Finland likely to join NATO without Sweden: expert

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As Türkiye made clear Sweden‘s NATO bid can go nowhere for now in light of recent Quran burnings in the country, carried out with official permission and police protection, many observers have wondered if Finland, its co-applicant for membership in the alliance, might seek a separate path to joining its ranks.

Teivo Teivainen, a Finnish political scientist, thinks his country is “likely to join NATO without Sweden” if the Finnish NATO bid is ratified by all, including Türkiye, and the Swedish bid is not in the long run, due to its neighbour’s complications with Ankara.

Asked what Helsinki could do if Ankara and Stockholm cannot find a common ground in the long term, Teivainen told Anadolu: “So I think, personally, it’s likely that Finland might join NATO even without Sweden.”

Teivainen, a professor at the University of Helsinki, said when that Finland’s parliament decided last year to seek NATO membership soon after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war — it did not condition this on another country’s situation.

“When the parliament of Finland, with a huge majority, decided that Finland should seek membership in NATO, it didn’t have (any) buts and ifs about some other country joining NATO,” he said.

He added that new considerations would also come into play if the situation does not change after the Turkish general elections this May and the NATO summit in Lithuania on July 11-12.

FINLAND JOINING NATO ALONE BETTER FOR NATO SUPPORTERS THAN BOTH COUNTRIES EXCLUDED DUE TO SWEDEN

For those who support NATO membership, Helsinki joining NATO alone would a second-best option for Sweden instead of nobody at all joining, argued Teivainen.

“Many people think even for Swedish security, the best option is, according to those who want to go to NATO, both Finland and Sweden joining. But the second-best is nobody joins, but the second-best for both is probably that Finland joins and Sweden joins a little bit later. Because in that situation Sweden would have NATO countries all around it,” he explained.

On the Finnish foreign minister recently speaking of the possibility of Helsinki joining apart from Sweden, Teivainen said: “I think overall, what he’s been saying is not denying the possibility that in some moment, Finland might consider joining NATO too even if Sweden doesn’t have the conditions to join the NATO.”

“So it’s not that either somebody would be saying we should go alone without Sweden, or that we should never go alone,” he said. “It’s more like ranked preferences.”

Asked whether Finland should progress at the same pace as Sweden in the NATO accession process, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto last week told public broadcaster Yle: “We have to be ready to reevaluate the situation. Has something happened that would in the long run prevent Sweden’s application from progressing?”

But after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday signaled that Finland’s bid is doing well while Sweden’s is stalled, Haavisto said that Helsinki wants to join NATO with its “close partner” Sweden.

Sweden and Finland formally applied to join NATO last May, a decision spurred by Russia’s war on Ukraine, which started on Feb. 24, 2022.

But Türkiye-a NATO member for more than 70 years-voiced objections, accusing the two countries of tolerating and even supporting terrorist groups including the PKK-a terror group responsible for tens of thousands of deaths-and the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Türkiye.

In June, Türkiye and the two Nordic countries signed a memorandum at a NATO summit to address Ankara’s legitimate security concerns, paving the way for their eventual membership in the alliance.

In the memorandum, Sweden and Finland agreed not to provide support to the terrorist PKK, its offshoots, and the Fetullah Terrorist Group (FETO), prevent all activities of the terror groups, extradite terror suspects, introduce new legislation to punish terrorist crimes, and end all arms embargoes among the three countries.

But Turkish officials say the two Nordic countries, particularly Sweden, have yet to take necessary steps against terrorism.

Talks on the Nordic membership bids stalled after recent provocative demonstrations and Quran burnings in Stockholm.

Sweden and Finland have not yet received ratification from Hungary and Türkiye for their accession, which requires the approval of all 30 NATO member states.

BURNING QURAN CANNOT TAKE PLACE UNDER PERMIT, POLICE PROTECTION IN FINLAND

Underlining that Finnish law — unlike in Sweden — does not see acts like the Quran burning as freedom of expression, Teivainen said such incidents cannot take place under permit and police protection.

There are “more restrictions” in Finland than in Sweden regarding “the balance between freedom of expression and protecting certain groups on the basis of religious beliefs,” he said.

“So it’s quite clear in Finland, the police and the courts would act much harsher about Quran burning for example, than in a country like Sweden,” he said. “Finland has stricter laws about religious sanctity, and therefore it’s assumed that here Quran burning is generally considered not acceptable by law.”

On the Finnish National Police Board saying burning a copy of the Quran would likely violate religious sanctity statutes, which is a punishable offense in Finland, he said: “In Finland, if police know that the Quran is going to be burned, it’s quite clear that they would try to prevent it and not give protection to such demonstrations.”

He underscored that Finnish police even prevented such action as recently as last week, saying that they learned about a planned Quran burning beforehand on “social media and they directly contacted the people who were planning to burn the Quran. And, according to the police, the people did not burn the Quran.”

“So the police acted in order to prevent such a provocation,” he stressed.

Rasmus Paludan, an extremist Swedish-Danish politician, burned a copy of the Holy Quran outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm on Jan. 21, with both police protection and permission from Swedish authorities.

The following week, he burned a copy of Islam’s holy book in front of a mosque in Denmark and said he would repeat the act every Friday until Sweden is included in NATO.

The desecration and destruction of Islam’s holy book drew widespread condemnation across the Muslim world, with even Western countries decrying the act, though saying it was protected “free speech,” a claim widely debunked by Turkish officials.