Finnish soldiers participate in the LIST 22 live-fire Lightning Strike military exercises at the Rovajärvi training grounds on May 23, 2022 near Rovaniemi, Finland.

Finnish soldiers participate in the LIST 22 live-fire Lightning Strike military exercises at the Rovajärvi training grounds on May 23, 2022 near Rovaniemi, Finland. Getty Images / Sean Gallup

Finland, Sweden Would Contribute Militarily to NATO on ‘Day One,’ General Says

Alliance applicants would bring expertise in deterring Russia and advanced naval capabilities in the Baltic Sea.

Finland and Sweden’s accession into NATO would immediately enable the alliance to better deter Russia, the Biden administration’s nominee to be NATO’s supreme allied commander told Congress on Thursday.

Whether to accept the two countries’ applications will be a diplomatic and political decision, one that will require the unanimous approval of member government bodies, including the U.S. Senate. But from a military perspective, the integration should be seamless, said Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the commander of U.S. Army Europe and Africa who has been tapped to be NATO’s supreme allied commander and the head of U.S. European Command. 

“I look forward to the accession of Finland and Sweden to the alliance,” Cavoli told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Each of those militaries brings quite a bit of capability and capacity to the alliance from day one.”

Finland’s well-trained and well-equipped military is “absolutely expert” in defending its 830-mile border with Russia, Cavoli said. The Finnish military already uses American-made F/A-18 fighter jets, and announced in February that it would buy 64 F-35 jets, so equipment from both nation’s militaries will be easily interoperable.

Though Sweden has a smaller military, it is investing heavily in defense and will boost military spending by more than $300 million in 2022. Cavoli also highlighted the important capability it will bring to deter Russia at sea. 

“Critically, they bring a Navy in the Baltic Sea, which will be of enormous military significance for the alliance,” he said. “The entire [Baltic] Sea with the exception of a few kilometers will be coastline of NATO nations, which will create a very different geometry in the area.” 

Swedish and Finnish troops also already regularly participate in NATO exercises, including Cold Response 2022, plus exercises with NATO members, including the United States and the United Kingdom, bilaterally. 

Cavoli also rejected concerns that establishing a new border with Russia could drain NATO’s resources, because Finnish troops have been independently defending that border for decades. In fact, the general argued, it could impose costs on the Russian military, which may pull troops from elsewhere to boost their presence on a border that they previously kept sparsely guarded.

Finland and Sweden applied for membership in NATO on May 18, and are now in a gray area where their push to join the alliance could draw retaliation from Russia but the nations are not yet covered by NATO’s Article 5 security guarantee. The United States and others have promised to provide more protection while their applications are considered.

“As a practical matter, any would-be aggressor should be on notice that the United States will be there for Finland and Sweden in the event that they are attacked,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Friday. 

To shorten the time when the two countries are in this middle ground, officials are trying to speed up the application process. President Joe Biden sent the Senate the resolution to consider their membership in NATO on May 19, just one day after they applied. And Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., the co-chairs of the NATO Observer Group, released a bipartisan letter on Tuesday asking the administration to do its part of the process as quickly as possible. 

“We are fully committed to doing our part to expedite ratification of the Washington Treaty to ensure their quick accession to NATO,” reads the letter, which was signed by more than 80 senators. “We ask that you expedite the process in the executive branch to ensure that the United States moves quickly to bring two capable and committed partners into our alliance as swiftly as possible.” 

Five senators—Shaheen; Tillis; John Barasso, R-Wyo.; Mike Rounds, R-S.D.; and Jerry Moran, R-Kan.—met on Tuesday with Finnish Ambassador to the United States Mikko Hautala and Swedish Ambassador to the United States Karin Olofsdotter, according to a release from Shaheen’s office. 

Shaheen and Tillis will also lead a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers to next month’s NATO summit in Spain, where officials are expected to discuss the accession of Finland and Sweden as well as set NATO’s strategic plan for the next decade.