Skip to main content

NATO Accession: Sweden and Finland

Volume 823: debated on Thursday 7 July 2022


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 6 July.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on our support for Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO. I am making this statement on behalf of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, who is attending a meeting of the G20 in Indonesia.

Finland and Sweden submitted their formal applications to join NATO on 18 May this year. Less than 50 days later, accession talks have been completed, and yesterday allies signed the accession protocols for both countries. The UK played a significant role in securing agreement from all NATO allies to this important move, with my right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary holding numerous discussions with their counterparts. The accession protocols have now been passed to all NATO countries for ratification, and they are being laid in Parliament today under Command Papers CP 730 and CP 731.

Finland and Sweden are NATO’s closest partners. They share our principles and values, including liberty, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. They share the alliance’s unwavering commitment to international security. They both have years of experience in training and operating with allies and have made significant contributions to NATO-led operations and missions. We work together in the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force. We value their role in the region and applaud their support for Ukraine.

Their decision to seek NATO membership follows extensive democratic consultations in those countries. It is a mark of the threat that Russia poses to these two countries, who have tried so diligently to remain neutral for so many decades, that they are now applying to join the alliance. We must ensure that they are integrated into NATO as swiftly as possible.

We should aim to complete the ratification process before the Summer Recess. As things stand, we do not have the 21 sitting days of parliamentary time needed to use Section 20 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 to ratify. Therefore, in accordance with Section 22 of the Act, we believe that the accession protocols for Sweden and Finland should be ratified without the 21-day requirement having been met. This will allow us to demonstrate the importance we attach to our relationship with these two close partners and our wholehearted support for their decision to join NATO.

In May we provided Sweden and Finland with bilateral security guarantees. It is vital that we now bring them under NATO’s Article 5 umbrella as swiftly as possible. Their decision to join puts both countries at risk of a potentially aggressive Russian response. Russia has already made numerous threats about the possibility of Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO. Using the process I have set out will enable us to ensure that UK ratification is concluded swiftly and to set a positive example for other NATO members to follow. All 30 allies need to ratify the protocols before Finland and Sweden can join the alliance. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been pushing allied colleagues to complete ratification as soon as possible.

We believe that there is broad cross-party support for Sweden and Finland joining NATO. The Government are committed to both the principle and practice of parliamentary scrutiny of the UK treaties. However, due to the unprecedented circumstances in which Finland and Sweden have made their decision to apply for NATO membership, it is important that we do all we can to expedite their accession.

A strong NATO is at the heart of our ability to deter and defend against adversaries. We showed the strength of the alliance once again at the NATO summit in Madrid last week. NATO is not involved directly in the Ukraine conflict, but we know that Ukraine’s ultimate victory is vital for our security. Russia’s illegal and barbaric war cannot succeed. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced last week that the UK is providing a further £1 billion of military support for Ukraine, and other allies are stepping up their support as well.

At the summit, leaders also agreed a new NATO strategic concept, which responds to the new security environment. It rightly identifies Russia as the most significant and direct threat to our security, and it signals a decisive change in our approach to defending the eastern flank, through scaling up capabilities and force readiness to achieve deterrence by denial. For the first time the strategic concept also addresses China and the systemic challenges to our collective security that it poses. It is right that NATO takes an increasingly global perspective of the threats and challenges we face. The alliance should act as a bulwark to the authoritarianism and aggression that we see rising across the world.

Given this more dangerous and competitive landscape, we are calling on all allies to meet, and to be prepared to exceed, the target we set ourselves a decade ago of spending 2% of GDP on defence. That goal was set for a very different era, and we need to be ready to go further. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that the UK is likely to be spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade.

We are determined to strengthen NATO as the No. 1 guarantor of Euro-Atlantic security and, through the alliance, to stand up for freedom, sovereignty and self-determination around the world. The accession of Finland and Sweden will further strengthen NATO and bolster our security. By ratifying the accession protocols without delay we will send a message of unity against Russian aggression and a message of support to Finland and Sweden. We look forward to welcoming these two long-standing friends to NATO. We will continue to stand side by side with all allies in defence of our shared values and our collective security. Therefore, I commend this statement to the House.”

