By Alex Callinicos
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2801

More states in Nato threatens wider war 

Countries like Sweden and Finland joining the Nato military alliance will likely mean a dangerous drive to a wider war
Issue 2801
Anti-war signs in Finland that ready Nato- no way

Anti-Nato signs at a anti-war meeting in Helsinki, Finland (pic: Suviih on Flickr)

The Ukraine war has revealed the US’s criminal folly in driving its Nato military alliance eastwards. This folly reached its height in seeking to incorporate former Soviet republics bordering Russia, even though neither Ukraine itself nor Georgia have actually joined.

But three other ex-Soviet republics did join—the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Along with Finland, they had been incorporated into the Tsarist empire but won independence at the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

At the beginning of the Second World War, the Stalin regime in Moscow—desperate to create a defensive perimeter separating it from Nazi Germany—tried to grab them again. It failed in the case of Finland. The Red Army got a bloody nose in the “Winter War” of 1939-40 with Finland—something that Putin’s half-stalled invasion of Ukraine is increasingly compared with. But the Soviet Union did succeed in gobbling up the Baltic states. After gaining independence from Russia again in 1991, they rushed to embrace the US. 

Their eyes were fixed on the famous Article five of North Atlantic Treaty, which commits member states to go to war to defend each other. They are almost completely cut off from the rest of the European Union and Nato by the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and its tributary state Belarus. 

Only the threat of nuclear war by the US could protect them. Taking on such a dangerous commitment only makes any kind of sense if you remember that the US expanded Nato eastwards on the assumption that Russia was too weak to resist. Instead, as Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine shows, Nato expansion was merely a move in a dangerous and destructive inter-imperialist contest. 

One of the various ways the invasion has gone wrong is that it has pushed some states towards Nato, notably Finland and Sweden. Sweden’s geopolitical trajectory had diverged from that of its western Scandinavian neighbours. It stayed out of the two world wars, though tilting towards its powerful neighbour and trading partner Germany. 

Sweden was also neutral during the Cold War, this time tilting westwards, in part thanks to its integration into the global market. Denmark and Norway did join Nato, though with various let-outs about military bases and nuclear weapons on their territory. Having fought off Russia at a high cost in 1939-40, Finland actually joined in the German invasion of the USSR. 

After 1945 it was placed in common agreement between the US and Russia, neutral in the Cold War, though tilting eastwards somewhat. Both Finland and Sweden joined the EU in 1995. They stayed out of Nato, though they joined its Partnership for Peace programme, which acted as a cover for the alliance’s expansion eastwards. 

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, serious debates have started in both countries about joining Nato.Once again, a glance at the map shows why Nato military planners would like this. The Baltic states would cease to be an exposed little Western rump with the territorial depth offered by Sweden and Finland.

Their governments are therefore campaigning for both countries to join Nato and for a much bigger Western military presence in the Baltic. The Russian reaction came from ex-president Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chair of the Security Council. 

He said last Thursday, “If Sweden and Finland join Nato, the length of the alliance’s land borders with Russia will more than double. Naturally, these borders will have to be strengthened. “If this is done, no non-nuclear status of the Baltic will be possible. The balance must be restored.” 

Iskander cruise missiles have been based in Kaliningrad since 2016, though we don’t know whether they are armed with nuclear warheads. In other words, Sweden and Finland joining Nato will accelerate the division of Europe into an armed camp.

This would increase the danger of a broader war between the West and Russia. The governing Swedish Social Democratic Party is split on the issue. The left in Scandinavia must campaign intensively to defend the neutrality of Finland and Sweden.

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