Senate endorses Finland and Sweden for NATO 95-1, rebukes Russia

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. senators on Wednesday gave overwhelming bipartisan approval for Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership, calling the expansion of the Western defensive bloc a “knockout blow” for U.S. national security. and a day of reckoning for Russian President Vladimir Putin for his invasion. from Ukraine

Wednesday’s 95-1 vote for the nomination of two Western European nations that, until Russia’s war against Ukraine, had long eschewed military alliances, took a crucial step toward expanding the Treaty Organization. North Atlantic and its 73-year-old pact. defense between the United States and democratic allies in Europe.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invited ambassadors from the two nations to the chamber gallery to watch the vote.

President Joe Biden, who has been the main player in obtaining global economic and material support for Ukraine, has sought quick entry for the two northern European nations that were previously not aligned militarily.

Approval is required from all member nations (currently 30). The bids of the two prosperous northern European nations have won the ratification of more than half of NATO’s member nations in the roughly three months since they both applied. It’s a deliberately fast pace meant to send a message to Russia about its six-month war against Ukraine’s western government.

“It sends a warning shot to tyrants around the world who believe free democracies are at stake,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in the Senate debate before the vote.

“Russia’s unprovoked invasion has changed the way we think about global security,” he added.

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

“Their accession will make NATO stronger and the United States more secure. If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote no, I wish them good luck,” McConnell said.

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri who often aligns his positions with those of former President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters, cast the only dissenting vote. Hawley took the floor in the Senate to call European security alliances a distraction from what he called America’s main rival: China, not Russia.

“We can do more in Europe… dedicate more resources, more firepower… or do whatever it takes to deter Asia and China. We can’t do both,” Hawley said, calling his “classic nationalist approach” to foreign policy.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, much like Hawley as a potential 2024 presidential contender, rebutted his points without naming his likely Republican challenger.

That included arguing against Hawley’s claim that a bigger NATO would mean more obligations for the US military, the largest in the world. Cotton was one of many who cited the military strengths of the two nations, including Finland’s experience securing its hundreds of miles of border with Russia and its well-trained ground forces, and Sweden’s well-equipped navy and air force.

They are “two of the strongest members of the alliance at the moment they come together,” Cotton said.

US State and Defense officials view the two countries as net “security providers,” strengthening NATO’s defense posture in the Baltics in particular. Finland is expected to exceed NATO’s 2% of GDP defense spending target in 2022, and Sweden has committed to meeting the 2% target.

That contrasts with many of the newcomers to NATO who previously came from the orbit of the Soviet Union, many with smaller armies and economies. North Macedonia, the newest nation to join NATO, brought an active army of just 8,000 troops when it joined in 2020.

The votes of senators approving NATO bids are often lopsided: North Macedonia’s was 91-2. But Wednesday’s endorsement by nearly all senators present carried additional foreign policy weight in light of Russia’s war.

Schumer, DN.Y., said he and McConnell had made a commitment to the country’s leaders that the Senate would pass the ratification resolution “as soon as we could” to bolster the alliance “in light of recent Russian aggression.”

Sweden and Finland applied in May, shedding their longstanding stance of no military alignment. It was a major change in security arrangements for the two countries after neighboring Russia launched its war against Ukraine in late February. Biden encouraged his union and welcomed the heads of government of the two countries to the White House in May, standing next to them in a show of US support.

The United States and its European allies have come together 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 affirming historic claims of Russia over the territory of many of its neighbors

“NATO enlargement is the exact opposite of what Putin envisioned when he ordered his tanks to invade Ukraine,” Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday, adding that The West cannot allow Russia to “launch invasions of countries.”

Wednesday’s vote of Republicans and Democrats was highlighted by the normally slow-moving House split. Senators voted against an amendment proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., intended to ensure that NATO’s guarantee to defend its members does not replace Congress’s formal role in authorizing the use of military force. . Paul, a longtime advocate of keeping the US out of most foreign military action, voted “present” in ratifying Sweden and Finland’s membership bid.

Senators approved another amendment by Senator Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, declaring that all NATO members must spend a minimum of 2% of their gross domestic product on defense and 20% of their defense budgets on major equipment, including research and development.

Each NATO member government must give its approval for any new member to join. The process hit unexpected snags as Turkey raised concerns about adding Sweden and Finland, accusing the two of being soft on banned Turkish Kurdish exile groups. Turkey’s objections still threaten the membership of the two countries.

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

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