WASHINGTON – The Senate voted overwhelmingly to add Finland and Sweden to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Tuesday, a historic move aimed at countering Russian aggression in Europe.
Only one senator, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), opposed ratification. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), meanwhile, voted “present.”
Hawley, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, argued that Finland and Sweden would have trouble spending on their own defense, putting the onus on the US to get even more involved in the region. He said the US should focus on dealing with China and that it would not be able to do both.
“Our foreign policy must be to protect the United States, our freedoms, our people [and] our way of life,” Hawley said in a speech. “NATO expansion, I believe, would not do that.”
NATO was established after World War II to create a mutual defense pact between member states in the event of a Soviet attack. NATO member countries are treaty-bound to defend any member in the event of an armed attack.
Hawley, who led the effort to overturn the 2020 congressional election results that led to the Jan. 6 uprising, called for a “nationalist” foreign policy. He later went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to make his case. Carlson was an early critic of US efforts to confront Russia, bolstering the Kremlin’s talking points as it launched its brutal invasion of Ukraine.
Almost every one of Hawley’s GOP colleagues disagreed with his reasoning.
“Both countries are already participating in NATO and American missions,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday. “Finland is already meeting NATO’s 2% spending target and Sweden is making significant investments in modernizing its military.”
“If any senator finds a legitimate excuse to vote no, I wish them the best of luck,” McConnell added.
NATO members have pledged to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense, a goal that some states have met and others have not yet. Sweden are in the last group, although they have said they will achieve the target. Hawley said the goal should be higher.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) appeared to accuse Hawley of hypocrisy — though without naming him — for opposing Finland and Sweden joining NATO while voting in favour of North Macedonia which will join the alliance in 2019.
“It would be strange indeed for any senator who voted to allow Montenegro or North Macedonia into NATO to turn around and deny membership to Finland and Sweden,” Cotton said. “I should very much like to hear the defense of so strange a vote.”
The Arkansas Republican is another incumbent who appears to be setting the stage for a 2024 presidential bid, making several trips to the early-bird state of Iowa this year.
Hawley told HuffPost on Thursday that he doesn’t think Finland and Sweden joining NATO would be at all comparable to North Macedonia and Montenegro doing so.
“Their entry into NATO presents no strategic implications for the United States in terms of our posture, our military forces in Europe,” Hawley said. “Finland and Sweden have huge, huge strategic implications for the United States. Finland has an 830-mile border with Russia. Sweden already wants an increased US naval presence in the Baltic Sea.”
Hawley also questioned whether Finland would maintain its current military spending and argued that adding the two countries to NATO would ultimately burden the U.S.
Cotton, on the other hand, said adding Finland and Sweden to NATO would make it easier, not harder, for the US and its allies to defend against Russia.
“In addition to their military power and economic power, Finland and Sweden also allow us to turn the Baltic into a NATO lake, bottle up the Russian Baltic fleet, cut off its isolated military base in Kaliningrad and expose Russia itself in far greater danger. case of conflict,” he said.
The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO has not yet been completed. All NATO parliaments must ratify new members and Turkey has threatened to block their entry.
But the overwhelming Senate vote on Tuesday sent an unmistakable message of bipartisan unity in support of Europe, with ambassadors from Finland and Sweden watching proceedings from the public gallery above the Senate floor.
“We are at an unprecedented moment in history,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). “Since Vladimir Putin’s cruel, unjustified invasion of Ukraine, people around the world are waking up from a two-year plague, from a slumber, to realize how fragile our democracy is.”
“We became aware of it here in this building when, for a short time, the insurgents invaded this Chamber,” Klobuchar said, referring to the events of January 6, 2021.
Hawley played a leading role that day — raising his fist at Donald Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol and then, after the attack, voting against certifying Trump’s 2020 election loss.
“We didn’t just sit back and say, ‘Well, that’s where our democracy is going,'” Klobuchar said. “We stood up. We stood up, Democrats and Republicans, in this very room.”