Finland could consider joining NATO without Sweden if Turkey continues to block their joint attempt to enter the military alliance.
During a television interview on Tuesday morning, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto said the two Nordic countries joining NATO together was “absolutely the number one option”, but that “we have to be ready to assess the situation”.
“Has anything happened that would prevent Sweden’s candidacy from progressing in the long term?” Haavisto asked.
The answer to his question would seem to be yes.
On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sweden no longer had Turkey’s backing for its NATO bid after a Danish extremist burned a copy of the Koran in Sweden over the weekend.
Hours after his first remarks, Haavisto addressed reporters at a hastily arranged press conference in parliament and clarified his remarks, saying he had been ‘imprecise’ and that Finland still wanted to join the NATO with the Swedes.
Despite the hindsight, the foreign minister’s comments were the first unspoken admission that the Finnish government has looked ahead and considered scenarios that might unfold, raising doubts about NATO membership alongside Sweden at a time when the alliance seeks to present a face to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“He has now said what was always implied but not said before, that our goal is always that we want to do this together with Sweden, but no one has definitely said that Finland will never do it alone – not Sanna Marin, not Pekka Haavisto, not President Niinistö,” said Charly Salonius-Pasternaksenior researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIAA) in Helsinki.
“During his press conference, he clarified that as long as the process is moving forward, there is no need to think about anything else. Finnish policy has not changed, it is only if the process is permanently frozen that we will have to think about something else,” Salonius-Pasternak told Euronews.
At the moment, especially before Finland’s general election in early April, no serious Finnish politician would actively campaign for the country to go it alone in its NATO bid and leave Sweden behind.
Finland sees a possible window of time for Turkey to greenlight NATO candidacies between the Turkish elections in mid-May and the next NATO summit in Lithuania in June.
After that, if there was still no movement from Ankara, the new government in Helsinki would have to hold more serious discussions to determine its next steps.
Finland’s uncoupled membership ‘could work more for Sweden’
A possible worst-case scenario for NATO membership would be for Turkey to ratify Finland’s membership but not Sweden’s.
The Finns would then have to decide whether or not to file their own legal paperwork in Washington DC to take that final step of becoming full members of NATO, even if it meant leaving Sweden out of the military set-up.
“It would be really bad for Finnish politicians and domestic politics. The Kremlin would like a NATO member to oppose the United States and the will of other NATO countries. Geopolitically, it would be great for Russia,” Salonius-Pasternak said. .
He believes that Sweden understands that Finland wants to join NATO together, but if the stars do not align, Finnish membership would further improve Nordic and Baltic security.
“And Finland could work more for Sweden as a member inside rather than outside.”