Biden hosts leaders of Finland and Sweden, eager to fast-track NATO accession

President Biden, accompanied by the leaders of Finland and Sweden, spoke in the Rose Garden of the White House Thursday.
President Biden, accompanied by Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursday.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

President Biden, standing alongside the prime minister of Sweden and president of Finland at the White House on Thursday, declared that the two nations have the “full, total, complete backing of the United States of America” in their push to join NATO.

Calling the two countries “close, highly capable partners,” Biden heralded the possible expansion of the transatlantic alliance as an affirmation of shared democratic values and the continued strength of the security pact that considers any attack on a member nation as an attack on all.

“Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries and strong and transparent economies, and a strong moral sense of what is right,” Biden said.


“They meet every NATO requirement and then some. And having new NATO members in the High North will enhance the security of our alliance, and deepen our security cooperation across the board.”

Biden said he was sending Congress reports on the potential changes to the treaty, which lawmakers must approve, urging them to move quickly.

“The bottom line is simple, quite straightforward: Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger,” Biden said. “And a strong united NATO is the foundation of America’s security.”

The meeting came just a day after the longtime neutral countries formally applied for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the defense pact founded after World War II, though one member is seeking to slow things down.

Turkey on Wednesday prevented NATO from initiating the organization’s review process to admit Finland and Sweden. Biden and his aides brushed off the move, expressing confidence that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objections can be resolved.

Turkish officials have criticized both Nordic countries for placing export bans on some military goods to Turkey and supporting “terrorist organizations,” including the militant Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK. Turkey has been battling the PKK, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group, since the 1980s.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, who spoke after Biden, addressed Turkey’s concerns and said that discussions with Ankara are ongoing.

“We will commit to Turkey’s security, just as Turkey will commit to our security. We take terrorism seriously,” he said. “We are open to discussing all the concerns Turkey may have concerning our membership in an open and productive manner.”

The two Nordic nations studiously maintained their military nonalignment for decades, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine swiftly changed attitudes.

Biden squeezed in the meeting Thursday with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Niinisto ahead of his departure for Seoul and a six-day Asia swing aimed at solidifying ties with Indo-Pacific allies to further constrain China and Russia.

However, Biden made clear that NATO is a defensive alliance, stating that “new members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation. It never has been. NATO’s purpose is to defend against aggression.”

While the leaders privately discussed their ongoing efforts to mollify Turkey, the outward symbolism of the White House meeting was meant to convey a clear message to other NATO members and the world.

“NATO is a 30-member organization. But when Washington leads, other countries follow,” said Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center.

“If Turkey’s objections were insurmountable, I don’t think the U.S. and [NATO Secretary General Jens] Stoltenberg would have been so certain in their rhetoric about the enlargement. They’re acting like this is a speed bump, not a stoplight.”

In reality, however, it will take months for Finland and Sweden to be welcomed into the alliance. Even if all 30 member nations vote to approve their applications at next month’s NATO summit in Madrid, the organization’s treaty requires parliamentary approval from all member states before the process is complete.

The president’s official statement on Wednesday promised that the U.S. would “work with Finland and Sweden to remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security, and to deter and confront aggression or the threat of aggression” while their applications are under consideration.

“We will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden during this process,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, said Wednesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has tried to intimidate Finland and Sweden out of applying to join NATO with vague threats of military force.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine is turning his fears of a more resolute Europe and NATO alliance into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine — a necessary response, the Kremlin has said, to crush that country’s own aspirations of NATO membership — has backfired for Moscow, changing the security calculations for European leaders and fostering new cohesion and deeper purpose within a decades-old organization that had seemed to be

In Sweden and Finland, countries synonymous throughout the Cold War with strategic neutrality, Russia’s attack on a sovereign neighbor sparked a shocking shift in public opinion, as majorities long skeptical of NATO membership quickly came to see the alliance as vital to their long-term security.

In Finland, 76% of the country now supports joining NATO, according to a poll commissioned by the national public broadcasting company YLE. That’s a huge shift from January, a month before Putin’s invasion, when a Helsingin Sanomat-Gallup survey showed just 28% of Finns backing NATO membership.

If Finland joins the alliance, it will more than double the amount of NATO territory abutting Russia — a geopolitical shift with ramifications for both sides.

Finland has long seen Russia as a threat. Now politicians and ordinary Finns are saying it aloud.

Biden, in responding to Putin’s unprovoked war with a ratcheting-up of economic sanctions on Russia and defense aid for Ukraine, has made a point of moving in lockstep with NATO allies, believing that maintaining unity among democratic allies is crucial in ensuring Russia’s eventual defeat.

Now, the prospect of an expanding NATO — 30 nations, essentially, committing to guarantee the security of two more European nations, including one with an 830-mile shared border with Russia — will again test the alliance’s bonds.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who met with his Turkish counterpart at the United Nations on Wednesday, expressed the administration’s gratitude for Turkey’s solidarity thus far in responding to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the two countries would work to “overcome the differences through dialogue and diplomacy.”

Standing next to Blinken while answering questions from reporters, Cavusoglu said, “You know, Tony, Turkey has been supporting the open-door policy of NATO even before this war, but with regards to these possible candidates — already candidate countries — you know, we have also legitimate security concerns.”

“So,” he added, “what I’m trying to say is: We understand their security concerns, but Turkey’s security concerns should be also met.”