The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a treaty that would expand NATO to include Finland and Sweden, with Republicans and Democrats linking arms to pave the way for one of the alliance’s most significant expansions in decades amid of Russia’s continued aggression in Ukraine.
The vote was 95 in favor, with only Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, opposing the move. The one-sided tally, which far exceeded the two-thirds support needed to approve a treaty, underscored bipartisan appetite for a more muscular Western military alliance even amid threats from Russian officials that Sweden and Finland would face retaliation if join NATO.
“The accession of Finland and Sweden will further strengthen NATO and is even more urgent given Russian aggression, given Putin’s immoral and unjustified war in Ukraine,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. . “Putin is strengthening the NATO alliance and nothing shows it better” than the Senate’s resounding approval of the pact.
All 30 current members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization must ratify the two countries’ membership. Twenty two countries they have already done so, but just two weeks ago, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey threatened to block the membership applications of Finland and Sweden, which would have prolonged the process.
However, the approval of the United States is a critical step, and the vote was a triumph for President Biden. It was a vindication of his push to rally Western allies to counter Mr Putin’s brutal campaign in Ukraine and a step towards fulfilling his promise as a presidential candidate to restore alliances frayed under the Trump era and reaffirm role of the United States in protecting democracy around the world.
Democrats have praised Sweden and Finland as nations with strong militaries, arguing that adding them to NATO would reduce the burden on the United States and the broader alliance.
“More than ever, it is clear that NATO plays a vital role in the security of the United States and as a bulwark in protecting peace and democracies around the world,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, and the chairman of the Committee. of Foreign Relations.
“Seventy years ago, the democratic nations of Europe and the United States united to defend the freedom, liberty and individual rights of their citizens against the threat of a militarized Soviet Union,” Mr. Menendez continued. “Now — as then — the defense alliance serves as a bastion of stability and the rule of law for the peoples of its member states.”
The margin also reflected a striking repudiation by Republicans of the “America First” philosophy espoused by President Donald J. Trump, who openly disparaged NATO and American commitments to international organizations.
Some Senate Republicans are watching with concern as a growing number of their colleagues, seeking to emulate Mr. Trump and appeal to his supporters, have taken anti-interventionist positions in contrast to their party’s traditional hawkish stance. Even while Mr. Trump held the White House, foreign policy was one of the few areas where Republicans dared to challenge him.
Wednesday’s overwhelming tally — with just one defection — was one of the most forceful rejections yet of that isolationist worldview. Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, was present.
Few Republicans have expressed reservations about the idea of a mutual defense deal with a country that shares an 800-mile border with Russia, arguing instead that doing so would strengthen the alliance.
The vote came a day after House Republicans rallied around Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.—one of their fiercest political opponents—for defying Chinese government warnings and traveling to Taiwan. That support, and Wednesday’s resounding vote, was in stark contrast to the battles Republicans have waged with Democrats over domestic policy.
It also marked the success of a concerted effort by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, who has long pushed anti-intervention pressure in his party but in recent months has launched a particularly aggressive effort to rally public support for the kind of assertive military presence abroad that was once considered Republican orthodoxy.
Determined to show the world that Mr. Trump’s views on military aid and alliances are not swaying Senate Republicans, the Republican leader traveled in May to Ukraine, Sweden and Finland.
Mr McConnell argued that both Sweden and Finland would be able to carry their share of the defense burden, in a bid to address a concern often raised by conservatives about joining the alliance. And he had told members that “even closer cooperation” with the two nations would help the United States confront China, another argument Republicans have invoked in arguing that the U.S. should shift its defense resources away from Europe and toward Asia.
“Their entry will make NATO stronger and America safer,” Mr. McConnell said in a speech from the Senate floor on Wednesday. “If any senator finds a valid excuse to vote no, I wish them the best of luck.”
Only Mr. Hawley, who is widely seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2024, voted against the treaty, writing in an opinion piece that “NATO expansion would almost certainly mean more American forces in Europe for a long time.”
“Faced with this bleak reality, we have to choose,” Mr Hawley said. “We need to do less in Europe (and elsewhere) to prioritize China and Asia.”
The other four Republican senators widely seen as harboring presidential aspirations — Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida — all voted in favor of the extension.
Mr. Cruz, in a brief interview, called NATO “the most successful military alliance in modern history” and said “the introduction of serious additional military capability” would only strengthen it.
And Mr Cotton took to the Senate floor on Wednesday evening before the vote to lay out a point-by-point argument against treaty opponents, calling them “alarmists and backwards”.
“Some critics say America shouldn’t commit to protecting countries halfway around the world,” Mr. Cotton said. “But these critics are seven decades too late. We are already bound by treaty to defend more than two dozen nations in Europe.”
“The real question today,” he said, “is whether the addition of two capable and powerful nations to the mutual defense pact will make us stronger or weaker.”
Only the Senate has the power to consider and approve treaties. The House last month, in a show of solidarity, passed a non-binding resolution supporting Finland and Sweden joining NATO by a vote of 394 to 18.