by Harald Kujat, former Chief Military Committee NATO, Berlin
On 4 April 2023, 74 years after the founding of the North Atlantic Alliance, Finland was admitted as its 31st member.
The President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, declared that “Finland is committed to the security of all NATO member states”, referring explicitly to one of the core requirements for NATO membership. Finland, like Sweden, whose accession is still awaiting Türkiye’s approval, has excellent credentials for membership. At the same time, Russia, as a consequence of its invasion of Ukraine, has suffered a severe political setback.
Any European state can become a member of the North Atlantic Alliance if it is invited to do so by a unanimous decision of member states. The precondition is that it is in a position to contribute to the security of all member states of the Alliance and further the principles of the North Atlantic Treaty. These notably include a functioning democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.
Ukraine has requested membership once the war is over. In view of its increasingly critical situation, a number of voices have called for Ukraine’s accession while the war is still ongoing, to prevent Russia from winning. However, this would be tantamount to NATO entering the war against Russia.
A comparison with Finland shows that Ukraine is still a long way from NATO membership, judging by the standards of the North Atlantic Treaty. The purpose of the Alliance is not to assume responsibility for the security and defence of a non-NATO state by inviting it to join. The Alliance is one of “mutual collective security”, which means that only a state that can contribute to the security of all other member states in the same way that they contribute to the security of the applicant state can become a member.
In respect of the principles applicable to a state’s internal situation, neither can Ukraine, at least for the foreseeable future, comply with the conditions laid down by the North Atlantic Treaty. If these principles were to be waived in respect of Ukraine, the Alliance would renounce its claim to be a community of values and endanger its political solidarity and inner strength. Particularly as the goals of the Alliance are not only to maintain a collective defence capability but also to preserve peace and international security.
Russia reacted to Finland’s accession by declaring: “Finland’s situation is fundamentally different to that of Ukraine”. From the outset, Moscow has considered NATO enlargement primarily from a strategic angle, considering a country’s geostrategic position and its defensive potential. In other words, the extent to which its NATO membership would alter the strategic balance between Russia and NATO. On these grounds, by invading Ukraine, Russia is prepared to pay a high price to prevent Ukraine from becoming a NATO member, which would very likely mean US armed forces being stationed in Ukraine.
Russia will certainly not give up trying to prevent its geopolitical rival, the US, from gaining strategic advantages by Ukraine joining NATO, particularly that of endangering the nuclear strategic balance between the two nuclear superpowers. This geostrategic antagonism cannot be settled by the war in Ukraine. It can only be settled by European peace and security arrangements which encompass both Ukraine and Russia and in which the great power rivalry between the US and Russia does not endanger European autonomy.