J. Scott Applewhite/AP
WASHINGTON – US senators on Wednesday heavily bipartisan approval for NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, calling the expansion of the Western defensive bloc a “slam-dunk” for US national security and for Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine. Counting day.
Wednesday’s 95-1 vote – for the candidacy of two Western European countries that had long avoided military alliances until Russia’s war against Ukraine – marked an important step toward expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. and its 73-year-old mutual defense agreement between the United States and democratic allies in Europe.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invited ambassadors from both countries to the Chamber Gallery to watch the vote.
President Joe Biden, who has been a key player in rallying global economic and material support for Ukraine, has called for quick access to the two formerly non-militarily aligned Northern European countries.
“This historic vote sends an important signal of the continued, bipartisan US commitment to NATO, and to ensuring that our coalition is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday evening. “
“I look forward to the signing of the Accession Protocol and to welcome Sweden and Finland, two strong democracies with highly capable armies, into the largest defensive alliance in history,” the president said.
Approval from all member states – currently, 30 – is required. The candidatures of the two prosperous northern European nations have received ratification from more than half of NATO member states after applying in about three months. It is a deliberately rapid move to send a message to Russia on a six-month-old war against Ukraine’s West-looking government.
“This sends a warning shot to tyrants around the world who believe that free democracy is just up for grabs,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Min., said in a Senate debate ahead of the vote.
“Russia’s unprovoked aggression has changed the way we think about world security,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who visited Kyiv earlier this year, urged unanimous approval. Speaking to the Senate, McConnell cited the well-funded, modernizing armies of Finland and Sweden and his experience working with the US military and weapons systems, calling it the United States’ “slam for national security”. -Dunk” said.
“Their merger will make NATO stronger and America more secure. If any senators are looking for a defensive excuse to vote Na, I wish them all the best,” McConnell said.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who often aligns his positions with those of former President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters, simply cast no vote. Hawley took to the Senate floor to divert European security alliances from the main rivals of the United States – China, Russia.
“We can do more in Europe … dedicate more resources, more firepower … or do what we need to do to stop Asia and China. We can’t do both,” Hawley said in his Calling the “Classic Nationalist Approach” the “Classic Nationalist Approach”. foreign policy.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, like Holly a potential 2024 presidential contender, denied his views without naming his potential Republican opponent.
This includes arguing against Hawley’s argument that a larger NATO would mean greater liability for the US military, the largest army in the world. Cotton was one of several citing the military strength of the two countries – including Finland’s experience in securing its hundreds of miles of border with Russia and its well-trained ground forces and Sweden’s well-equipped navy and air force. is included.
“They are two of the strongest members of the coalition the minute they join,” Cotton said.
US state and defense officials regard both countries as pure “security providers”, bolstering NATO’s defense posture, particularly in the Baltic. Finland is expected to exceed NATO’s 2% GDP defense spending target in 2022, and Sweden has committed to meet the 2% target.
This is in contrast to the many newcomers to NATO from the earlier Soviet Union’s orbit, many with smaller armies and economies. North Macedonia, NATO’s most recent newcomer, brought in an active force of just 8,000 personnel when it joined in 2020.
The votes of senators approving NATO candidates are often one-sided – the one for North Macedonia was 91-2. But the approval of almost all senators present on Wednesday weighed on Russia’s foreign policy in light of the war.
Schumer, D.N.Y., said he and McConnell had committed to the nation’s leaders that the Senate would approve a ratification motion “as soon as possible” to strengthen the coalition in light of the recent Russian offensive.
Sweden and Finland applied in May, setting aside their long-standing stance of military non-alignment. It was a major overhaul of security arrangements for both countries after neighboring Russia launched a war on Ukraine in late February. Biden encouraged their involvement and in May welcomed the heads of government of the two countries to the White House, standing shoulder to shoulder with them in a show of support for America.
The US and its European allies have criticized Putin’s military offensive this year as well as widespread statements from the Russian leader denouncing NATO, issuing oblique reminders of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and Russia’s historic claims to many of its territories. For emphasis has rallied with new partnerships. neighbors.
Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday that “expanding NATO is the complete opposite of what Putin envisioned when he ordered his tanks to invade Ukraine.” “To begin the invasion of countries.”
Wednesday’s vote by Republicans and Democrats stood for a slow-moving and divided chamber in general. Senators rejected an amendment proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Q, intended to ensure that NATO guarantees to protect its members did not replace Congress’s formal role in authorizing the use of military force. . Paul, a longtime advocate of keeping the US out of most military action overseas, voted “present” on ratification of Sweden and Finland’s membership bid.
Senators approved another amendment from Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, declaring that all NATO members should spend a minimum of 2% of their GDP on defense and 20% of their defense budget on key equipment, including research and development. should spend.
Each member government in NATO must give its approval for any new member to join. The process ran into unexpected trouble when Turkey raised concerns over annexing Sweden and Finland, accusing both of being soft on banned Turkish Kurdish exile groups. Turkey’s objections still threaten the membership of both countries.