Finnish President Visits Washington State

Finnish President Visits Washington State

Ian Schmutzler, Writer

On Monday, March 6th, President Sauli Niinistö of Finland made a personal visit to Washington state and addressed a joint session of the state legislature, making a case for the ascension of Finland into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Despite most member states supporting Finland’s ascension into NATO, the politics of the situation have made such an effort difficult.


After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, 2022, Sweden and Finland issued a joint application for NATO membership. While Finland has not joined any military alliance, it sent peacekeeping forces to both Kosovo and Afghanistan throughout the 2000’s. Sweden, while having a longer history of neutrality, has also joined NATO in Bosnia, Kosovs, Afghanistan and Libya. Most NATO nations support their accession.


A poll conducted among Tahoma students found two out of three supported this action. Dissenting voices were largely concerned with Russian retaliation for such an action. Those that supported the bid cited the two nations’ position in Europe and suggested that Russia was, at least right now, too busy in Ukraine to retaliate. However, there are two critical outliers.


The first is Hungary, under prime minister Viktor Orban. Orban has stated that he personally supports the accession of the two nations to NATO, but that they would have to stop accusing Hungary of undemocratic values to receive a formal acceptance into the organization. For context, Orban has taken several steps to secure his political rule. Gerrymandering has given the conservative, low population countryside more political representatives than liberal, high population cities. The constitutional court was expanded, allowing Orban to flood the court with judges that support his policies. All judges over the age of 62 were forced into retirement, opening even more positions for him to appoint loyal judges to.


Several businesses with ties to the EU have been forced to sell out to state corporations with massive bureaucratic pressure. Taxes and regulations would be levied until it was simply not worth it for any company to hold out. This has, in effect, created a state run economy in Hungary. These actions have resulted in significant criticism of his regime, even for NATO allies.


What Orban is after is unclear, but it could be a number of things. He could be after economic concessions from the EU, especially from the Covid 19 recovery fund. This anti EU stance also plays well with his political base and has worked well for him in the past. He could be leveraging this, hoping that his stand against the EU will increase his popularity.


While this does put him at odds with the rest of NATO and the EU, it could very well be successful. The only other opponent of Finland and Sweden’s membership is Turkiye, under president Erdogan. President Erdogan’s disputes with the two nations are largely directed at Sweden. Sweden has refused to designate several separatist groups in Turkiye as terrorist groups, deeply harming relations.


These tensions intensified after several burnings of the Quran in and a protest in Sweden that involved an effigy of Erdogan being hung by its feet. Several Swedish politicians have called Turkiye’s political system undemocratic and have questioned how much Sweden can comply with Erdogan’s demands.


Again, it is unclear what exactly Erdogan is after. It is likely that he attempts to leverage his position in NATO to his advantage. Just like Orban, his conservative political base supports his strongman stance. He needs this boost in support, especially after the blame he has taken for the response to a recent, incredibly destructive earthquake. He also likely wants concessions from the EU and from NATO. While he has been characterized as blackmailing NATO, he seems likely to get these concessions. While Turkiye had been refused the sale of F-16s and other arms, America has agreed to sell these to Turkiye. 


Despite the appeals of both Finland and Sweden, the political situation has kept them out of NATO. While it is possible that they could be admitted within the near future, it is just as likely the two countries will have to wait out the current politics for some time before they will be accepted. Regardless, the countries are going to be waiting for some time.