My Lords, on these Benches, we strongly welcome the accession to NATO of Finland and Sweden, both of which will be valuable members of the alliance, representing established democracies which share our values of freedom and the rule of law.

Putin’s inexcusable invasion of Ukraine has had ramifications around the world, and the reversal of Finland’s and Sweden’s long-held policies of non-alignment is testament to that. Above all, this decision shows that Russia’s attack on Ukraine has had the opposite effect from that intended—strengthening rather than weakening NATO, unifying rather than dividing the alliance.

However, it is also a reminder that the Government should reboot our own defences, halt cuts to the Army and deepen our security co-operation with our European allies and the EU. Last week, NATO agreed plans to increase high-readiness forces from 40,000 to 300,000, but Ministers are still pushing ahead with furthers cuts to the Army of 10,000 troops. Will the Government halt these planned cuts immediately so that the UK can fulfil our NATO obligations?

Labour welcomed the announcements late last week to bolster NATO nations. Ministers announced the allocation of a combat brigade, to be held at high readiness for rapid reinforcement across Estonia and the Baltic region. But how many of these troops will be based in the UK, and how many reservists will make up this brigade?

On the ratification of today’s announcement, while the House would ordinarily expect greater scrutiny, these are extraordinary circumstances—these Benches accept this—so the Government are right to accelerate the process. However, I hope that the Minister can update the House on when he expects the ratification of Sweden and Finland to be completed by all our allies, so that both countries are protected by the Article 5 guarantee.

My Lords, these Benches also welcome the agreement to sign Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession protocols. There will now be a NATO border of 800 miles, so an acknowledgement is needed that the NATO border with Russia is now of particular importance. There was also the conclusion of the trilateral memorandum between Turkey, Finland and Sweden, which has paved the way for the signing of the accession protocols. Can the Minister say a little more about the UK’s view on the trilateral relationship, given the security interests involved in our relationship with Turkey?

It was interesting to note that, at the Madrid summit of NATO partners, there were, as the communiqué said, “valuable exchanges” between those present and

“the Heads of State and Government of Australia”,

in addition to Finland and Sweden, alongside

“Georgia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand … and Ukraine, as well as the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission.”

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that Putin’s aggression has not only had the reverse impact of what he expected—a weakening of NATO and its resolve—but that there has been a strengthening of NATO partners and of NATO’s relationship with countries around the world with which it is dealing. This brings to light the UK’s relationship with our European NATO allies and the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission. We have previously debated the desire to revisit the Government’s strategic defence review and to strengthen our relationship with European allies, particularly Germany, given the significant change in the German position.

The communiqué clearly stresses another impact of Putin’s aggression, and I agree with it strongly:

“Russia has also intentionally exacerbated a food and energy crisis, affecting billions of people around the world”.

NATO not only has a defensive position through which it has adapted its strategic concept and posture; it is now a relevant organisation in resolving the collateral issues of energy and food. The Minister knows my desire for the UK to use its convening power more assertively regarding the humanitarian impact. Given the track record of both Sweden and Finland in the development area, this is an opportunity for us to expand some of the discussions within NATO.

We know that Sweden and Finland have faced internal terrorism, but the communiqué raises the issue of the current growth of terrorism. As we know, Daesh is recruiting and other actors such as the Wagner Group are playing their own role. The response to the aggression against Ukraine is hybrid and includes cyber capability. This is an ongoing threat.

As the communiqué also indicated, we see

“systemic competition from … the People’s Republic of China”.

This draws into sharp focus the question of how we are dealing with allies—in particular, India, Sri Lanka and other Commonwealth countries—which are not dissociating themselves from Russia.

