The Senate overwhelmingly ratified Sweden and Finland’s applications to join NATO on Wednesday, boosting the two Nordic nations in their bid to join the Atlantic alliance.
The vote comes just over two months after Stockholm and Helsinki first sought to join the 30-member bloc amid Russia’s months-long brutal invasion of Ukraine.
The Swedish and Finnish ambassadors to the US were invited to watch the Senate debate and vote from the chamber’s gallery. A two-thirds majority was required to approve the expansion.
The only member to vote against ratification was Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who claimed that China was the bigger threat.
“We can do more in Europe … devote more resources, more firepower … or do what we need to do to deter Asia and China. We cannot do both,” Hawley insisted on the Senate floor.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) attempted to counter Hawley’s objections in his own remarks.
“If anything, welcoming Finland and Sweden to NATO will reduce the burden on the United States,” Menendez said. “There is tremendous urgency and a strong case for inviting these countries and we must act now. “
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged a unanimous bipartisan vote, saying that Sweden and Finland’s accession “will make NATO stronger and America more secure.”
“If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote no, I wish them good luck,” McConnell added.
Ahead of the final vote, the Senate defeated an amendment proposed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would guarantee NATO’s collective promise to defend its members from attack — commonly known as Article 5 — would not supersede Congress’ power to declare war.
Senators also approved an amendment by Rep. Dan Sullivan (R-Ak.) declaring that all NATO members should spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense and 20% of their defense budgets on major equipment, including research and development.
Finland is expected to exceed NATO’s 2% GDP defense spending target in 2022, and Sweden has committed to meet the 2% goal.
President Biden has long supported Sweden and Finland’s bids to join NATO, hosting Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at the White House in May.
Biden also urged Congress to approve the alliance expansion early last month.
All NATO nations must ratify Finland and Sweden’s applications in order for them to become full-fledged members. The biggest obstacle is Turkey, whose president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised the issue of both nations hosting Kurdish activists whom the Ankara government calls “terrorists.”
The Turkish government agreed to lift its objections during NATO’s Madrid summit in June.
In exchange, Finland and Sweden said they would crack down on groups deemed to be a national security threat, not “impose embargo restrictions in the field of defense industry” and take “concrete steps on the extradition of terrorist criminals.”
With Post wires