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Finnish President Suggests Closer Defence Ties With US, Sweden as Alternative to NATO

© AFP 2023 / LEHTIKUVAFinnish President Sauli Niinisto speaks at the opening of the 24th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Helsinki, Finland
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto speaks at the opening of the 24th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Helsinki, Finland - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.03.2022
Amid the NATO debate that has flared up anew in both nations, opinion polls in both Finland and Sweden suggested a historic paradigm shift, with a majority of the popular vote now being in favour of joining the alliance. In both countries, though, the leadership has been considerably more cautious.
According to Finnish President Niinistö, Finland has two security options: NATO membership or closer partnership with the US and Sweden.
Deeper defence cooperation with the United States and Sweden might be an alternative to joining NATO, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö suggested in an interview with the Financial Times, in which he discussed the merits and disadvantages of joining the military alliance.
Niinistö ventured that while joining NATO "might seem like our worries are over", different alternatives include risks that Finland has to recognise, including an escalation of the situation in Europe.
Regardless, Finland is now poised for a change in its current position, Niinistö emphasised.

"The starting point is that we are looking at something else than continuing just like this. All these alternatives have an advantage that our security will improve. Or we make sure that our stability remains and that we can make sure we live in a secure environment", Niinistö told the newspaper.

Per Niinistö, closer ties with the US and Sweden have been discussed in recent meetings with the leaders of those countries, including Niinistö's snap meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House in early March. At that meeting, "Swedish-Finnish-American cooperation was discussed, and we got a lot of understanding from Washington", Niinistö said. Talks with the US and Sweden were also held at defence minister and prime minister levels.
Historically, both Sweden and Finland have been non-aligned, yet have been been drawn all the nearer the alliance, becoming "enhanced members" of its Partnership for Peace programme. They regularly take part in NATO-led drills and contribute to its overseas operations. In recent months, though, the NATO debate has flared up anew in both nations.
Furthermore, opinion polls since Russia's special operation to demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine have indicated a record-high 62 percent of Finns support NATO accession, a first-time majority. A similar trend has manifested itself in Sweden, with a historic plurality supporting joining NATO. However, in both countries, the leadership is pronouncedly more wary, with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson suggesting that NATO membership would "destabilise the security situation in Europe".
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