Finally, the new, sharper posture that NATO agreed at the Madrid summit raises the question of what the UK capacity is going to be. What is the status of the previous agreement that the UK signed with Sweden and Finland? What commitment has the UK indicated to providing capacity and personnel support in Finland and Sweden? Are the Government finally going to review their decisions, as the noble Lord indicated, on the size and capacity of the Army? All these factors, including the accession of Sweden and Finland, draw into sharp focus the need for the UK to review its capability and to increase it.

My Lords, I first record my thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, and through them to the respective parties and membership of both Houses, for our united stand and our support. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly articulated, it is ironic that the challenge was on Ukraine, and Russia’s aggression and war on Ukraine has resulted in two countries, Sweden and Finland, which for so long took the view not to join the defensive alliance, doing exactly the opposite. We welcome this, of course, and it was welcomed by all Nordic NATO partners. I also thank both noble Lords for supporting the ratification, which has been taken forward under the normal process. We have the CRaG process, but on this occasion, it was right that, because of the number of sitting days left, we expedited this process.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about ratification across all of NATO. If I may, I will write to him about a specific date. I am not aware of the exact timetable in each country but I will certainly write to him and put a copy in the Library. He also raised the issue of UK support in terms of defence spending and our own commitments. At the summit, the Prime Minister announced a further £1 billion of military support for Ukraine, taking our total military support to £2.3 billion—more than any other country with the exception of the United States. Through this new spend, UK defence spending is projected to reach 2.3% of GDP this year, meaning that we will continue to show leadership in defence spending, having met the 2% NATO target every year since its inception. Additional investment in these areas means we are on track to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade. The noble Lord asked for particular details of this, including troop numbers. I am sure my colleagues in the MoD will follow this up, but the exact shape of the increase will be very much for the next spending review. The point has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others in your Lordships’ House about the importance of our own troops and contribution.

Both noble Lords asked about the new way of operating and supporting NATO, and the commitments made in this respect. On the UK military offer, the UK is providing military support and reassurance to its allies. UK Typhoons and F35s will continue to contribute to NATO air policing. We have deployed four additional Typhoons to Cyprus to patrol NATO’s eastern borders, and sent equipment and an additional 800 troops in support. Regarding the exact details of how many are deployed where, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will accept that I am not going into any further details, but we are supporting all NATO planning accordingly.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, talked about the food and security crisis. I agree with him, and we need to look at innovative ways of providing support, and the knock-on effects. During recent visits to north Africa through the Kigali summit, it was clear that the Ukraine war is being felt most in terms of not just energy but food. Yet, there is a glimmer to the grey cloud. About 65% of non-farmed yet arable-ready land is in Africa, and there is an opportunity to provide technical support to see how that land can be irrigated. Certainly, that is part of the bilateral discussions I have been having recently, particularly in north Africa, seeing how that could form part of a more regional offer when we get to COP 27 in Egypt.

On the humanitarian impact and the expertise of Finland and Sweden, again I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis: we already value it, but we will need it. Having them within our defence alliance means that we will have much broader discussions, as well as with countries across Europe. He alluded to our different bilaterals, but we are on a very strong footing. The Prime Minister visited both countries as they sought to apply to give a real sense of solidarity and support.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, also touched on Turkey. As was well reported, it had additional discussions; we recognise, as I am sure all noble Lords do, that it was raising the issue of the continuing threat of terror. Nevertheless, Turkey is very much part of the NATO alliance and has re-stated its enduring commitments to it.

As we evolve and take our partnerships forward, I stress that NATO is a defensive alliance. We make this point repeatedly to Russia when it challenges us. Two non-aligned countries such as Sweden and Finland having to join makes the case to Russia to pull back and stop the war.

My Lords, will the Government give more attention, following the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, to the department of NATO policies on the Arctic? Both countries border the Arctic and some commentators suggest that, in recent years, NATO has neglected this really important subject. Its security matters.

