August 04, 2022

SFRC Chairman Menendez Opens Historic Floor Debate for NATO Protocols for Sweden, Finland

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today opened Senate debate on and spoke in support of ratification of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) protocols for Finland and Sweden.

“Should we let ruthless autocrats threaten the security of democratic nations and American allies or think they can launch ground invasions against peaceful neighbors without consequences? No. Should we let the fears of an irrational dictator guide United States foreign policy? No. Should we appease a brutal butcher like Putin? No,” Chairman Menendez said. “The European public says no. The American public says no. And I hope the United States Senate says no as well.”

“There is tremendous urgency and a strong case for inviting these countries. … Indeed, the qualifications of these two prosperous, democratic nations are outstanding and will serve to strengthen the NATO alliance,” Chairman Menendez added. “These are two steadfast NATO and U.S. allies with strong military and democratic institutions. They have every reason to participate in collective defense against potential 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:

“Mr. President, while I know the Senate and the American people’s attention has been drawn in many different directions over the past couple of months, and while we are still working through numerous legislative proposals to address real challenges that families across the United States are facing – from high food prices to gas prices to devastating natural disasters exacerbated by climate change – I am here today to encourage my colleagues to support the United States’ taking an important step forward in affirming our commitment to freedom, democracy, and collective defense.

To send a signal to the world that we will unite against those actors who seek to destabilize the supply of food that threatens hunger for millions of people all over the world – who seek to weaponize energy in the middle of an unprecedented heat wave – and who think they can simply invade a neighbor with no consequences.

As we grapple with the complex geopolitics, Putin’s generals are bombing Ukrainian cities. His forces are still largely blockading Ukrainian ports. His soldiers are committing war crimes.

These are not only attacks on brave Ukrainians – they are attacks on the rule of international law of which we all want to live. 

They are attacks on the international order. They are attacks on one of the most deeply held American principles—of a nation’s right to determine its own destiny.

And so, Mr. President, I rise today in support of strengthening one of the greatest tools the United States has to bolster our efforts to protect those very democratic values and our citizens – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, known as NATO – one of the greatest alliances the world has ever seen.

Welcoming Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance will signal the United States’ ongoing commitment to peace, stability and democracy in Europe and around the world.

Enlarging NATO is exactly the opposite of what Putin envisioned when he ordered his tanks to invade Ukraine.

Indeed, he may have been trying to test the resolve of the alliance, and I am pleased that we have passed that test with overwhelming unity of vision and purpose.

He hoped to quickly gobble up territory to correct what he has called, ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century’—which in essence is the dissolution of what was the Soviet Union – with little resistance from the countries who formally united in a values-based front against the ills of that vision for Europe and for the world.

But instead of a quick strike, Ukrainians – from soldiers to school teachers – bravely fought back. Instead of a Russian coup in Kyiv, President Zelenskyy rallied his nation. Instead of a divided West, we have been more united than ever.

The United States, the overwhelming majority of Europe, and indeed of the entire free world have come together to support Ukraine, to support democracies and the rule of law, and to defend against brazen authoritarian aggression worldwide.

However, despite the fact that Putin’s distorted worldview has run into the reality of a re-energized North Atlantic Treaty Organization, this has not dissuaded him.

This has not tempered his resentment of the West.

This has not stopped him from using food and gas as a weapon of war.

This has not curbed the threat of further Russian aggression.

And so it is absolutely critical that we take this historic step today and provide our advice and consent to ratifying the accession protocols for Sweden and Finland to join the NATO alliance.

More than ever, it is crystal clear that NATO plays a vital role for the security of the United States and as a bulwark in protecting peace and democracies throughout the world.

Seventy years ago, democratic nations of Europe and the United States came together to defend the liberty, freedom and individual rights of their citizens from the threat of a militarized Soviet Union.

Now—as then—the defensive alliance serves as a bulwark of stability and the rule of law for the people of its member states.

Partnering with our values-based partners serves as a force multiplier for our defensive military capabilities to protect our citizens and advance our interests.

Indeed, the most famous of the articles of incorporation of NATO – Article 5 – that states that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all – has been invoked only once: when terrorists attacked the United States and our NATO allies rallied behind us. Canadian air force was patrolling our skies. NATO joined us in our collective efforts abroad to hunt down those who had perpetrated the attacks of September 11.

So we should do nothing in ratification to suggest that we are not committed to Article 5. The U.S. Constitution reigns supreme in all of our actions so we should not sow doubt about our commitment, especially in this time in history.

So we are duty-bound to carefully consider who we admit into this alliance. 

Over the course of its seven-decade history, admission to NATO has been guided by the alliance’s open-door policy as outlined in Article 10 of NATO’s founding document and specific benchmarks that every American administration has used since the founding of NATO.

Members must to have 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 contribute to NATO military operations; and a commitment to democratic civil-military relations.

Mr. President, Sweden and Finland meet and exceed these benchmarks in every respect.

Indeed, the qualifications of these two prosperous, democratic nations are outstanding and will serve to strengthen the NATO alliance.

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

They have every reason to participate in collective defense against potential Russian aggression.

And NATO has every reason to embrace and welcome them into the alliance without delay.

The people of Sweden and Finland and their governments have shown themselves to be strongly supportive of joining NATO. And in many ways, Finland and Sweden are ideal candidates for NATO membership.

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

Both have partnered with NATO, contributing to operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

And since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they have strengthened their relations with NATO even further.

They have been engaging in dialogue and consultations. They have been exchanging information. And they have been 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 reduce the burden on the United States and the whole military alliance. Finland already spends more than two percent of its GDP on its defense budget, and Sweden has repeatedly publicly committed to reaching that target as soon as possible.

On top of all this, these are two nations that are models of good-governance. Two nations that respect and promote human rights.

With a few detractors, I am pleased that there will be broad, bipartisan support for admitting Sweden and Finland into NATO. But let me speak to those few detractors.

Some critics say they don’t want us to subsidize these wealthy European nations’ security.

But of course, that’s not the case. They meet, or will soon meet, the two-percent threshold for military spending.

We can count on these nations to pull their own weight. If anything, welcoming Finland and Sweden to NATO will reduce the burden on the United States.

There is tremendous urgency and a strong case for inviting these countries. We must act now.

For those who say that expanding NATO provokes Russia, I would say that I would say after decades of neutrality that Finland and Sweden have, they have been provoked by Russia's aggression in Ukraine to seek NATO membership.

Should we let ruthless autocrats threaten the security of democratic nations and American allies or think they can launch ground invasions against peaceful neighbors without consequences? No.

Should we let the fears of an irrational dictator guide United States foreign policy? No.

Should we appease a brutal butcher like Putin? No.

The European public says no. The American public says no. And I hope the United States Senate says no as well.

So today I urge my colleagues to vote yes.

Yes to providing advice and consent.

Yes to supporting these historic treaties.

Yes to welcoming Finland and Sweden – steadfast, loyal allies and beacons for democracy – to NATO.

Yes to a Europe that is secure and prosperous.

I yield the floor.”

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