Russia’s annexation of Crimea has upended fundamental assumptions about European security in the post–Cold War era. The use of force, violent nationalism, and land grabs are back in style, and a lengthy confrontation between East and West suddenly seems much closer at hand.
Apparently stunned by Russian belligerence, the United States and its European allies have been scrambling to find a way to deter further Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, including through warnings and limited economic sanctions. Few believe, however, that these will have any significant effect on Russian behavior. They will neither cause Putin and his government to withdraw from Crimea nor change Russia’s willingness to use military force to “protect fellow Russians abroad,” wherever they may be. In fact, the West’s befuddled response has only played into the Kremlin’s hands; the Kremlin looks powerful while Washington and Brussels appear impotent and divided.
With no good short-term options available for pushing the Russians out of Crimea or even preventing further incursions into Ukraine, the West would do well to consider a more robust long-term option to deter Russia from moving deeper into Europe. NATO should offer membership to Sweden and Finland, and Sweden and Finland should accept. These two countries are the most active members in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. Since the initiation of the program in 1994, both Sweden and Finland have participated in its full range of activities, including joint exercises, disaster management training, and cooperation on science and environmental issues. In the operational field, both countries have contributed troops and resources to several NATO-led missions, including in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Libya. Both countries, too, have long been considered prime candidates for NATO membership, but historical and domestic factors -- including long-standing policies of military nonalignment -- have prevented them from taking the plunge, and NATO has not insisted.
Expanding NATO to Sweden and Finland would achieve several important aims. From a political standpoint, it would bring the NATO border ever