The UK has looked towards the polar regions and had specific engagement in that respect. However, the noble Baroness makes a very valid point; with the accession of both these countries, we can look again and see how we can strengthen our focus on particular areas. She is right to raise this; during the challenges we have been facing due to the Ukrainian war, other countries—including the likes of China—have had their own intentions. While we have been focused on Ukraine, China’s activity, particularly in the Pacific islands—to draw the attention of noble Lords to other parts of the world—has been noticeable. For example, the visits by its Foreign Minister to eight Pacific islands over two weeks or so was pretty noticeable in terms of what is being planned.

My Lords, I too welcome the accession of Sweden and Finland and the accelerated ratification. I suggest that Finland would repay close analysis; it has a system of defence quite unlike other members of the alliance, in which defence is a universal obligation on the population as a whole and is based on the service of all citizens for that purpose. I draw attention yet again to the commitment to which the Minister referred:

“my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that the UK is likely to be spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade.”

That is lukewarm, imprecise and inadequate. Do the Government accept that neither the ambitions in the integrated review or the obligations, some of them fresh, we are taking towards NATO will be met by 2.5%?

My Lords, just for clarity, I should say that I said that we were on track to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade. I agree with the noble Lord: one of the points emphasised during the meetings with our NATO partners was to ensure that other countries do not just talk about it but put their money behind their commitments. The UK has continued to commit itself fully and will continue to meet its obligations under NATO.

My Lords, Manchester, and specifically my diocese, has a long and close relationship with the Tampere diocese in central Finland. My friends there leave me in no doubt about how much it meant to Finland to gain its independence from Russia a century ago. Tampere itself has even more recent experience of Russian aggression: it was on the receiving end of considerable bombing in 1939. In welcoming from these Benches the decisions of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, it is noteworthy that they both do so from previous positions of neutrality. Could I invite the Minister to tell us what wisdom, experience and skills, building on that historically neutral perspective, he believes Finland and Sweden will bring to strengthen our vital defensive alliance?

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred earlier to these countries’ expertise and insights on the Arctic, which is demilitarised, and that has been a key objective. We need that insight to make sure that is sustained, for example. Our mutual security declarations also mean that the added security and the collective security of the alliance will be sustained and now extended to both countries. Frankly speaking, let us not forget when Russia, and indeed Mr Lavrov, stated repeatedly, “We have no intentions to invade Ukraine”. The reality is very different.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s Statement, and I agree with my noble friends and others that the President of Russia’s one success has been to strengthen and expand NATO. But I ask the Minister whether he might consider the wider effects around the world of the accession of these two countries, especially in view of the fact that there are other areas at risk in the Indo-Pacific region, to which he has already referred—Ukraine is not the only country that might be at risk of invasion—and whether this development in NATO might have a wider effect on other parts of the world and encourage further defensive alliances.

I think our approach is a global one, and from a NATO perspective, it is a defensive alliance, and that was the reason the two countries joined. There is broader issue about where our focus is, and when we talk about the Indo-Pacific and our focus in that particular area, it is strategic, and we are looking at a range of partnerships. The AUKUS agreement reflects how we work with our key allies on a range of issues, covering maritime and safe navigation when it comes to commercial routes, but also looks at the whole issue of the seas in terms of protection and co-ordination, and security within the Asia-Pacific region. The noble Lord, Lord West, knows that far better than I do.

Beyond that, we play an important role along with our partners, not just when we look at defensive or military partnerships, but also looking at the economy and economic development. That again is an important lead on how we work consistently and in a collaborative fashion with key allies. In looking at the economic empowering of countries, there are other international players, and we are seeing, with repeated interventions from the IMF, how countries are being disabled in terms of their economies—not just failing to grow but failing to operate altogether. We need to step in to provide alternatives.

My Lords, as probably the only Finnish-speaking Member of this House, could I remind the Minister that Finland, with its 800-mile border with Russia, will be right in the front line of NATO, but also has the bitter experience of having sacrificed a lot of its territory to Russia after the Second World War, most of which was never given back? That means that, in the light of recent Russian behaviour towards its neighbours with whom it has long borders, the contingency of the NATO guarantee being called must be quite high, and it is crucial that this be taken into account in our strategic planning.

