According to former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the war in Ukraine represents an “absolute fault line” with Europe’s immediate past. What was completely unthinkable in his time as NATO Secretary General has happened today. The Prime Ministers of Sweden and Finland have announced their membership applications.
De Hoop Scheffer does not think Russian President Vladimir Putin has considered this scenario. “Not only do we see unprecedented solidarity within NATO and within the European Union as rarely seen before, I don’t think Putin was thinking about what could happen now, that is, NATO expansion with two big countries.”
Neighboring countries Sweden and Finland have so far always remained neutral. Russia sees further NATO expansion as a threat.
A frustrating process
“The Swedes and Finns are aware that this aggressive war of Russia on Ukraine will lead to a completely different Europe,” says De Hoop Scheffer. “They always thought that with unbound, neutral status they have enough guarantees for their security. And now they see Putin acting in his own aggressive way and attacking other countries. They are thinking about how to organize their security.”
If Sweden and Finland really want to join NATO, Putin will do everything he can to thwart the process, he says. “In the period between registration and de facto membership, he will undoubtedly try to throw sand into the machine. By all means, such as cyber attacks with military exercises at the border.”
The fact that Sweden and Finland are considering joining was not an option under De Hoop Scheffer as NATO Secretary General. “The situation has completely changed. At the time, the Finns didn’t want it, the Swedes didn’t want it. They were tied to their unfettered status. The political leadership didn’t want it. There was no majority in parliaments.”
A possible approach means that NATO will cover an even larger geographical area. “If all this passes, NATO will have a 1,300-kilometer border where East and West meet directly. That East-West relationship will be very different from what you and I have experienced in decades.”
As soon as the countries decide to join, a vulnerable period will begin. Until they become full members, they are not yet protected by NATO. Article 5, which states that a NATO country attacked by other members is protected, enters into force only when the country is a full member.
Meanwhile, NATO can already express political support. “Formally they do not fall under Article 5, but in the current fragile situation in Europe with the Great War in Ukraine, with aggressive Putin and aggressive Russia, I can imagine that some form of political consultation will take place. This could lead to security guarantees for Finns. and the Swedes, at the time they applied. They are then in a process that you cannot complete in a month or two. “