The Senate votes to approve the entry into NATO of Sweden and Finland

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The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to admit Sweden and Finland to NATO, backing an expansion of the alliance that supporters believe would send a message of condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The 95-1 vote made the United States the 23rd of 30 NATO members to ratify the proposed addition, which leaders in Helsinki and Stockholm began contemplating this spring in response to Russia’s aggressive cross-border push.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) called the vote “a signal to Russia: You can’t bully America or Europe.”

Sweden and Finland joining NATO would boost the alliance’s military assets, especially as the two countries’ considerable arsenals of artillery, warplanes and naval weapons are already compatible with NATO systems.

The expansion — adding that Finland would more than double the amount of the organization’s territory directly bordering Russia — “is the exact opposite of what Putin envisioned when he ordered his tanks to invade Ukraine,” the Foreign Relations Committee chairman said. of the Senate, Robert Menendez (DN.J). .).

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According to article 10 of the NATO charter, additional European countries can be added to the ranks only “by unanimous agreement”. The seven countries that have yet to ratify the membership of Sweden and Finland include some where opposition could present an obstacle, such as Hungary and Turkey.

After initially raising objections to the offer, Turkey reached an agreement in late June in which it would withdraw its opposition to the addition of Finland and Sweden if they agreed to shut down the financial and recruitment networks of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and address Ankara’s requests to deport certain affiliates.

At the time, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Sweden and Finland would have to “do their homework” before the Turkish parliament would consider ratifying their offers to join NATO. And in the weeks since, he warned that Turkey could still “freeze” the process in its tracks, hinting that he was not satisfied with its progress on the terms of the deal.

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Meanwhile, Hungary, whose right-wing authoritarian leader Viktor Orban, is expected to address the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas. this week, he is keeping an enigmatic stance on how he will handle the bid from Sweden and Finland.

Even in the United States, there is a small but vocal contingent that opposes NATO expansion. In a defiant speech before Wednesday’s vote, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) argued that allowing Finland and Sweden to join NATO would be contrary to American interests because “expanding NATO will require more American forces in Europe, more manpower, more firepower, more resources, more spending, and not just now but in the long run.”

“Our biggest foreign adversary is not in Europe, our biggest foreign adversary is in Asia,” he insisted.

Hawley’s opposition was heavily criticized by members of his own party.

“Closer cooperation with these partners will help us counter Russia and China,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), calling the accession a “national security blow.”

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Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) noted that it would be “really weird” if the senators who voted for North Macedonia’s NATO accession in 2019, a group that includes Hawley, were suddenly opposed. to the candidacy of Finland and Sweden.

“Let’s be honest, who can deny the much stronger cases for Finland and Sweden?” Cotton said, arguing that those countries they were “much larger, much more capable, and much more strategically placed”.

Hawley’s opposition was all the more surprising given that Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who opposed North Macedonia’s membership in 2019 and Montenegro’s membership in 2017, voted to allow Finland and Sweden to join. to NATO.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the only other senator to oppose the North Macedonia and Montenegro bids, voted “present” Wednesday, noting on the ground that, as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “I am less adamant about avoiding the expansion of NATO with Sweden and Finland.”

The Senate rejected Paul’s efforts to attach an amendment to the ratification that would explicitly state that the United States’ Article 5 obligations to defend member nations would not supersede the constitutional right of Congress to authorize the use of military force.

Menendez said the amendment was “unnecessary” to protect the constitutional role of Congress. He told colleagues that it was potentially “deeply damaging” and “counterproductive to do anything that casts doubt on our strong commitment to NATO.”

The Senate approved by voice vote an amendment setting out its expectation that all NATO members spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense.

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