easier for its member states to work together economically and politically. However, the NATO’s role in this direction has not been remained positive as it is anticipated. 

Secondly, establishing cooperation among members is a primary focus of the NATO. The NATO accomplishes this by giving its member states a common ground on which to exchange knowledge, technology, and military resources. It is also being argued that the same has played a significant role in fostering peace, security, and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region since its establishment. NATO’s many committees, councils, and working groups have been playing an instrumental role in fostering cooperation among its members. The NATO Science and Technology Organisation (STO) encourages scientific cooperation and innovation among member states, while the NATO Defence Policy and Planning Committee (DPPC) formulates NATO’s defence policy. The NATO seeks to strengthen partnerships with countries and organisations around the world in addition to fostering cooperation among its member states. Security, stability, and peace are the goals of these alliances, which are founded on shared values and mutual interests.

Thirdly, the NATO has become the world’s most powerful military alliance, comprised of 31 North American and European nations, and dedicated to defending the freedom and security of its members. The commitment of NATO to protect the freedom of its members stems from the organization’s founding principles. The  NATO as a military alliance was  committed to the collective defence of its member states. The preamble of the treaty states that the signatories are “determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage, and civilization of their respective peoples, which are founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.”

Keeping its members safe from attack is used to be a top priority for the NATO. A strong military presence, joint military exercises, and information sharing among member states are all ways to achieve this goal. The collective defence that NATO promises to provide in the event of an attack on one member state means that all other members will come to the attacked member’s aid. Article 5 of the NATO has been used only once in the history of NATO in context of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The NATO’s mission is not only limited to collective defence; rather also includes fostering peace and safety across the Euro-Atlantic and beyond. The group has participated in numerous peacekeeping missions in countries like Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, and plays an active role in crisis management and conflict resolution. NATO’s work in these spheres is dedicated to fostering global peace and security and bolstering the democratic aspirations of nations everywhere.

On the contrary, if one takes into account the realistic perspectives of the NATO’s role, it seemed to be very paradoxical. Let’s make an assessment of the Ukrainian crisis with respect to the Russia vs NATO.  Russia has asked NATO, not to go ahead with its expansion into countries like Ukraine and Georgia, which have been sharing borders with Russia. The former has also requested NATO to reduce its military presence to levels as in the 1990s and that no intermediate-range missiles be stationed along the border regions along with stopping/reducing its military aid to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states. When it was not happened, the Russia resorted to attack. 

Now the question is, how Ukraine’s peace, stability, security, freedom and sovereignty was protected by the NATO. Many scholars, commentators, regional and international organization have called the Ukrainian crisis as one of the major humanitarian crises. Wherein the role of NATO has been remained as the most symbolic,  with a few actions taken to deter Russia’s aggression. The NATO has imposed sanctioned on Russia, suspended cooperation, and gave Ukraine military and non-lethal aid. These measures did not stop Russian aggression. NATO’s limited military capabilities have prevented it from deterring the Ukraine crisis.  Despite economic sanctions and military aid to Ukraine, NATO has been unable to match Russia’s military build-up in the region, and the political situation in member states has prevented the organisation from taking a stronger stance. Similarly, the NATO has not been remained successful in Afghanistan? Against this background, what takeaways Finland can take from these instances of failures of NATO? 

Finland can learn some lessons from the above cited cases/events. Finland could strengthen its warfare defences. It could also focus on political and diplomatic strategies to address whatever it have with Russia related to bilateral/regional security issues. NATO’s 2014 failure to stop Russia’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine showed its inability to deter Russian aggression. The annexation also showed NATO’s inability to respond to hybrid warfare, which combines military operations with propaganda, cyberattacks, and political subversion. From this, Finland can also learn that every country has to wage its own war against its own traditional, non-traditional security threats and geopolitical challenges. It is also important to recall that despite the NATO long stay in Afghanistan, could not make it stable and peaceful. NATO has been criticised for its inability to secure long-term stability, corruption free, and governance issues, and lack of an exit strategy from Afghanistan. Therefore, a takeaway for Finland is its non-align policy by which it can maintain good relations with EU, NATO and Russia. Diplomacy and dialogue are the only strategies by which the present world come out of wars/conflicts/disputes etc.  In this world, there is enough space to accommodate each other’s cooperation not conflicts. 

Dr. Bawa Singh is an Associate Professor, Department of South and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India


  1. Jutikkala, Eino and Pirinen, Kauko. (1988). A History of Finland. Dorset Press,  p. 216. 
  2. Lee, Michael (8 March 2020). Here Are the Nations on Russia’s ‘Unfriendly Countries’ List. CTV News).

Dr. Bawa Singh

Dr. Bawa Singh is an Associate Professor, Department of South and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India

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