Senate votes 95-1 to add Sweden, Finland to NATO

The Senate on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution ratifying Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to the NATO, sending another signal that Congress remains unified in opposing Russian aggression toward Ukraine and Europe.  

The Senate voted 95 to 1 to approve the resolution, with every member of the Democratic caucus and most Republicans voting in support. It ratifies protocols of accession that NATO allies signed on July 5.  

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who argued in a recent op-ed that the United States should focus on containing China instead of expanding NATO, was the only Republican to vote “no.”  Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voted “present” on the resolution.  

“We cannot strengthen our deterrent posture in the Pacific if we’re sending more forces and resources to Europe to defend new allies. That’s the bottom line,” Hawley said on the floor before the vote.  

The resolution was a top priority of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who visited Sweden and Finland in May as part of a congressional delegation that also met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

McConnell insisted the Senate ratify Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership before leaving for the monthlong August recess.   

“There is just no question that admitting these robust democratic countries with modern economies and capable, interoperable militaries will only strengthen the most successful military alliance in human history,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.  

McConnell noted that Sweden and Finland already participate in NATO- and American-led missions and that Finland already meets NATO’s target that members spend at least 2 percent of their national gross domestic product on defense. 

He suggested that Republican colleagues who voted against expanding NATO made a mistake, arguing that standing up to Russian aggression will send a strong message to Chinese leaders.  

“Even closer cooperation with these partners will help us counter Russia and China. Their accession will make NATO stronger and America more secure,” he said.  

“If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote ‘no,’ I wish them good luck. This is a slam dunk for national security that deserves unanimous bipartisan support,” he added.  

The Senate resolution supports Finland’s and Sweden’s decision to join NATO and calls on all NATO members to move quickly to complete the ratification process.  

The U.S. would be the 20th of 30 NATO countries to ratify the two nations’ entries.

Lawmakers say the Senate vote is the latest example of how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has strengthened the resolve of NATO members. They say that Putin wrongly thought he would divide Western allies. 

“Enlarging NATO is exactly the opposite of what Putin envisioned when he ordered his tanks to invade Ukraine. Indeed, he may have been trying to test the resolve of the alliance, and I am pleased that we have passed that test with overwhelming unity of vision and purpose,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

The House voted 394 to 18 last month for a companion resolution to express support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO. The 18 “no” votes were all Republicans.  

President Biden released a statement Wednesday evening thanking Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle for passing the measure, and said he looks forward to signing off on the accession.

“As I told [Swedish] Prime Minister [Eva Magdalena] Andersson and [Finnish] President [Sauli] Niinistö when I hosted them at the White House in May, the United States remains committed to the security of Sweden and Finland,” he said.

“We will continue working to remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security, and to deter and confront aggression or the threat of aggression.”

Finland shares an 800-mile border with Russia. Sweden doesn’t share a border with Russia but shares a strategic interest with Russia in the Baltic Sea, which gives Russia’s naval fleet access to the Atlantic.  

Russia in June threatened to deploy nuclear weapons along its northwestern border if Finland and Sweden joined NATO.  

Updated: 8:33 p.m.

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