President Joe Biden on Thursday stood alongside his Swedish and Finnish counterparts to endorse their countries’ entry into NATO, a move in defiance of Russian President Vladimir Putin as the White House formally started the Senate’s review of the proposed expansion.
Biden’s enthusiastic embrace of the two Nordic countries puts him in rare alignment with some congressional Republicans. That list includes his old government shutdown-averting negotiating partner: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The pair would need to team up once again to secure the votes in the Senate to ratify a new round of alliance growth.
Biden said it was a “momentous day,” calling Sweden and Finland “two capable partners,” and noting that their troops “already serve shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. troops” across the globe. “This is a victory for democracy in action.”
“They meet every NATO requirement — and then some,” Biden said, declaring that their addition to the alliance would make it a stronger military force. “They have the total, complete and full backing of the United States.”
Biden announced he is sending formal reports to Congress supporting the applications of Finland and Sweden to join NATO. The Senate must ratify the country’s treaty with the alliance. He made the announcement in the White House’s Rose Garden, flanked by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.
Specifically, the president thanked Senate leaders Charles E. Schumer and McConnell, as well as Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, for supporting this proposed round of alliance expansion as the war in Ukraine rages. He said NATO’s support of Ukraine and other European countries after Russia’s invasion had answered questions about the organization’s fate.
“Today, there is no question NATO is relevant, it is effective, and it is needed now more than ever,” Biden said. “This is about the future. … Sweden and Finland already are among our closest partners on a range of issues.”
He praised both countries’ “strong democratic institutions, strong militaries and strong economies.”
‘Speed treaty ratification’
In particular, McConnell’s support is key since the chamber would have to ratify the two countries’ entry into the military alliance. McConnell spoke in support of NATO membership for Sweden and Finland on the Senate floor Tuesday, praising both countries’ military capabilities.
“I will do all I can to speed treaty ratification through the Senate,” McConnell said, even as other Republicans from the party’s “Make America Great Again” faction grow louder in their skepticism of doing too much to support Ukraine and other European countries as the war rages and leaders there worry that Putin has broader military ambitions. For his part, Biden called on the Senate to ratify “as quickly as possible.”
“Finland and Sweden are impressive and capable countries, with military capabilities that surpass many existing NATO allies. As new members, they would more than pull their weight,” McConnell said, adding that “these two nations’ geographical locations are strategic.”
“They have well-equipped and professional armed forces. Their military and high-tech industrial bases are robust. There is already significant interoperability that connects their defenses and NATO’s,” the GOP leader said. “Finland and Sweden would make NATO even stronger than it stands today.”
He and Schumer will meet with the Finnish and Swedish leaders at the Capitol later Thursday.
Senate ratification would need two-thirds of all 100 members — and likely already has four GOP votes: McConnell and the three Republicans who joined him over the weekend on a trip to Ukraine, Sweden and Finland: Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Susan Collins of Maine.
But GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has held up one NATO expansion ratification, that of Montenegro in 2017, arguing that the move had nothing to do with America’s security or global interests.
Other MAGA-aligned Republicans have sounded alarms about Washington sending billions in new aid to Ukraine, meaning a ratification vote could be a whip-counting adventure for McConnell and Schumer.
“Spending $40 billion on Ukraine aid — more than three times what all of Europe has spent combined — is not in America’s interests. It neglects priorities at home (the border), allows Europe to freeload, short changes critical interests abroad and comes w/ no meaningful oversight,” Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri tweeted Monday.
In a follow-up tweet, he summarized the stance of many MAGA-faction senators on issues like NATO expansion — and many foreign policy matters under the “America first” philosophy they share with former President Donald Trump: “That’s not isolationism. That’s nationalism. It’s about prioritizing American security and American interests.”
David Auerswald, a professor at the National War College, predicted that a revised NATO treaty would be ratified by the Senate.
“The more interesting question is how long it will take the Senate to provide its advice and consent — and here the record does not bode well. The amended treaty is likely to be signed in the next few weeks, perhaps even before the NATO Summit at the end of June,” he wrote for the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank. That means the Senate, which is typically in recess during August, would need to hold hearings and vote in June and July, September and October, or wait until a lame duck session after the midterm elections.”
Plenty of senators have used previous NATO expansion votes to “condition their votes on changes in administration policy,” he wrote. “Ultra-partisan senators tend to insert non-germane conditions and significant reporting requirements on any number of issues into treaty ratification documents — something we can expect from today’s polarized Senate.”
Turkey, a NATO member, also has expressed concerns about adding the Nordic countries. Niinistö said officials from both applicants have already begun talks with Turkish leaders and noted that the Nordic pair has provided security support to Ankara before.
Mark Burnett contributed to this report.