June 22, 2022

Chairman Menendez Opening Statement at Committee Hearing on Proposed Accession of Sweden, Finland to NATO

WASHINGTONU.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at this afternoon’s full Committee hearing: “NATO Enlargement: Examining the Proposed Accession of Sweden and Finland.” Testifying before the Committee were Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander.

“In many ways, Finland and Sweden are ideal candidates for NATO membership,” Chairman Menendez said. “These are two steadfast NATO and U.S. allies with strong, durable military institutions and democratic institutions. They have every reason to participate in collective defense against Russian aggression. And NATO has every reason to embrace and welcome them into the alliance without delay.”

Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.

“This hearing will come to order. 

As we sit here, Putin’s forces continue to fire missiles at innocent Ukrainians. His generals continue to bombard cities. And his soldiers are committing war crimes. And still, brave Ukrainians are fighting back, proving time and again that Putin gravely miscalculated the resolve of the Ukrainian people.

He also grossly miscalculated how the rest of the world would respond to his brutal, unprovoked aggression.

The United States, the overwhelming majority of Europe and indeed of the entire free world are now more united in support of not just Ukraine but of our collective resolve to support democracies, the rule of law, and defend against brazen authoritarian aggression.

Indeed, the very values that drove the foundation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the first place. Perhaps more than ever, it is crystal clear that NATO plays a vital role not only in the security of the United States, but as a bulwark protecting peace and democracy.

I feel confident when I say both the Ranking Member and I believe carefully considering new candidates for NATO expansion is one of the most important responsibilities this committee has.

So today we will learn more about Finland and Sweden’s candidacies for NATO membership.

These are two steadfast NATO and U.S. allies with strong, durable military institutions and democratic institutions.

They have every reason to participate in collective defense against Russian aggression. And NATO has every reason to embrace and welcome them into the alliance without delay.

In many ways, Finland and Sweden are ideal candidates for NATO membership.

NATO is a defensive military alliance, designed to preserve in part by holding members to high democratic governance and economic transparency standards. 

Indeed, further to that point, democratic processes in both countries have shown that Finnish and Swedish people themselves are strongly supportive of joining NATO. 

So, while NATO has not yet formally prepared the Accession Protocols for Finland and Sweden, we expect it will very soon.

There is tremendous urgency and a strong case for inviting these countries.

Expansion of NATO requires unanimous agreement by all NATO Member States of course. And with time of the essence, the eleventh-hour concerns by Turkey standing in the way of this process only serve Putin’s interests.

In the meantime, and as members prepare to meet next week in Madrid, it is imperative that we press ahead with our own approval process, which is why we are having this hearing today.

This may very well be one of the most important decisions this committee and this Senate makes in the decade and beyond as it relates to foreign policy.

Finland and Sweden are well-positioned to integrate into NATO. Both have large, technologically advanced, and growing militaries.

They have long partnered with NATO and have contributed to NATO-led operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, they have strengthened their relations with NATO even further, engaging in regular dialogue and consultations, exchanging information, and coordinating training and exercises. 

In fact, given geography and history, Finland and Sweden have long equipped their militaries and prepared their societies for the prospect of Russian aggression. 

Their participation in NATO would actively contribute to burden sharing with the United States and the whole military alliance.

Belonging to NATO is not just a measurement of military capability. We were established as a club of democracies that abide by a certain set of principles. 

All U.S. administrations have used certain criteria for assessing candidates for NATO membership: a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; fair treatment of minority populations; a commitment to resolve conflicts peacefully; an ability and willingness to make military contributions to NATO operations; and a commitment to democratic civil-military relations.

I would like our witnesses to address how Finland and Sweden fulfill these criteria. The required information the Departments have already provided give me great confidence, but I believe it’s important to address them in an open setting.

We thank Sweden and Finland for their partnership and support and look forward to welcoming you into NATO. 

With that, I welcome Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Karen Donfried and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander. 

Finally, it’s my great pleasure to welcome Ambassadors Karin Olofsdotter from Sweden and Mikko Hautala from Finland here today for this hearing. We appreciate both Ambassadors being here with us – probably the first outside guests that we have had. I couldn’t think of better guests to have for a better cause and a better moment.

With that, let me turn to the distinguished Ranking Member for his remarks.”

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