NATO Enlargement: Expansion Shows Europe Is Unified against Russia

A bid by the northern European country of Sweden to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been approved. This is a significant step in strengthening European unity on the security front amid Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

The Hungarian parliament approved Sweden’s accession, completing the ratification process by all NATO member states. With the accession of Sweden, which will follow that of Finland in April last year, NATO will expand to the entire northern European region, bringing the total number of NATO member countries to 32.

NATO has a collective security framework under which an attack on one member state is regarded as an attack on all members and triggers a counterattack. The accession of the two northern European countries is expected to enhance deterrence by strengthening surveillance of Russian forces in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic region.

Sweden has been neutral and non-aligned for about 200 years. However, after witnessing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Sweden decided that it could no longer defend itself by remaining neutral and chose to join NATO.

Russian President Vladimir Putin cited preventing Ukraine from joining NATO and NATO’s enlargement eastward as the goal of Russia’s aggression. This resulted in the enlargement and strengthening of NATO through northern European nations’ accession. Putin’s blunder is clear.

What is important is that NATO countries overcome their differences in policy toward Russia and maintain unity.

As Turkey and Hungary showed some reluctance to ratify Sweden’s accession, the process from application to accession took longer than expected. Hungary has also continued to oppose not only NATO’s but also the European Union’s support for Ukraine.

The latest NATO enlargement has finally been realized, but unless each member of the alliance provides military aid to Ukraine, it will not be able to stop Russia’s heinous acts. They must continue to share the understanding that dealing with Russia in a united manner will lead to stability in Europe.

It is worrisome that the United States, which has the largest military among the NATO members and is responsible for Europe’s security as well, has a declining presence. The U.S. budget for military assistance to Ukraine has been stalled by conflict between U.S. President Joe Biden and the Republican Party in Congress.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump, who maintains an overwhelming lead in the race to be the Republican nominee for the November presidential election, has made no attempt to hide his regressive view of NATO defense obligations.

As the United States strengthens its domestically focused “America First” mindset, it is essential that Europe, Japan, Australia and other like-minded countries that share values unite together and strengthen their efforts to maintain the international order.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 28, 2024)