Sweden and Finland may want to join NATO, but all is not well in the US-led alliance
The EU, backed by the economies of Germany and France, is not very happy with the sanctions imposed by the United States on Russia. Switzerland, usually very discreet, proposed to America to leave Europe immediately
Fog of war and plumes of acrid smoke when close enough head towards the exits. It gives you wings. It is the panic of hope. But how will it be safer outside when the missiles strike? Is the outside really outside while those boundaries are still exactly where they were? Is the fear that Russia may invade (again) before NATO’s all-for-one and one-for-all coverage occurs?
Alexandre Dumas, the incredible 19and French black century wrote The three Musketeers, which was actually about four, after counting the essential D’Artagnan. The story was a thrilling saga about loyalty and brotherhood, rather than politics or the humiliation of Cardinal Richelieu’s private militia.
It has little in common with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a prosaic and brutal military equipment type insurance policy with boots in the field, originally intended to confront the Soviet Communists behind the iron curtain. But will this old insurance policy be paid when the claim is presented in the current 21st?st century, with 32 countries on the bus?
Every day NATO grows bigger, with more dependents than players, it becomes the $64 billion question. By the way, $63 billion is what America has spent or committed to the war on Ukraine, in less than three months, even as institutional bankers warn of a harsh US recession in to come. Is NATO as formidable a panacea as claimed?
Is the much-vaunted Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, which enshrines the principle of collective defence, really effective in practice? NATO has unilaterally attacked countries like Kosovo and Libya. After 9/11, it was more or less an American operation against Afghanistan, with only a token participation of a few NATO allies. Most NATO allies, as President Donald Trump has complained, have not paid their bills or done their part. Has Ukraine changed all that? For how long?
For Ukraine, the American Raytheon Missile Systems is struggling to resurrect the Soviet-era Stinger missile, a man-portable air defense system (MANPADS), still very useful today in eliminating Russian tanks and helicopters. But pieces from the 1980s are no longer produced today. Stingers and Javelin anti-tank weapons, in service since 1996, require constant upgrading. And manufacturers, likely interested in selling much more expensive weapon systems, are scrambling to meet demand.
Explained: what future for Finland and Sweden regarding NATO membership?
Russia warns of ‘military and technical’ response as NATO promises ‘smooth’ entry into Finland
Then there are the different types of attack drones from various NATO countries. Tanks, armored cars, bombs, helicopters, fighter jets, most expensive items that ruled the wars of yore, are still great for bombing, strafing and taking over non-nuclear countries in Africa, in Arabia or Asia. Otherwise, they seem outdated.
This is the age of missiles of all kinds, sometimes fired far from the target, others from a knapsack; some somewhat larger and practical drones carried by soldiers, anti-tank weapons, etc.
The implication is that small powers can make them quickly and at little cost. Quads equipped with shoot ’em up gadgets fare better in all terrain situations.
As for nuclear weapons, it is a zero-sum game. Even tactical nukes cannot be used. Furthermore, Russia, now unloved in Europe, is still the opposite of a new Cold War and the second deadliest nuclear power in the world.
So why are Sweden and Finland likely to apply for full NATO membership around 2022? Sweden has been a member of the EU since 1995, is already a NATO partner country and is of course part of the UN. Finland has been part of the Economic Cooperation Organization (OECD) since 1969 and joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace in 1994, the EU in 1995, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997, the Eurozone in 1999, and is also a member of the UN. Both are already tied to NATO and the EU in protection treaties. The neutrality they profess is therefore partial. It really is the last step in a growing embrace.
In addition, their recent experiences with the Soviet Union during World War II, which was brutally conquered and subsequently dominated, allowed Sweden to maintain a good level of arms manufacturing and an impressive navy in the Baltic Sea. Finland has not stopped developing elite troops for 30 years, to face Russia if ever the day returns.
The moot point is that an unrestrained Russia frightens them and revives old genetic memories as well as relatively new ones. In addition, opinion polls in both countries now want them to join NATO, with around 50-70% saying so, down from around 25% previously.
