6 Great Reasons to Welcome Sweden and Finland into NATO

Then-Defense Secretary James N. Mattis meets Finland Defense Minister Jussi Niinisto and Sweden Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., May 8, 2018. (DoD/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kathryn E. Holm)

Despite what Turkey thinks about Sweden and Finland joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, there's a good chance the two Nordic countries will soon be members. No matter what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's reservations are, Sweden and Finland will make great members of the anti-Russian alliance.

These regional neighbors have been duking it out for control of or access to the Baltic Sea for centuries. Sweden and Russia have seen their fair share of tensions in that time, and there's no love lost between Finland and Russia. Here are just a few reasons why they will be solid allies.

1. No one fights Russian like the Finns.

At least historically. The two countries haven't been in direct conflict since World War II, but for Russia (then part of the Soviet Union), that was probably more than enough. There were two periods of conflict during the time period, the 1939-1940 Winter War and the 1941-1944 Continuation War. Finland, though outnumbered, lost surprisingly little territory during the hostilities.

What's remarkable about the conflicts is the volume of Soviet soldiers killed and wounded by Finland. The defending Finns inflicted more than 900,000 casualties on the invading Red Army in a conflict that ceded very little land to the Soviet Union.

Simo Häyhä was a Finnish sniper who killed more than 500 Russian troops in 100 days of fighting. He was nicknamed "The White Death."

2. Sweden has a military bone to pick with Russia.

Until 1721, Sweden was a military powerhouse in Europe. It controlled parts of Finland, Germany, Norway, Denmark and the Baltic States. After the Thirty Years' War ended in 1648, Sweden was a great military power on par with France and Russia, the only Nordic country ever to reach that status.

In 1700, that all started to fall. The Russian Empire under Peter the Great formed a coalition of Swedish rivals to challenge Swedish supremacy. After more than 20 years of warfare, not only did Russia capture Finland from the Swedish Empire, the Swedish Empire fell entirely and never revived its great power status.

3. Finland is fiercely independent.

After spending centuries being part of the Swedish Empire and then another couple of hundred years as part of the Russian Empire, Finland seized the opportunity to proclaim its independence after the Russian Empire fell and Russia became part of the Soviet Union. It then fought its own bitter civil war between anti-communist and communist forces.

By the time the USSR threatened Finnish independence again in 1939, the Finns decided they were never going back. The threat was so real, Finland aligned itself with Nazi Germany to stay out of Russian hands.

During the Cold War, Finland would make concessions to the Soviets so they had no reason to intervene in Finnish affairs, even going as far as to withhold recognition of former Soviet countries as the Soviet Union collapsed, fearful of a Soviet resurgence. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, only 30% of Finns supported NATO membership. After the invasion, that number surged to more than 60%.

4. Sweden has been fighting Russia since before they were Russians.

In the 12th century, a large swathe of what is today Russia was known as the Republic of Novgorod. It wasn't a fully Russian country until the late 1500s. In that time, Sweden was a major military power, and the two large empires frequently butted heads. They went to war 11 times between the early 1300s and the late 1800s.

Sweden may have been the ultimate loser in the long run, but in those 11 wars, it more than held its own against the best Russia could bring. The conflicts are also noteworthy because much of the fighting took place in Finland, wrecking parts of the country over the years.

Before you went to Swedes for meatballs and furniture, they would come to you for food and supplies before burning your house down.

5. Espionage. Lots of it.

During the days of the Soviet Union, Soviet submarines were repeatedly caught off the coast of Sweden and Finland collecting military intelligence. The Swedish Navy had to resort to preemptively dropping depth charges to ward off the USSR's spy subs and even developed specific "incident weapons" that would disable submarines without killing their crews.

In Finland, so many Soviet KGB agents operated there that they were specially trained to blend in with Russia's neighbor as a gateway to the West. The spying hasn't stopped. Russia was caught spying on Finnish relations with the European Union in 2013, dating back years. Even now, both Sweden and Finland fully expect an increase in Russian espionage and influence operations.

6. They're already working to meet NATO spending requirements.

NATO requires its member states to spend 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. In April 2022, Finland ramped up its spending by 70% to buy into the F-35 Lightning II, already in use by many NATO allies. This put the Finns well over the 2% threshold.

Sweden also began a ramp up in military spending in 2022, spending 1.5% of its GDP on defense, and claims it will reach the NATO benchmark "as soon as possible."

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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