At the end of October, NATO officials told The Wall Street Journal that the alliance will likely consider and approve the creation of two new command centers, one focusing on sea lanes in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans and one to manage cross-border logistics, at an upcoming meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on November 8. According to NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu, “Fast-evolving security challenges mean new demands on our command…. So work is underway to ensure that the NATO command structure remains robust, agile and fit for purpose.”
The move takes place as tensions between NATO and Russia are on the rise; with the Ukraine crisis still unresolved, non-aligned European nations such as Sweden and Finland are making their interest in joining the alliance more and more overt, despite a historic commitment to nonalignment that served them well for decades prior to NATO expansion.
For three weeks in September, Sweden held what had been its largest military exercise in over 20 years. The Aurora-17 drill included 19,000 Swedish troops, as well as soldiers and airmen from both Finland and NATO member states such as the United States, France, and the Baltic republics. The reason for the drill, according to Sweden’s Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, was to prepare for the “new security environment in this part of Europe with the annexation of Crimea (by Russia), war in Ukraine and pressure on Baltics.”
And while the left-leaning Swedish government has ruled out membership for now, Swedish opposition parties and the public favor it. According to a recent report in The Economist, “Polls suggest that a plurality of Swedes favor NATO membership. A Pew survey earlier this year found 47% in support of membership and 39% against.”
Meanwhile, in Finland, which also took part in the Aurora-17 exercise, presidential candidate and current European Parliament MP Nils Torvalds is breaking with the country’s long tradition of neutrality, openly campaigning for the country to join the alliance. “Finland’s long-term security needs,” says Torvalds, “would be better served inside the NATO alliance. Our long-term policies should not be dictated by Russia as has happened in the past.”
In addition to Sweden and Finland, the possibility remains that the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine may also join. In August, Vice President Mike Pence travelled to Tbilisi, where he declared: “We strongly support Georgia’s aspiration to become a member of NATO. And we’ll continue to work closely with this Prime Minister and the government of Georgia broadly to advance the policies that will facilitate becoming a NATO member.”