Finland’s NATO Membership: A Strategic Game-Changer in Northern Europe

  Finland is located in the easternmost part of Scandinavia, guarding the eastern gate of Northern Europe. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, Russia to the east, and the Baltic Sea to the south. Through the Baltic Sea, it has direct access to Poland, Germany and other European hinterland countries. It is regarded as the “T-shaped” of northern Europe. intersection”. Historically, Finland was surrounded by European powers such as the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania, the Kingdom of Sweden, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia, and later the German Empire. These countries successively became the dominant force in the political landscape of the European continent. The historical process of Finland, which is caught between powerful powers, is often influenced by these powerful neighbors and has become a taboo in the mouths of big powers.
  After the outbreak of World War II, when Germany attacked Poland, the British and French forces on the Western Front stood idly by and watched as Poland perished. The Soviet Union felt the security threat from the Axis powers. Considering the defense of core areas such as Moscow and Leningrad, it decided to establish an “Eastern Front” to expand the strategic depth of its western border. When negotiations with Finland failed, the nearly six-month “Soviet-Finnish War” (“Winter War”) broke out from the end of 1939 to the beginning of 1940. The Soviet Union paid a heavy price to defeat Finland and gained Karelia, Territories such as the Rybach Peninsula, and the naval base on the Hanko Peninsula were leased at the same time, allowing the Soviet border to advance about 150 kilometers westward. After the Soviet-German War broke out, Finland assisted the German army in attacking the Soviet Union in the name of “regaining territory”, starting a three-year “continuation war.”
  In September 1944, Finland and the Soviet Union signed an armistice agreement. Under the agreement, Finland had to restore its 1940 borders and cede territory to the Soviet Union. In April 1948, Finland and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, which stipulated that the two sides would cooperate in politics, economy, culture and other aspects, and provide mutual assistance in the event of foreign aggression. The treaty effectively placed Finland within the Soviet sphere of influence and limited Finland’s contacts and cooperation with Western countries. During the Cold War, Finland adopted a neutral, non-aligned, and relatively pro-Soviet foreign policy to avoid inflaming the Soviet Union and maintain its own sovereignty and political system.
  After the Cold War, Finland established diplomatic relations with Russia and ended the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance. Since then, Finland has abandoned its neutral and pro-Russian foreign policy, gradually moved toward the West, and continued to strengthen ties and cooperation with NATO. In 1994, Finland joined NATO’s “Partnership for Peace Plan”. The two sides not only sent personnel to observe exercises and conduct joint exercises, but also carried out targeted military construction through these activities to ensure smoother joint operations of the two sides’ military forces. As a “neutral country”, Finland participated in the 2001 Afghanistan War launched by the United States in the name of NATO. In 2003, when France and Germany refused to send troops, Finland sent a small number of military personnel to participate in military training in the later stages of the Iraq War. Throughout the history of Finland, it is not difficult to find that as a major power, Finland is easily involved in the confrontations between its powerful neighbors, and “neutrality” is often reduced to an empty slogan.
What is the impact of military geography?

