A Department of Defense official on Wednesday strongly urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to quickly approve the request of Finland and Sweden to join NATO.
"The Department of Defense assesses that Finland and Sweden are ready for NATO membership," Celeste A. Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today.
Finland and Sweden would provide additional security and stability in Europe, Wallander said. The two Baltic nations already have close bilateral defense relationships with the United States, she said. The two nations also have close working relationships and military interoperability with NATO militaries.
The fact that Sweden and Finland petitioned to join the defensive alliance is a sign of how much the security environment has changed with Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Both nations have been partners with NATO for decades, but really saw no need to join the treaty organization.
But Putin's invasion of Ukraine caused a seismic shift in public opinion in both countries, and the legislatures of both countries quickly debated and ratified a motion to join the 30-nation alliance.
Both Finland and Sweden are ready to contribute to alliance defense now, Wallander said. Finland maintains general conscription and has a well-manned and trained reserve that can be called up quickly, which is imperative since Finland shares a long border with Russia.
"Finland's location on the Baltic Sea, diplomatic experience with Russia and advanced capabilities make it an asset to the alliance," she said. "Finland spends more than 2% of its [gross domestic product] on defense, and possesses unique military capabilities and expertise, particularly operating in the arctic environment."
Sweden's accession into NATO would bring "a first rate and rapidly growing military with a principled foreign policy that ardently defends democracy and human rights," Wallander said.
Sweden also maintains a world class defense industry. Sweden's "military expertise in the Arctic and undersea environments would substantially advance alliance capabilities," she said.
Sweden already has interoperability with NATO forces. The kingdom became a NATO Partnership for Peace member in 1994, and a NATO enhanced opportunities partner in 2014.
"Sweden has contributed to or supported NATO missions in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Kosovo and Libya," she said.
Finally, Wallander said both nations "are thriving democracies that share our values and fit the ideals of the North Atlantic Treaty."