“For almost 75 years, this great alliance has shielded our nations and continues to do so today,” Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg declared at Finland’s joining ceremony.
“But war has returned to Europe and Finland has decided to join Nato and be part of the world’s most successful alliance.”
What is Nato?
Nato stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and is also known as the North Atlantic Alliance.
Its stated purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.
Nato was founded in April 1949 in Washington DC, USA. Its headquarters are in Brussels, Belgium.
Politically, it aims to “promote democratic values, and enables members to consult and co-operate on defence and security-related issues to solve problems, build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict”.
Regarding military action, Nato says it is “committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes”.
If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military power to undertake crisis-management operations.
It uses a system of collective security, whereby its independent member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. It may also ally with external forces.
Which countries are in Nato?
With Finland’s acceptance there are now 31 countries in Nato; 28 in Europe, two in North America and one in Eurasia.
Here is the full list, along with the year they joined:
- Albania (2009)
- Belgium (1949)
- Bulgaria (2004)
- Canada (1949)
- Croatia (2009)
- Czech Republic (1999)
- Denmark (1949)
- Estonia (2004)
- Finland (2023)
- France (1949)
- Germany (1955)
- Greece (1952)
- Hungary (1999)
- Iceland (1949)
- Italy (1949)
- Latvia (2004)
- Lithuania (2004)
- Luxembourg (1949)
- Montenegro (2017)
- Netherlands (1949)
- North Macedonia (2020)
- Norway (1949)
- Poland (1999)
- Portugal (1949)
- Romania (2004)
- Slovakia (2004)
- Slovenia (2004)
- Spain (1982)
- Turkey (1952)
- United Kingdom (1949)
- United States (1949)
Nato says its membership is open to “any other European state in a position to further the principles” of its treaty and to “contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area”.
Sweden applied to join Nato along with Finland, but its application has been held up by Turkey and Hungary.
Turkey says Stockholm harbours members of what Ankara considers terrorist groups – an accusation Sweden denies – and has demanded their extradition as a step toward ratifying Swedish membership.
Hungary cites grievances over Swedish criticism of its prime minister Viktor Orban’s record on democracy and rule of law.
Swedish foreign minister, Tobias Billström, told reporters it was Stockholm’s ambition to become a member at the Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July.
Why did Finland join Nato?
Finland’s decision to join Nato came in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In Finland, people said their country’s entry into Nato made them feel more secure.
Mr Stoltenberg said Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had cited opposition to Nato’s eastward enlargement as one justification for invading Ukraine.
“He is getting exactly the opposite… Finland today, and soon also Sweden will become a full fledged member of the alliance,” he said.
Finnish President Saul Niinisto said Finland’s most significant contribution to Nato’s common deterrence and defence would be to defend its own territory. There is still significant work to be done to coordinate this with Nato, he said.
“It is a great day for Finland and I want to say that it is an important day for Nato,” Mr Niinisto said at a joint news conference with Mr Stoltenberg.
The event marks the end of an era of strategic non-alignment for Finland that began after the country repelled an attempted Soviet invasion during the Second World War, and opted to maintain friendly relations with neighbouring Russia.
But the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 prompted Finns to seek security under Nato’s collective defence pact, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
How does it affect the Russia-Ukraine war?
Since the end of the Cold War three decades ago, Moscow has watched successive waves of Nato enlargement to the formerly communist east of Europe with consternation, and the issue was contentious even before the invasion of Ukraine.
Nato has repeatedly stressed that it is solely a defensive alliance and does not threaten Russia. Moscow says the funnelling of heavy weaponry to Ukraine by Nato countries since the war began proves the West is bent on destroying Russia.
Finland’s accession brings Nato significant military capabilities developed over the years as it is one of the few European countries to have retained a conscription army through decades of peace, wary of Russia next door. In addition, Finland’s ground, naval and air forces are all trained and equipped with one primary aim – to repel any Russian attack.
Russia said on Monday it would strengthen its military capacity in its western and north-western regions in response to Finland joining Nato. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Nato expansion encroached on Russian security and national interests.
Finland shares an 832-mile border with Russia, so its entry will more than double the size of Nato’s border with Russia.
Though the alliance says it poses no threat to Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that “it will be forced to take military-technical and other retaliatory measures” to a move that marks “a fundamental change in the situation in northern Europe, which had previously been one of the most stable regions in the world.”
Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said Finland’s move raised the risk of the conflict in Ukraine escalating further.
In dropping non-alignment, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Finland was committing a dangerous historical mistake that would fray relations with Moscow and undo its status as a confidence-building presence in the Baltic Sea and Europe at large.
“This is now a thing of the past. Finland has become one of the small members of that doesn’t decide anything, losing its special voice in international affairs. We are sure that history will judge this hasty step,” a ministry statement said.