Senate supports Finland and Sweden for NATO 95-1, scolded Russia

Washington (AFP) – US senators handed an overwhelming bipartisan approval of NATO membership to Finland and Sweden on Wednesday, calling the expansion of the Western defense bloc a “death blow” to US national security and a day of reckoning for Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion. Ukraine.

A vote of 95-1 on Wednesday — in favor of the candidacy of two Western European countries that, until Russia’s war against Ukraine, had long eschewed military alliances — took a decisive step toward the expansion of NATO and its 73-year mutual agreement. Defense between the United States and Europe’s democratic allies.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invited the ambassadors of the two countries into the chamber to watch the vote.

President Joe Biden, who has been the main player in mobilizing global economic and material support for Ukraine, has sought rapid entry to the two countries in previously not militarily allied Northern Europe.

“This historic vote sends an important signal to the United States’ continued bipartisan commitment to NATO, and to ensuring that our alliance is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday evening.

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

The approval of all member states is required – currently, 30 -. The nominations of the two prosperous northern European countries have won the endorsement of more than half of NATO member states in the roughly three months since the two countries were introduced. It is an intentionally fast pace designed to send a message to Russia about its six-month-old war against the Western-looking Ukrainian government.

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“It sends a warning shot to tyrants around the world who believe that free democracies are ready to be taken over,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, said in the Senate debate before the vote.

“The unprovoked Russian invasion has changed the way we think about global security,” she added.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who visited Kyiv earlier this year, urged unanimous approval. Speaking to the Senate, McConnell cited the modernized armies of well-funded Finland and Sweden and their experience working with US forces and weapons systems, calling it a “death blow to national security” for the United States.

Joining them will make NATO stronger and America safer. “If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote No, I wish them the best of luck,” McConnell said.

Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who often pairs his positions with former President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporter, cast his one vote of no. Hawley took to the Senate floor to describe European security alliances as a distraction from what he called the main competitor of the United States – China, not Russia.

“We can do more in Europe… allocate more resources, more firepower… or do what we have to do to deter Asia and China,” Hawley said, describing his “classic nationalist approach” to foreign policy.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who represented Hawley as a potential presidential candidate in 2024, refuted his points without naming his potential Republican challenger.

This included arguing against Hawley’s claim that a larger NATO would mean more commitments to the US military, the largest in the world. Cotton was one of many citing the two countries’ military powers – including Finland’s experience securing hundreds of miles of its border with Russia, its well-trained ground forces, and its well-equipped Swedish navy and air force.

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Cotton said they were “two of the most powerful members of the alliance once they joined”.

US State and Defense officials consider the two countries to be “providers of security,” strengthening NATO’s defensive posture in the Baltic states in particular. Finland is expected to exceed the NATO GDP-generated defense spending target of 2% in 2022, and Sweden has committed to meeting the 2% target.

This is in contrast to the many newcomers to NATO who were once from the Soviet Union’s orbit, many of which have smaller armies and economies. North Macedonia, the newest newcomer to NATO, brought an active army of just 8,000 when it joined in 2020.

The votes of senators approving NATO nominations are often lopsided – North Macedonia’s vote was 91-2. But Wednesday’s approval from nearly all senators carried additional weight in foreign policy in light of the Russian war.

Schumer, North Dunya, said he and McConnell had committed to the country’s leaders that the Senate would approve the ratification “as soon as possible” to strengthen the coalition “in light of recent Russian aggression.”

Sweden and Finland applied in May, reversing their longstanding position of military nonalignment. This was a major shift in the two countries’ security arrangements after neighboring Russia launched its war on Ukraine in late February. Biden encouraged their joining and welcomed the two countries’ prime ministers to the White House in May, standing shoulder to shoulder with them in a show of American support.

The United States and its European allies rallied in a new partnership in the face of Putin’s military invasion, as well as the Russian leader’s sweeping statements this year condemning NATO, issuing veiled reminders of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and confirming Russia’s historic territorial claims to many of its territories. Neighbour.

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“The expansion of NATO is exactly the opposite of what Putin envisioned when he ordered his tanks to invade Ukraine,” Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday, adding that the West could not allow Russia to “launch invasions of countries.”

Wednesday’s vote by Republicans and Democrats featured the slow-moving and usually divided room. Senators voted against an amendment proposed by Republican Senator Rand Paul, intended to ensure that NATO’s guarantee of defense for its members does not replace Congress’s formal role in authorizing the use of military force. Paul, a longtime advocate of keeping the United States out of most military operations abroad, voted “present” to ratify Sweden and Finland’s bid to join.

Senators approved another amendment from Senator Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, declaring that all NATO members must spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense and 20% of their defense budgets on major equipment, including research and development .

Each NATO member government must give its consent for any new member to join. The operation ran into unexpected problems when Turkey raised concerns about the addition of Sweden and Finland, accusing the two of being lenient with outlawed Turkish Kurdish groups. Turkey’s objections continue to threaten the two countries’ membership.

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

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