Senate backs Finland and Sweden for NATO 95-1, chides Russia

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. senators on Wednesday gave overwhelming bipartisan endorsement of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, calling the expansion of the Western defensive bloc a “slam dunk” for U.S. national security and a day of judgment for Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine.

Wednesday’s 95-1 vote – for the candidacy of two Western European nations which, until Russia’s war with Ukraine, had long shunned military alliances – marked a crucial step towards expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its 73-year-old pact of understanding. defense between the United States and the democratic allies in Europe.

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

President Joe Biden, who has been the main player in global economic and material support for Ukraine, has called for rapid entry for the two previously non-military aligned northern European nations.

The approval of all member countries – currently 30 – is required. The candidacies of the two prosperous northern European countries have been ratified by more than half of NATO member countries within about three months of their candidacy. It’s a deliberately fast pace meant to send a message to Russia about its six-month war against the west-facing Ukrainian government.

“This sends a wake-up call to tyrants around the world who believe that free democracies are up for grabs,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said during the Senate debate before the vote.

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

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who visited Kyiv earlier this year, called for unanimous approval. Addressing the Senate, McConnell cited the well-funded and modernized Finnish and Swedish militaries and their experience working with American forces and weapons systems, calling it a “national security slam dunk” for the United States.

“Joining them will make NATO stronger and America safer. If a senator is looking for a valid excuse to vote no, I wish them luck,” McConnell said.

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri who often aligns his positions with those of former President Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters, cast the only negative vote. Hawley spoke 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… devote more resources, more firepower… or do what we need to do to deter Asia and China. We can’t do both,” Hawley said, calling his “classic nationalist approach” to foreign policy.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, like Hawley a potential 2024 presidential candidate, rebutted his arguments without naming his potential Republican rival.

This included arguing against Hawley’s assertion that a larger NATO would mean more obligations for the US military, the world’s largest. Cotton was one of many to cite the military forces of both nations – including Finland’s experience in securing its hundreds of miles of border with Russia and its well-trained ground forces, as well as the navy and Sweden’s well-equipped air force.

They are “two of the strongest members of the alliance the minute they join,” Cotton said.

U.S. state and defense officials view the two countries as net “security providers,” particularly bolstering NATO’s defense posture in the Baltics. Finland is set to exceed NATO’s defense spending target of 2% of GDP in 2022, and Sweden is committed to meeting the 2% target.

This contrasts with many NATO newcomers formerly from the Soviet Union’s orbit, many of whom have smaller militaries and economies. North Macedonia, NATO’s newest newcomer, brought an active army of just 8,000 when it joined in 2020.

Senators’ votes approving NATO bids are often lopsided – North Macedonia’s was 91-2. But Wednesday’s endorsement of nearly every senator present carried added weight on foreign policy in light of the war in Russia.

Schumer, DN.Y., said he and McConnell had made a commitment to the country’s leadership that the Senate would approve the ratification resolution “as soon as possible” to strengthen the alliance “in light of the recent Russian aggression “.

Sweden and Finland applied in May, putting aside their long-standing position of military non-alignment. It was a major shift in security arrangements for both countries after neighboring Russia launched its war against Ukraine in late February. Biden encouraged their joining and hosted the heads of government from both countries at the White House in May, standing shoulder to shoulder with them in a show of American support.

The United States and its European allies rallied to 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 the nuclear arsenal of Russia and asserting Russia’s historic claims to the territory of many of its neighbours.

“NATO expansion is the exact opposite of what Putin envisioned when he ordered his tanks to invade Ukraine,” Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the committee, said Wednesday. Foreign Relations Secretary, adding that the West could not authorize Russia. to “launch country invasions”.

Wednesday’s vote by Republicans and Democrats was notable for the normally slow and divided chamber. Senators rejected an amendment proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., aimed at ensuring that NATO’s guarantee to defend its members does not replace a formal role for Congress in authorizing the use of military strength. Paul, a longtime supporter of keeping the United States out of most military action overseas, voted “present” to ratify Sweden and Finland’s membership bids.

Senators approved another amendment by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, stating that all NATO members should spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense and 20% of their defense budget on major equipment , including research and development.

Each NATO member government must give its approval to the accession of any new member. The process ran into unexpected problems when Turkey raised concerns about the addition of Sweden and Finland, accusing the two of being soft on banned Turkish Kurdish exile groups. Turkey’s objections still threaten the two countries’ membership.

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