One of the repercussions of Russia's invasion of Ukraine could be precisely what Vladimir Putin, has stated he does not want: NATO expansion, beginning with Finland and Sweden. To understand how this will shape the geopolitical landscape we have to first understand what NATO actually is:
What is NATO? The 5 Main Articles
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is an international military alliance that consists of 30 member states including countries such as Turkey and the USA. There are 14 Articles NATO states have agreed on of which 5 are of real importance:
Article 1: NATO countries must settle any international disputes peacefully as outlined by the Charter of the United Nations. This means that NATO countries settle disputes while preserving international ‘justice’ and ‘security’. This is article has led to NATO interventions in Kosovo and Libya. It also led to anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
Article 2: NATO Countries must contribute to international development and international relations by being open to trade and encouraging NGOs (non-government organisations) to operate in less developed countries. Essentially, this means that NATO defends not only each member state but also defends the modern era of trade policy. NATO members also cannot go on a ‘trade war’ or be too protectionist against each other.
Article 3: NATO countries are required to maintain an armed forces of sufficient size, because the nuclear umbrella of NATO is non-excludable it means that a member of NATO (e.g., Germany) can benefit from another countries’ spending (e.g., USA). Article 3 exists to prevent any ‘free-riding’ and it means that NATO membership does have costs.
Article 4: NATO countries can call a NATO conference at any point in time to discuss any issue and, if there is a consensus among all countries, they will discuss how best to resolve it. (Such as sanctioning Russia).
Article 5: The core of NATO as an organisation and probably something you’ve heard about: an attack on a single NATO member is considered an attack on all of them. The reason for its introduction was to serve as a resistance against the expansionist USSR. Article 5 has only ever been triggered once: after the 9/11 attacks, the US declared that they had been attacked by Afghanistan.
Collectively, this means the role of NATO is to enforce the World Trade Order, wherein nations of people coexist peacefully with free trade and local sovereignty. Much as we trade with China in hopes that we will inspire them to change (rather than seeking regime change), NATO exists to promote and defend a world order that ends with all nations coexisting peacefully under international law, with universal trade and strong international development.
What Are The Implications?
An enlargement of NATO would undoubtedly mean all countries in the alliance have more influence as it now represents a greater share of the global economy. This would be beneficial to anyone who lives in a country that is a member of the NATO as it means that in international negotiations their government has more geopolitical ‘clout’.
However, as Article 3 outlines above, Finland and Sweden will need to chip into NATO’s military strength by maintain their own armed forces. As the size of these nations’ forces are a bit modest, we can expect that, if they join NATO, a greater proportion of GDP expenditure will have to be spent on defence. Currently Finland spends 2% of GDP on defence and Sweden spends 1.2%. Whereas the UK (which is a NATO member) spend 2.5%.
The other consequence of NATO membership is that, as Putin has said, it would provoke Russia. It is also likely to make China more wary as it has also been deploying expansionist policy in Asia:
NATO itself was founded in 1949, with its original purpose being to counter the Soviet Union in Europe (rather than promote free trade). It led to the formal creation of a ‘Western Bloc’.
As such, an enlargement of NATO would mean an expansion of the ‘Western Bloc’ which means a weakening of the Russian sphere of influence (which has already declined rapidly after the fall of the Soviet Union).
It also reduces China’s sphere of influence, but this means that both Russia and China have an incentive to create their own trade bloc and pool their military and economic strength together.
Putin has said that if Finland and Sweden join NATO then it will bolster its defences in the Baltic region, including nuclear armament. However, it is likely that Russia would have done this anyways which is why the media often call Putin’s threats ‘saber-rattling’ rather than being genuinely dangerous.