The win-win in joining NATO

As Finland and Sweden move to join the alliance, they also signal to Russia a different concept of security.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy receives a standing ovation as he addresses Sweden's parliament via video link, in Stockholm, March 24.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced many countries to rethink the meaning of security, and none more so than Finland. Once a model of neutrality, it announced Thursday that it would apply to join NATO. Sweden is expected to follow suit. Both Nordic nations, of course, would be defended by the military alliance. Yet both see joining NATO as less a slap at Russia and more as an invitation for aggressive powers not to see the world as a chessboard, one of only winners and losers in competition and conflict.

For Finland, joining NATO increases “our security and we do not take it away from anybody,’’ said Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. “It is not a zero-sum game.” The alliance allows in only countries dedicated to democratic values. NATO’s values and its defensive posture pose no threat to anyone, he says.

In Sweden, where the ruling Social Democratic Party appears ready to end a tradition of military nonalignment, the reasoning about joining the 30-nation alliance is similar. NATO’s mutual defense pact is needed to deter further Russian aggression, But as a former minister of foreign affairs, Margot Wallström, explained in a 2018 speech, the essence of common security is “breaking the false logic of confrontation, deterrents, and zero-sum games with the aim of creating shared advantages for everyone.”

In Finland, officials made sure to say they are not punishing Russia by joining NATO. Rather, they want Russians not to see threats when neighbors, such as Ukraine, move toward democracy and individual rights. “Security is not a zero-sum game. I hope that the Russian regime will one day understand this, too,” writes Alexander Stubb, a former prime minister of Finland, in the Financial Times.

While the individual militaries of NATO’s members are well armed, it is the transcendent democratic values that bind the alliance and attract more applicants. The invasion of Ukraine pushed Finland and Sweden to seek shelter under NATO’s wing. But not at the expense of Russia.

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