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Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership

Finland and Sweden have indicated they want to join NATO. This is a historic turn around for both countries, who have long espoused military non-alignment. NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, described the two Nordic countries as “NATO’s closest partners” and said their membership “would increase our shared security, demonstrate that NATO’s door is open and that aggression does not pay.” However, the accession process may take some months and requires the support of all of the 30 current members of the Alliance. NATO member Turkey has expressed reservations, citing Sweden and Finland’s support for Kurdish militant groups.

UK security agreements with Sweden and Finland

On 11 May the Prime Minister travelled to both countries and signed separate bilateral agreements agreeing to support each other in the event of an attack or disaster. The relevant wording is the same in both agreements:

We confirmed that, should either country suffer a disaster or an attack, the United Kingdom and […] will, upon request from the affected country, assist each other in a variety of ways, which may include military means.

Both countries already participate in the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force, which is a coalition of mainly Nordic and Baltic countries led by the UK and is outside of NATO. Jens Stoltenberg said NATO will also look at ways to provide security assurances to the two countries in the period of time between application and full membership, before they benefit from the full NATO collective defence articulated in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty (that an armed attack on one is considered an attack against them all). Stoltenberg suggested this could involve increasing NATO’s presence in the region, in and around Finland and Sweden.

NATO Summit in June and a new Strategic Concept

The next NATO Heads of State and Government summit will be held in Madrid, Spain, on 28 to 30 June. The Alliance is expected to formally adopt a new Strategic Concept. The Concept will assess the current security environment and set out how the Alliance intends to position itself over the next few years. The last concept was adopted in 2010, at the Lisbon Summit, when NATO was still leading international efforts in Afghanistan. This new concept will likely affirm NATO’s renewed focus on defending and securing the Euro-Atlantic area.

The Concept may also indicate how the Alliance views China and the Indo-Pacific. The UK set out plans to ‘tilt’ to the Indo-Pacific in its 2021 Integrated Review. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, used her 2022 Mansion House speech to “reject the false choice between Euro-Atlantic security and Indo-Pacific security” and argued NATO must have a “global outlook, ready to tackle global threats”.

The Summit will also likely address the defence spending plans of members. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, several members have pledged to increase defence spending and, if they don’t already, to devote 2% of GDP on defence. This is the target set by NATO. Information on defence spending by NATO allies can be found in Commons Library paper UK defence expenditure.

Ukraine, Russia, and reinforcing its eastern flank

NATO chiefs of defence will meet on Thursday 19 May and are likely to discuss further steps to reinforce the Alliance’s military posture. Ever since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO has increased its presence in member states along its eastern flank. The UK is leading the battlegroup in Estonia. NATO ruled out establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine early on in the conflict.

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