After decades of staying out of military alliances, Finland, along with neighbouring Sweden, announced bids last year to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The two Nordic countries expressed a desire to move in unison, but with Hungary having ratified only Finland’s bid and Turkey expected to follow soon, the Finns look set to join first. – Historic U-turns – For decades, most Swedes and Finns were in favour of maintaining their policies of military non-alignment. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last sparked sharp U-turns. The change was especially dramatic in Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia. Prior to the application, public support for NATO membership had remained steady at 20-30 percent for two decades, but a February poll suggested 82 percent were happy with the decision to join the alliance. A Swedish poll in January, had 63 percent of Swedes in favour of being members. During the Cold War, Finland remained neutral in exchange for assurances from Moscow that it would not invade. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Finland remained militarily non-aligned. Sweden adopted an official policy of neutrality at the end of the 19th century Napoleonic wars, which was amended to one of military non-alignment following the end of the Cold War. – Split entry – The Nordic neighbours were originally adamant they wanted to join the alliance together, agreeing to submit their applications at the same time. Despite assurances they would be welcomed with “open arms”, their applications quickly ran into opposition primarily from NATO member Turkey — and bids to join must be ratified by all members of the alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in mid-March asked parliament to ratify Finland’s bid, but said it was still not ready to approve Sweden’s following a litany of disputes. Similarly, when Hungary announced it would confirm Finland’s bid on March 27, Sweden’s was pushed until “later”. Finland has said it would be ready to move forward even if it means leaving Sweden behind. Since Finland’s parliament has already approved the application, all it needs to do once all ratifications have been secured is to deposit an “instrument of accession” in Washington to finalise the membership. – Sweden vs Turkey – After Sweden, Finland and Turkey signed a trilateral memorandum at a NATO summit in June last year to secure the start of the accession process. But Ankara has repeatedly butted heads with Stockholm, saying its demands have remained unfulfilled, particularly for the extradition of Turkish citizens that Turkey wants to prosecute for “terrorism”. It has accused Sweden of providing a safe haven for “terrorists”, specifically members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Negotiations between the countries were temporarily suspended in early 2023, after protests — involving both the burning of the Koran and a mock hanging of an effigy of Erdogan — were staged in Stockholm. – Militaries – Swedish policy long dictated that the country needed a strong military to protect its neutrality. But after the Cold War, it drastically slashed defence spending, turning its military focus toward peacekeeping operations. Combining its different branches, the Swedish military can field some 50,000 soldiers, about half of whom are reservists. While Finland has similarly made defence cuts, in contrast to Sweden it has maintained a much larger army. The country of 5.5 million people has a wartime strength of 280,000 troops plus 600,000 reservists. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both countries announced increased spending, with Sweden saying it was targeting two percent of GDP “as soon as possible”, and Finland adding more than two billion euros ($2.1 billion) to its 5.1 billion-euro defence budget over the next four years. – Memories of war – While Sweden has sent forces to international peacekeeping missions, it has not gone to war for over 200 years. Finland’s memories of warfare are much fresher. In 1939, it was invaded by the Soviet Union. Finns put up a fierce fight during the bloody Winter War, but the country was ultimately forced to cede a huge stretch of its eastern Karelia province in a peace treaty with Moscow. A 1948 “friendship agreement” saw the Soviets agree not to invade again, as long as Finland stayed out of any Western defence cooperation. The country’s forced neutrality to appease its stronger neighbour coined the term “Finlandization”.