With eye on Russia, U.S. Senate backs Finland and Sweden joining NATO

by mcardinal


The U.S. Senate approved Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO on Wednesday, the most significant expansion of the 30-member alliance since the 1990s as it responds to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Senate voted 95 to 1 to support ratification of accession documents, easily surpassing the two-thirds majority of 67 votes required to support ratification of the two countries’ accession documents.

“This historic vote sends an important signal of the sustained, bipartisan U.S. commitment to NATO, and to ensuring our Alliance is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement.

Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership in response to the Feb. 24 invasion. Russia has repeatedly warned both countries against joining the alliance.

NATO‘s 30 allies signed the accession protocol for them last month, allowing them to join the U.S.-led nuclear-armed alliance once its members ratify the decision.

At that point, Helsinki and Stockholm were able to participate in NATO meetings and have greater access to intelligence, but were not protected by Article Five, the NATO defense clause stating that an attack on one ally is an attack against all.

The accession must be ratified by the parliaments of all 30 North Atlantic Treaty Organization members before Finland and Sweden can be protected by the defense clause.

Ratification could take up to a year, although it has already been approved by a few countries, including Canada, Germany, and Italy.

Senators from both parties strongly endorsed membership for the two countries, describing them as important allies whose modern militaries already worked closely with NATO.

“The qualifications of these two prosperous, democratic nations are outstanding and will serve to strengthen the NATO alliance,” said Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, urging support before the vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invited the ambassadors and other diplomats from Finland and Sweden to the Senate to watch the vote.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley was the lone no vote. Republican Senator Rand Paul voted present.

Hawley defended his vote saying that the U.S. needs to choose to direct our resources towards China, which he said is “America’s most pressing challenge.”

“So now the choice is this: We can do more in Europe…or we can do what we need to do in Asia to deter China,” Hawley stated. “We cannot do both.”

Fellow GOP member Marco Rubio was one of several Republicans who came out in opposition to Hawley’s position. Rubio wrote an op-ed in the Washington Examiner that served as a rebuttal to Hawley’s claim that supporting Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership is detrimental to America’s interest.

“A strong and unified NATO is a powerful asset in the contest with Beijing,” Rubio stated. “When Finland and Sweden join the alliance’s ranks and the free peoples of Europe become stronger than ever, more US resources will be available to focus on countering Communist China. If we do not rise to the challenge, it will be too late, and Americans will be held hostage by a totalitarian regime half a world away.”

Copyright 2022 Thomson/Reuters (Additions and edits for FISM News by Michael Cardinal)