First, I thank the noble Lord for not addressing me in Finnish; I may not have been able to respond effectively to him. I did not know he had that language; it is a quality that adds to the diversity and talent of your Lordships’ House. I agree with him about the 800-mile border. I know that, prior to this formal application, it was a real focus. Both countries, particularly Finland, have conducted themselves in a manner which in no way could have shown any aggression towards any neighbour, and that includes Russia. However, as I said earlier to the right reverend Prelate, unfortunately the point is not what Russia has been saying in recent years; it is what it has been doing. It said that it would not go into the Donbass region; it has. It said that it would be some kind of limited, so-called liberation, in the words of Mr Putin; it has not been. Russia’s continued aggression and war on Ukraine concerns countries, and it is right that we agree and support the expedited accession of both countries.

I think we should welcome the accession of both Finland and Sweden to NATO; they are amazingly capable military countries with most impressive armed forces. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Powell, makes about the border issue is important. Finland’s border goes right up to the Kola and it would put a major, highly sensitive area at risk, and so there is a problem there. My question relates to our expenditure, which was touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. The 2.5% by 2030 is a nod, but it is nowhere near enough, nor is it being spent rapidly enough. For the next four years, there is to be no increase to defence spending at all, yet we are having to produce all sorts of equipment for the Ukrainians and to replenish our stocks. I am afraid that dictators look at what a country does, and Putin will be looking at what we do. If we are not bringing our Armed Forces up to a state where they can face a peer competitor, if they have to, as part of an alliance, then that is very dangerous. We should be spending money now and I cannot understand why the Government have not done that.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord on his first point on the border issue. Any country bordering Russia has concerns at the moment—I visited Estonia, which is part and parcel of NATO but, notwithstanding that, it has concerns. Indeed, to broaden that point, there are other countries, and the noble Lord will know of the key votes taken at the UN when this war was first initiated. We saw strong support—a vote of 141—but also a series of abstentions. However, some of those abstentions were what I would term qualified abstentions. There are many countries on the borders of Russia that are concerned, and they have their own Russian-speaking minorities. On the issue of defence spending, I hear the insight and expertise that the noble Lord provides in this regard and I will certainly share that with my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence. I agree with him on the principle that we need our defence forces to be fully aligned to the challenges of 2022 and also to play a bolstered leadership role within the alliances that we are part of—NATO is a central one.

My Lords, it is right that we start referring to the Arctic and relating matters. The accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO draws into stark reality the whole situation regarding the Arctic, but also brings in the question of China, which has a vested interest in what goes on in that part of the world. The Statement went beyond just Finland and Sweden; is the Minister able to shed light on the rationale behind the leaders also agreeing NATO’s strategic concept, which addresses China and its systematic challenges to collective security? Is it to suggest that, for the very same reasons that Finland and Sweden are in accession mode, Taiwan might eventually apply? That would then secure and provide scope for a collective defence, should China opt to invade the island. This would of course also bring into play the relationship with AUKUS.

My Lords, the issue of Taiwan is slightly different in the sense of its geographical location, but the Government’s position on Taiwan has not changed: whatever approach is taken, it is a matter for both sides on the Taiwan Strait. The noble Lord talked about the mention within the Statement of the strategic concept and how it “addresses China”—for the first time—

“and the systemic challenges to our collective security that it poses.”

I have already alluded to the work that China does to strengthen not just its military presence but its economic presence. This results in, and eventually leads to, economic dependency, which we are seeing around the world. We are also increasingly seeing evolving threats. As much as technology is an opportunity, it is an evolving threat as well. Therefore, through organisations such as NATO, but also through the United Kingdom working with other key strategic partners, including those in the Asia-Pacific, we need to look at enhanced protection, for example, when it comes to cyber security. Within the context of the Commonwealth, for example, we are working with key partners, such as Singapore.

My Lords, the noble Lord was not here at the beginning of the Statement. He has already asked one question; two would be pushing his luck.