A day after Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO, President Joe Biden welcomed them to join the alliance, met with their leaders at the White House and said they have “the full, total, complete backing of the United States of America.”
“Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger not just because of their capacity, because they’re strong, strong democracies, and a strong, united NATO is the foundation of America’s security,” he said.
Biden said he discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and strengthening trans-Atlantic security with Finnish President Saudi Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. At a news conference following their meeting, Biden called NATO an “indispensable alliance.”
“Today there is no question NATO is relevant, it is effective and it is more needed now than ever,” Biden said.
What is NATO?
Established in 1949 after World War II in part as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has grown from 12 member countries to 30 from Europe and North America, including most recently North Macedonia, which joined in 2020. The U.S. was a founding member.
NATO describes itself as a political and military alliance that promotes democratic values and seeks to prevent conflict. It condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Under NATO’s Article 5, an attack on one member country is considered an attack on all. It’s been invoked just once, for the U.S. following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which Biden said the U.S. would never forget.
“All our allies rallied to our side,” Biden said. “The United States will never forget that and we will never fail in our pledge to defend every single inch of NATO territory.”
Russia’s response to the potential NATO expansion has been mixed. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called it a “grave mistake” for the West while Vladimir Putin said he has “no problem” and that Finland and Sweden pose no direct threat to Russia, according to Politico Europe.
How to join NATO
The process to join NATO requires meeting political, economic, and military standards, like having a functioning democracy based on a market economy. It also requires unanimous agreement among member countries, which in the U.S. means Senate approval.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday during a trip to Stockholm that Finland and Sweden would be “important additions to NATO” and that the U.S. “ought to be first in line to ratify the treaty for both these countries to join.”
Biden said both countries meet NATO’s criteria to join.
“Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries, and strong and transparent economies and a strong moral sense of what is right,” he said. “They meet every NATO requirement and then some and having two new NATO members in the high north will enhance the security of our alliance and deepen our security cooperation across the board.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is opposed to Finland and Sweden joining, but NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he is “confident” it won’t prevent the alliance from expanding. Turkey joined NATO in 1952.
Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, noted how historic the decision to join NATO was for her country.
“After 200 years of military nonalignment, Sweden has chosen a new path,” she said.