Finland votes 95-1 for NATO, Senate backs Sweden, condemns Russia

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. senators on Wednesday gave overwhelming bipartisan approval of NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, calling the expansion of the Western defense bloc a “slam-dunk” for U.S. national security and a day of reckoning over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion. of Ukraine.

Wednesday’s 95-1 vote – for the nomination of two Western European countries that had long avoided military alliances until Russia’s war against Ukraine – took a major step toward expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its 73-year-old reciprocity agreement. Security among democratic allies in the US and Europe.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invited ambassadors from both countries to the chamber’s gallery to watch the vote.

President Joe Biden, who has been a key player in mobilizing global economic and material support for Ukraine, has sought quick access to the two northern European countries, which were previously demilitarized.

“This historic vote sends an important signal of sustained, bipartisan U.S. commitment to NATO and confirms our alliance’s readiness to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday evening.

“I look forward to signing the Protocol of Accession and welcoming Sweden and Finland, two strong democracies with highly capable militaries, into the largest defense alliance in history,” the president added.

Approval by all member states – currently, 30 – is required. The two wealthy northern European countries’ candidacies have both received the approval of more than half of NATO member states in the roughly three months since they applied. It’s a deliberate speed bump to send a message to Russia over Ukraine’s six-month war against its western-leaning government.

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“It sends a warning shot to tyrants around the world who believe that free democracy is up for grabs,” Sen said in a Senate debate ahead of the vote. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said.

“Russia’s unprovoked invasion has changed the way we think about global security,” he added.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who visited Kyiv earlier this year, gave unanimous approval. Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell cited Finland and Sweden’s well-funded, modernizing militaries and experience working with U.S. forces and armed forces, calling it a “slam-dunk for the U.S.’s national security.”

“Their accession will make NATO stronger and the United States more secure. If any senator is looking for a defensible reason to vote no, I wish them the best of luck,” McConnell said.

Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley wasn’t the only one who didn’t vote. Hawley spoke on the Senate floor about European security alliances as a distraction from what he called America’s main rival — China, not Russia.

“We can do more in Europe … devote more resources, more firepower … or do what we need to do to deter Asia and China. We can’t do both,” Hawley said, calling it a “classic nationalist approach” to foreign policy.

Sen. of Arkansas. Tom Cotton, like Hawley, who could run for president in 2024, rebutted his points without mentioning a potential Republican challenger.

That includes arguing against Hawley’s argument that a bigger NATO would mean more obligations for the world’s largest US military. Cotton was among several who cited the two countries’ military strengths, including Finland’s experience in defending hundreds of miles of border with Russia and its well-trained ground forces and Sweden’s well-armed navy and air force.

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They were “two of the strongest members of the coalition the minute they joined,” Cotton said.

U.S. government and defense officials consider the two countries to be net “security providers,” particularly strengthening NATO’s security posture in the Baltics. Finland is expected to exceed NATO’s 2% GDP defense spending target by 2022, and Sweden is committed to meeting the 2% target.

This contrasts with many of NATO’s newcomers, many of which previously came from the Soviet Union’s orbit, with smaller armies and economies. North Macedonia, NATO’s most recent new country, brought with it a serious army of just 8,000 personnel when it joined in 2020.

The senators’ vote to approve NATO candidacies largely failed — North Macedonia’s vote was 91-2. But the approval from nearly all senators present Wednesday carried additional foreign policy weight in light of the war with Russia.

Schumer, DNY., said he and McConnell assured the nation’s leaders that the Senate would approve a resolution of approval “as quickly as we can” to strengthen the alliance “in light of recent Russian aggression.”

Sweden and Finland applied in May, setting aside a long-standing position of military neutrality. It was a major shift in security arrangements for both countries after neighboring Russia launched its war on Ukraine in late February. Biden encouraged their merger and welcomed the heads of government of both countries to the White House in May, showing them America’s support.

The United States and its European allies have rallied to a new partnership in the face of Putin’s military invasion, as well as the Russian leader’s sweeping statements this year denouncing NATO, issuing veiled reminders of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and asserting Russia’s historic claims to much of its territory. next door

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“Enlarging NATO is the opposite of what Putin intended when he ordered his tanks to invade Ukraine,” said Sen. New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Bob Menendez said Wednesday that the West cannot allow Russia. “to launch invasions of countries”

Wednesday’s vote by Republicans and Democrats stood out for a typically slow-moving and divided chamber. Senators rejected an amendment proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., intended to ensure that NATO’s guarantee of protecting its members does not replace a formal role for Congress in authorizing the use of military force. Paul, who has long advocated keeping the US out of most military operations abroad, voted “in favor” of recognizing Sweden and Finland’s membership bid.

Senators Sen. Another amendment was approved by Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, declaring that all NATO members must spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense and 20% of their defense budget on major equipment, including research and development.

Each member government in NATO must give its consent to the accession of any new member. The process hit an unexpected snag when Turkey raised concerns about the inclusion of Sweden and Finland, accusing it of going soft on outlawed Turkish Kurdish exile groups. Turkey’s objections still threaten both countries’ membership.

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Follow AP’s coverage of NATO at https://apnews.com/hub/nato.

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