  For NATO, Finland’s membership has all the advantages and no disadvantages. First of all, it completes an important piece of the strategic puzzle of containing Russia. After Finland joined the treaty, it not only filled the gap left by NATO in Northern Europe, but also connected the eastern and northern wings of NATO, greatly strengthening the defense depth and strength. It also realized the border between NATO and Russia’s western territories, especially the Arctic region. The European security architecture and geopolitical relations were reorganized. Secondly, NATO’s military strength has been greatly strengthened. In terms of military strength, the Finnish army has 23,000 people on active duty. Compared with the total population of 5.5 million, the proportion of soldiers is higher than that of major NATO countries such as the United States and Germany. At the same time, because Finland has always adhered to the compulsory military service system, the number of people with military service experience in the country is equivalent to 1/3 of the total population of working age, and the number of reserve soldiers reaches about 900,000. In terms of weapons and equipment, the Finnish Army is equipped with about 650 tanks, of which about 200 are “Leopard” 2A6 and “Leopard” 2A4. It also has “the most powerful artillery force in Western Europe”, with firepower exceeding Poland, Germany, Norway and The total Swedish army includes about 1,500 artillery pieces, including about 700 howitzers and cannons and about 100 multiple rocket launchers. The Finnish Air Force has about 120 combat aircraft, mainly 61 F/A-18 “Hornet” fighter jets. Before 2026, these main fighters will be replaced by 64 F-35A. In addition, Finland also has an unknown number of “orbiter” drones and is purchasing 1,000 to 2,000 drones. In comparison, the Finnish Navy is relatively weak, with 5 minelayers, 8 missile boats, and a dozen minesweepers and other ships. Finland is purchasing three new multi-purpose frigates for surface combat, which will be put into service in 2029.
  What NATO gains is Russia’s loss. Finland’s membership in NATO will significantly reduce Russia’s strategic depth and increase strategic pressure from NATO. First, the land border between Russia and NATO has more than doubled, from 1,215 kilometers to 2,555 kilometers. Once NATO goes to war with Russia, northwest Russia will be completely exposed to NATO’s gunfire. The northwest is precisely where the core area of ​​Russia’s economy and society lies. Secondly, although Finland ceded many strategic locations after World War II, it still retained the Hanko Peninsula. The peninsula is located at the entrance to the Gulf of Finland and can form a closed border with Estonia to the south. In addition, the Russian Baltic Fleet, which is located in the center of the Baltic Sea, facing the Swedish island of Gotland opposite Baltisk, with Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg as its main bases, will be directly divided into two parts by Sweden and Finland during the war. fleet. Finally, although Russia acquired Rybachi, Karelia and other areas closer to its homeland after World War II, the current Finnish border is less than 200 kilometers away from Murmansk, the home port of the Russian Northern Fleet, and north of the Russian shipbuilding center. Devinsk is less than 500 kilometers away and only 152 kilometers away from St. Petersburg, which still greatly reduces the defense depth of the above-mentioned important places. The Russian weekly “Arguments and Facts” reported on April 5 that the distance from the nearest Finnish city to Vyborg in Russia is only 65 kilometers.
A Nuclear Baltic Sea and a Campified Arctic

  Russia has expressed strong opposition to Finland’s decision to join NATO. In fact, long before Finland officially joined NATO, Russia had already begun to take countermeasures in the face of the irreversible trend of Finland joining NATO. On December 21, 2022, marked by the Russian Ministry of Defense Ministry Affairs Meeting, Russia launched a new round of military reform. At this meeting, when Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the reform measures, his first sentence was “Considering that NATO is trying to increase its military potential near the Russian border and is also trying to rely on Finland and Sweden to expand NATO, countermeasures need to be taken. Form corresponding army clusters in northwest Russia.” Among the many reform measures announced at that time, those directly related to Finland were the restoration of the Leningrad Military District opposite Finland and the establishment of an infantry corps in Karelia, Finland’s “hometown”. Since then, the media revealed that among the newly formed combat divisions of the Russian army, 3 motorized infantry divisions and 2 airborne assault divisions will be deployed in the area bordering Finland. In addition, when planning combat operations, the Russian army may consider using long-range, high-precision weapons to strike targets in Finland and Sweden.
  Compared with the increase in conventional forces along the Baltic Sea coast, what is more worrying is the prospect of a denuclearized Baltic Sea. On March 12, before Finland officially joined NATO, the United States eagerly dispatched a B-52H strategic bomber to practice a nuclear strike on St. Petersburg in the neutral waters of the Gulf of Finland. Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Federation Security Council, said that if Sweden and Finland join NATO, Russia will “no longer be able to discuss the denuclearization status of the Baltic Sea region” and may deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in the Baltic Sea in response.
  In addition to the Baltic Sea, the security situation in the Arctic has also undergone major changes with Finland’s formal joining of NATO, and the trend of campization has further intensified. There are a total of 8 countries in the Arctic – Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. The United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark and Iceland are members of NATO. Previously, although Sweden and Finland were not official members of NATO, they had close relations with NATO and actively participated in various military exercises held by NATO in the Arctic. After the Ukraine crisis broke out, Russia, which was the chairman of the Arctic Council at the time, was jointly frozen by the other seven countries as a member of the Council and was banned from participating in any relevant meetings. However, Finland and Sweden were not members of NATO at that time. If the conflicts between other Arctic countries and Russia reached an extent that was difficult to reconcile, there would at least be nominally neutral Finland and Sweden to mediate. However, with Finland officially joining NATO and Sweden also becoming a member of NATO in the foreseeable future, the Arctic will be fully aligned. By then, once conflicts between NATO member states and Russia intensify in the Arctic, no country in the Arctic can act as a mediator in the conflict. Then, the risk of armed conflict in the Arctic will increase significantly.

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