Bipartisan Consensus Emerges on NATO’s Addition of Finland and Sweden

August 12, 2022 By Grant Heminger

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, the world is keeping a close eye on the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), raising questions about what role the alliance will play in the region. As a result, NATO consistently captures headlines – most recently regarding Finland and Sweden’s accession agreements with the military alliance. For decades, Finland and Sweden both held firmly neutral positions towards Russia, but in early July, they signed NATO accession agreements and were unanimously approved by existing allies. With these developments, it is important to trace the larger arc of the role of NATO and the centrality of bipartisan support in Congress.

NATO’s Creation and Enduring Bipartisan Support

NATO has long represented a core aspect of American international security policy, characterizing our relationships with allies and non-members. Immediately following World War II, with communists aided by the Soviet Union threatening elected governments across a devastated Europe, a true transatlantic security agreement was necessary. The North Atlantic Treaty was signed in April of 1949, at which time all 12 original allied nations agreed to come to the aid of one another in the event of an invasion. Indeed, Article 5 in the treaty states that “an armed attack against one or more of them… shall be considered an attack against them all.” Since then, NATO has increased to 30 member nations, and its permanent, integrated military command structure, comprised of both military personnel and civilians from all member states, oversees nearly 3.5 million personnel and is widely considered the world’s strongest and most powerful alliance.

Over the years, NATO has enjoyed bipartisan support from many top American policymakers:

  • Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY): “[NATO] is the most important military alliance in world history. It remains relevant today…I want to reassure our NATO allies that we will come to the defense of any member that is threatened.”
  • Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT): “The trans-Atlantic alliance is a major necessity to prevent more wars like WWII…we all have our own interests, but we must be an international community.”
  • Joni Ernst (R-IA): “For the last 72 years and counting, the NATO alliance has proven crucial to our national security and ensuring prosperity at home and abroad.”
  • Rick Larsen (D-WA): “Great news—a strong NATO alliance is essential to the defense of democracy throughout Europe and the world.”
  • Mike Turner (R-OH): “Strengthening our relationship with NATO is critical to the U.S. defense mission.

Support for Expanding NATO and a More Unified Alliance

Congressional support for the alliance remains strong, and NATO’s most recent decision to begin the ratification process for Sweden’s and Finland’s accessions is receiving enthusiastic support from American legislators on both sides of the aisle. Members of Congress have highlighted that the shared recognition of a common threat has bolstered internal cohesion and preparedness of the alliance in tandem with its overall growth and expansion:

  • Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “Great news for NATO. The addition of Finland and Sweden will make NATO stronger as both are freedom-loving democratic countries. Appreciate all the parties for working out their differences with Turkey to create a win-win.”
  • Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ): “I strongly support Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Their membership will create a more secure Europe and promote lasting peace in the region.
  • Steve Chabot (R-OH): “As a strong supporter of the Alliance and Co-Chair of the Turkey Caucus, I am pleased to see that Turkey, Finland and Sweden agreed to a path forward that will address Turkey’s legitimate security concerns and pave the way for Finland and Sweden to join the [NATO] alliance.”
  • Norma Torres (D-CA): “This is important news for our international security. We welcome Sweden and Finland to NATO membership and look forward to our continued partnership.”
  • Roger Wicker (R-MS): “Vladimir Putin hoped his war would divide and weaken NATO. Instead, our alliance is emerging stronger and more unified than ever before, with the potential of adding Sweden and Finland to the fold”
  • Jacky Rosen (D-NV): “Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is a reminder that this alliance has never been more crucial to global security and stability, and adding these two important allies will make NATO stronger.

NATO’s Role in Diplomacy

The broad bipartisan support for NATO expansion sheds light on a critical and often underappreciated role of the treaty as a forum to settle diplomatic disputes. From the 1994 creation of the Partnership for Peace Program to encourage cooperation between NATO and its new democratic partners in the former Soviet bloc, to the United States working to engender Turkish support of Finnish and Swedish accession to the alliance, NATO has been used as a forum for reducing tensions, promoting peaceful cooperation between member states, and striving to prevent disputes from escalating into violent conflict. This influence of the treaty is also gaining recognition from influential American policymakers and servicemembers:

  • Tom Malinowski (D-NJ): “NATO is so important to our security. No alliance in history has done more to prevent war, and no alliance is more rooted in the values America champions, than NATO.”
  • Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “I’ve been a strong advocate for American global leadership and our transatlantic partnerships my entire career. They’ve made possible the unprecedented era of peace and prosperity Americans have experienced in my lifetime.”
  • 4-star General Wes Clark (Ret.): “As former NATO Allied Commander, I know NATO’s Article 5 exists to PREVENT war. That’s why it’s only been invoked once – after 9/11.”

A Stronger NATO Means a Safer America

As with much that occurs outside the United States’ borders, these developments have significant, tangible impacts domestically. Especially in this time of growing anxiety prompted by a foreign invasion in Europe, the safety and prosperity of Americans at home is top of mind for citizens and policymakers alike. Fortunately, there is bipartisan consensus on the critical role NATO plays in securing the security of Americans around the world and here at home:

  • Thom Tillis (R-NC): “To the American citizen who is wondering why do we worry about NATO, why do we worry about Ukraine? Because it is directly linked to the future of our sovereignty and our safety here at home.
  • Chris Coons (D-DE): “Adding Sweden and Finland to NATO won’t just strengthen the alliance—it’ll keep Americans safe.
  • Jerry Moran (R-KS): “A unified NATO is essential to deterring further threats and preserving American peace and prosperity.
  • Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH): “The reform and expansion of NATO is key to ensuring a safe and prosperous future for the United States and critical allies and partners.”

On August 3, 2022, the Senate voted overwhelming, 95-1, to approve NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, following a House vote of 394-18 in July on a resolution supporting the two countries joining NATO. On August 9, President Biden signed ratification documents approving the NATO membership of Finland and Sweden, completing U.S. Government approval of the countries joining. The work now turns to encouraging the 29 other NATO allies do the same and take the final steps towards a larger, more united NATO, leading to a safer world and a more secure America.