The Senate overwhelmingly approved the addition of Sweden and Finland to NATO on Wednesday, taking a step toward extending the alliance’s border with Russia by more than 800 miles.
The 95-1 Senate vote made the United States the 23rd of NATO’s 30 countries to act since the alliance accepted the two nations’ applications in June, ahead of its annual summit in Madrid. It also means senators met their goal of approving the additions ahead of the Senate’s August recess, which begins next week.
“The United States is about to welcome two capable, qualified, and deserving members into NATO,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., co-chair of the Senate NATO Observer Group, said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote “Particularly as we face Putin’s dangerous campaign against Ukraine, I remain committed to strengthening global coordination to preserve our rules-based order and ensuring NATO continues to be the strongest it’s ever been.”
Seven nations, including Turkey, Greece, and Spain, still need to act before Finland and Sweden formally join the alliance.
Once all nations act, Finland and Sweden will be covered by NATO’s Article 5 protection, which requires alliance members to treat an attack on one as an attack on all. The collective defense provision has only been invoked once, when NATO allies came to the aid of the United States after 9/11.
After decades of neutrality, Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO on May 18, nearly three months after Russia invaded Ukraine. Turkey initially objected over Finland and Sweden’s support for the PKK terrorist group, but officials from Ankara, Helsinki, and Stockholm reached a compromise that satisfied Turkey’s concerns. NATO invited Finland and Sweden to join the alliance on June 29, and the accession protocols were signed July 5. Four nations—Canada, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway—ratified their accession that same day.
Finland and Sweden have advanced militaries that operate Western equipment and already exercise closely with NATO, making it possible for their accession to move much more quickly than previous efforts, which involved former Soviet states that needed to work on their military capabilities and support for democracy before joining the alliance.
The Senate also adopted an amendment Wednesday from Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, that would reiterate the expectation set by NATO in 2006 that all member nations spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense. In 2021, eight allies met that benchmark, according to NATO’s annual report released in March.
The Senate rejected a second amendment from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., by a 10-87 vote that would make clear that NATO’s Article 5 commitment to defend other members does not supersede the constitutional requirement that Congress must declare war before the United States takes military action. Paul introduced a similar amendment that failed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month.
Paul voted present, as he also did in committee.
One Republican senator, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., opposed the addition of Finland and Sweden to NATO. Hawley wrote in an op-ed on Monday that he would vote against it because he believes the United States needs to focus more on the threat posed by China, and European nations need to do more for their own security.
Hawley’s position drew criticism from his Republican colleagues. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, refuted Hawley’s view, arguing that the best way to counter China is to strengthen alliances, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote his own op-ed on Tuesday, titled “a stronger NATO allows America to focus on the threat of communist China.”
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