Ukraine war does the once unthinkable: It convinces Finns to join NATO


Just as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created a seismic shift in Europe’s security environment, as well as it has shaken the psychology of its individual peoples. In Finland, that has meant the public’s rapid abandonment of its longtime preference for officially staying outside NATO.

Now, according to a recent poll, over 75% of Finns support applying for full membership – something that, by all reports, Finland is now on the threshold of doing.

Why We Wrote This

For decades, Finns have been content outside NATO, trusting that Russia’s intentions were benign even after it annexed Crimea. But the war in Ukraine has upended their sense of security.

The Finnish people opened the door for the government to change, says Pekka Haavisto, the Finnish foreign minister. For years, joining NATO has been a minority position among the Finns. As recently as late 2021, only 22% of the population favored giving up the country’s nonaligned status and signing up.

“The idea of ​​bolstering the nation’s security has been on and off topic for a long time,” says Ilkka Ranta-aho, a freelance writer and musician. “Finland’s position in the world seemed to be very stable, so no change was needed.”

“Then February 2022 made it clear that our ‘trust’ in Russia had always been misplaced,” he says. “Joining NATO seems the best way to continue the peaceful life we ​​have become accustomed to.”

Helsinki

When Russia seized and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the move sparked only a modest uptick in support for joining NATO in historically neutral Finland. That was not a surprise to experts at the time.

“If one were to bet,” political scientist Tuomas Forsberg observed then, “it might be better to bet on continuity. The security environment has changed, but [the] psychology remains more entrenched. ”

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine has been a very different matter.

Why We Wrote This

For decades, Finns have been content outside NATO, trusting that Russia’s intentions were benign even after it annexed Crimea. But the war in Ukraine has upended their sense of security.

Just as the invasion has created a seismic shift in Europe’s security environment, as well has it shaken the psychology of its individual peoples. In Finland, that has meant the public’s rapid abandonment of its longtime preference for officially staying outside NATO. Now, according to a recent poll, over 75% of Finns support applying for full membership – something that, by all reports, Finland is now on the threshold of doing.

Moreover, says Dr. Forsberg, who is director of the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies at Helsinki University, the shift in the public’s mood is something of a surprise. “Most experts,” he says, “including me, predicted that the change would occur first in [nonaligned] Sweden, then with the Finnish leadership, and then public opinion. ” Instead, the public led the charge.



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