It was Tsar Peter the Great, after his period of incognito tutelage in Europe, who returned to a feudal Russia, modernized his armed forces, his own attitudes, even to a certain extent his court practices.
Then he promptly attacked Sweden, a shock in the early 1700s, and conquered Finland and then the eastern part of Sweden. Tsar Peter’s troops and Cossacks continued to rampage through the Swedish countryside until the Peace Treaty of Nystad in 1721 made Finland, Estonia and Latvia part of the Russian Empire . It also ended Sweden’s great power status.
During World War II, however, ostensibly neutral Sweden first leaned in to facilitate German actions, then did the same for the Allies. In Ukraine, the two countries have already sent armaments and humanitarian aid.
This exit from Tsar Peter also gave landlocked Russia a port of relatively warm waters on the Baltic Sea and the ability to build a Baltic fleet. Tsar Peter built a new capital in St. Petersburg, on the site of the former Swedish city of Nyen, later Leningrad, then Stalingrad, and now again, St. Petersburg.
Turkey, a NATO member sitting opposite Russia on the Black Sea, has previously raised objections based on Sweden and Finland’s longstanding support for Kurdish rebels in Syria. No less than 33 extradition requests aimed at freeing Kurdish rebels in Ankara have been refused in a decade.
To admit Sweden and Finland, current members of NATO must agree unanimously. Western media speak of US pressure, even sanctions, to force an economically ravaged Turkey, with 70% inflation, into line. NATO itself hopes to smooth things over with Ankara so that they don’t get in the way.
He hopes for a fast-track process that could see both countries become members of NATO within this year.
With all the cracks and strains in the NATO alliance that have surfaced in the past three months alone, the chances of its long-term cohesion are in doubt. Likewise, the EU, backed by the economies of Germany and France, is not very happy with the sanctions imposed by the United States on Russia. Switzerland, usually very discreet, offered America to leave Europe immediately.
There are food shortages – wheat, bread, cooking oil, inflation, soaring fuel and gasoline prices. Slovakia will not share its food. Hungary will not sanction Russia. Germany cannot do without Russian piped gas. Serbia strongly supports Russia despite applying for EU membership.
In fact, Russia has benefited greatly over the past three months from its oil and gas exports to Europe. His insistence on being paid in rubles indexed to the price of gold, after being excluded from the SWIFT mechanism worked. This lifted the value of the ruble to unprecedented levels even as the US dollar and euro plummet.
American gas prices rose as it transported LPG to Europe, and it began to starve American industry. Turkey is fighting the Kurds in Syria. The Russians are also fighting in Syria, alongside Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah to support President Assad and his regime.
Israelis, Americans, Germans, British, French, Dutch, Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others support rebel groups. The Kurds and ISIS seem to be waging their own war within a war. All participants and logistical support are jostling in a very complicated and endless endless war. It’s been over a decade already.
Could the war in Ukraine, still very young, become as convolutional as Syria, if not as prolonged? It also has multiple in-theatre proxies, ‘contractors’, mercenary groups, a wide variety of heavy and light weaponry, some of which are being tested for the first time in real warfare.
So far, Russia has stuck to its own weaponry, but in terms of manpower, it also has its favorite imports from Syria, in addition to the fierce Chechens. Apparently, Turkey, which gets high marks for the performance of its Bayraktar TB2 drones, is doing the same.
But Russia, as vast as it is, will have to consolidate its relations with Central Asia, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific, India, China.
There have been 16 new NATO members since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This addition will make it a whopping 32. Many had to adapt to old Soviet ways to accommodate the NATO alliance. Sweden and Finland have been half-members of NATO for some time now, participating in NATO meetings, carrying out military exercises with it, participating in peacekeeping missions.
What happens next depends on the military equipment and infrastructure placed in Finland, Sweden, the Baltic Sea and the Arctic. Russia will have to respond with countermeasures.
The author is a Delhi-based commentator on political and economic affairs. The opinions expressed are personal.