Last week, the United States Senate voted to ratify adding Finland and Sweden to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (hereinafter “NATO”). The resolution passed the Senate with a 95-1 vote after Senators Schumer (D-NY) and McConnell (R-KY) urged lawmakers to support the measure as Russia’s aggression threatened national security. While President Biden hosted the leaders of the two countries in May, the road to NATO accession hasn’t been an easy one as Finland and Sweden’s motivation to join NATO comes shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February under the pretext that NATO threatened Russia’s sovereignty. Subsequently, Russia threatened to station ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons if Finland and Sweden joined NATO.
Even though this is a historic move, especially given how divided American politics have become in recent months, seven of the alliance’s thirty nations still need to ratify the accession. To officially become part of NATO, both Finland and Sweden would need unanimous support from the alliance. At the time of this Commentary, the seven countries include: the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Turkey. As these nations deliberate on whether to allow Finland and Sweden’s accession, it’s important to analyze the accession process.
NATO membership is open to “any other European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area.” Under Article 10, a nation wishing to join NATO may do so if certain requirements are met. First, accession talks with a NATO team occurs at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. The main goal of these talks is to obtain formal confirmation from the invitees of their willingness and ability to meet the political, legal, and military obligations and commitments of NATO membership. The talks take place in two sessions with each invitee. In the first session, political and defense or military issues are discussed, essentially providing the opportunity to establish that the preconditions for membership have been met. The second session is more technical and includes discussion of resources, security, and legal issues as well as the contribution of each new member country to NATO’s common budget. This is determined on a proportional basis, according to the size of their economies in relation to those of other Alliance member nations.
Second, invitees send letters of intent where each invitee provides confirmation of its acceptance of the obligations and commitments of NATO membership from each foreign minister addressed to the NATO Secretary General. Third, accession protocols are signed by NATO countries, and these protocols are essentially amendments to the Treaty, which once signed and ratified by Allies, become an integral part of the Treaty itself and permit the invited countries to become parties to the Treaty. Fourth, accession protocols are ratified by NATO countries. This step could differ among the NATO countries. For example, as mentioned above, the United States Senate recently ratified the accession protocols; however, in the United Kingdom, no formal parliamentary vote is required for ratification. Once NATO members unanimously notify the United States government of their acceptance of the protocols, the Secretary General then invites the new countries to accede to the Treaty. And finally, once the invitees accede to the Treaty through their own ratification process (e.g. legislature) and file their instruments of accession with the United States Department of State, the invitees formally become NATO members.
Currently, Finland and Sweden are waiting for unanimous consent of all NATO countries. When Finland and Sweden first applied for NATO membership, Turkey opposed, citing to how the Nordic countries previously handled issues relating to Kurdish terrorism. However, after much deliberation with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkey, Finland, and Sweden struck an agreement that would allow Finland and Sweden’s accession in exchange for the two countries’ agreement to end support for Kurdish militant groups that Turkey considers terrorist organizations and to end restrictions on weapons sales to Turkey.
Turkey’s Parliament is on recess until October 1, 2022 and will not address Finland and Sweden’s accession until then. By the time October arrives, Turkey will likely be the last NATO country to ratify the accession.
This information is accurate as of August 2022, and if the information changes, the author will provide an update as soon as possible.