Expressing hope that issues would be sorted out ahead of a meeting of the alliance in Spain later this month, Finland’s defence chief said Thursday that his country is ready to find solutions concerning its bid for NATO membership and Turkish opposition
Antti Kaikkonen held a press conference at the Foreign Ministry building in Helsinki and commented on his country’s desire to join NATO as well as its defense capabilities.
“Applying for NATO membership was a historic moment in Finland, but I’d say also in Europe’s political history,” he said, adding the decision was based on “profound analyses and a through democratic process.”
According to Kaikkonen, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine changed the security environment of Europe and the Finnish government quickly decided to become a NATO member, considering the possibility of a military attack.
While support among the Finnish public for joining NATO stood somewhere around 20% prior to the war, a dramatic change of attitude was observed among citizens as this figure sharply increased over the course of recent months, reaching 75%, he said.
Despite not being a member of NATO, the minister said Finland had been a close partner of the alliance from the mid-1990s onwards with its soldiers fighting “shoulder to shoulder” alongside the allied forces on many fronts such as the Balkans, Afghanistan and in Iraq while also taking part in joint drills.
Kaikkonen also commented on his country’s defense capabilities, saying that up to 20,000 young men and women join the armed forces every year in line with the conscription policy and the country could mobilize up to 280,000 soldiers during wartime.
Notably, he said Finland’s fighter jet fleet, composed of F-18 Hornets, was in good shape, but it was planning to replace them with 64 F-35 fighter jets, given that the Hornets were reaching the end of their service life. The first batch of F-35s will arrive in Finland around 2025 and the procurement process will continue until the end of the decade, he said.
‘Ready to find solutions’
Russia’s war on Ukraine prompted Finland to decide to join the military alliance, and the most appealing part of NATO in the eyes of the Finnish government is Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which provides that if a NATO ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the ally attacked.
“This is a long-term, valuable and beneficial solution for us. And of course, we will be part of the Alliance family. What we are most interested in and the most important thing to us in our possible NATO membership is Article 5 of NATO,” he said, referring to the benefits of possible membership in the organization.
Responding to a question on Türkiye’s objection to Sweden and Finland’s bids to join NATO, which Ankara says is due to their failure to take a clear stance against terrorism, he said he hoped the matter could be resolved before the NATO gathering in Spain at the end of June.
“I hope this issue will be resolved before the NATO summit to be held in Madrid at the end of this month. Of course, we will see what happens. We are ready to find a solution to the situation.”
Sweden and Finland formally applied to join NATO on May 18, a decision spurred by Russia’s war on Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24.
But Türkiye, a longstanding member of the alliance, has voiced objections to their membership bids, criticizing the countries for tolerating and even supporting terrorist groups such as the PKK/YPG and the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group responsible for a failed 2016 coup in Türkiye.