Under an agreement with the Soviet Union, Finland was left out of the alliance, which was created to contain Russia after World War II. It remained independent in the post-Soviet era, even after joining the European Union and ever closer to the West. Until now, Sweden had adhered to more than 200 years of neutrality.
But that stance was soon abandoned after Mr Putin’s decision in February to invade Ukraine, which is not a NATO member. Both Finland and Sweden suddenly realized that the threat from Russia had changed and that their status as bystanders of major power conflicts now posed a huge risk.
The speed of the turn has been so great that there has been virtually no debate since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when even some of Washington’s most experienced Cold War diplomats warned that the more Russia felt surrounded, the more the more likely it will eventually lash out, especially if the attempt to integrate the country with the West fails.
On Wednesday, Mr Sullivan said Mr Biden had asked his national security officials whether they supported the addition of Finland and Sweden to the alliance and that they had “emphatically supported” the move in a unanimous manner.
The Rose Garden ceremony deliberately contained echoes of a state visit, complete with a military orchestra. Mr Biden characterized the move to bring Finland and Sweden into the alliance as almost a formality, noting that both countries had contributed troops to the conflicts in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq – NATO’s key commitments of the past 20 years – and that they were strong democracies that “meet every NATO requirement and then some.”
Mr Biden argued that the two countries would contribute to the alliance’s firepower.
Finland has an advanced military that carries out complex operations to monitor Russian activity in the seas of Northern Europe and spends a lot of money on modern equipment. Sweden is a more difficult case: it has dismantled some of its military power and, as Mrs Andersson admits, should refocus its budget to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense, the goal of NATO members.
But for the United States, the main benefit of the Scandinavian countries joining the alliance is the message sent to Mr Putin. In December, the Russian president demanded that the United States and NATO sign a treaty that would withdraw troops from former Soviet states and limit training activities and the placement of weapons.