Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 03/2011

Finland, Sweden, and NATO: From "Virtual" to Formal Allies?

Leo G. Michel

March 2011

Institute for National Strategic Studies


The "Open Door" policy of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been an article of faith for Allies and aspirants alike for more than a decade. Its most recent formulation, approved at the November 2010 Lisbon Summit, states: "The door to NATO membership remains fully open to all European democracies which share the values of our Alliance, which are willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership, and whose inclusion can contribute to common security and stability." In practice, however, near-term prospects for further enlargement toward Eastern and Southeastern Europe have stalled for various reasons....... With few exceptions, Allied governments apparently have given little serious thought to possible Finnish and/or Swedish accession. This likely is due, in large part, to their preoccupation with more pressing concerns such as Afghanistan. That said, according to a range of Allied diplomats and military officers, both countries enjoy positive reputations as capable and reliable contributors to NATO operations, mentors and role models in outreach and cooperation programs involving other Partners (including Russia), and active promoters of a comprehensive civilian-military approach to stabilization missions in which NATO-EU cooperation should play a prominent role. But as Partners, their ability to inform, shape, and implement NATO policy at every stage is constrained by many organizational and political factors. Given the distance that Finland and Sweden already have traveled toward recasting their security policies, transforming their militaries, and establishing close ties with the Alliance, membership might seem a logical next step. Yet, it is not an inevitable one. Moreover, as suggested by the careful wording of NATO's open door policy, a broad consensus exists within the Alliance that enlargement cannot be viewed as an end in itself.