By Earle I. Mack

The war in Ukraine has had wide-reaching economic and political reverberations, none more profound than the reemergence of NATO as the premier security alliance in the world today.

Last month, Finland and Sweden both made an application to join the alliance. As a former ambassador to Finland, I can say with great confidence that admitting that nation to NATO will strengthen this great alliance in significant ways for the future.

After decades of neutrality, Russia’s brazen, ruthless invasion of Ukraine has convinced Finnish leaders that Moscow does not and will not respect the territorial sovereignty of non-aligned nations. For them, sharing a 950-mile border with Russia, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Moreover, Russian aggression has caused a dramatic increase in Finnish public support for NATO. In discussing Finland’s intentions to seek admission to NATO, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö told CNN: “Europe, the world, is more divided. There’s not very much room for nonaligned, in-between.”

One of the first non-founding nations to join the European Union in 1995, Finland has long been one of NATO’s closest partners. But Russia is among Finland’s top trading partners, primarily oil, and the effort to join NATO is not without economic consequences. It used to be commonly held that “When Russia sneezes, Finland gets a cold.” Fortunately, those days are over, as Finland is already far less dependent on Russian energy than most other European nations, because it previously invested heavily in safe, modern nuclear power. Over the past year, in an effort to sever its final ties with the Russian Federation, the Finnish government modulated some of its climate goals and is investing almost $1 billion in new liquefied natural gas (LNG) capacity.

I know the Finnish people to be serious, industrious, self-reliant, with great integrity and true believers in democracy. Anyone who knows Finland and its history will not find this surprising. In the wake of World War I, almost every European nation was in debt to the United States for loans used to finance the war and reconstruction. In the years that followed, Finland gained the distinction as the only nation that “paid its debt” to the United States — because, as the then-governor of the Bank of Finland said, it was “the only honest thing to do.” Over time those debt repayments were used as the basis to establish Fulbright scholarships for the education of Finnish students in American universities, strengthening the bond of friendship and understanding.

Moreover, the Finnish military is built around one objective — how to defeat an attack by Russia. With modern military equipment and mandatory conscription, the fully mobilized Finnish army is 280,000 strong, with hundreds of thousands of battle-ready reservists. I was told when I arrived as ambassador, in a nod of respect to the strength of the Finnish military, that the “Swedes will fight their wars down to the last Finn.” Any attempt by Russia to invade Finland likely would be met with resistance even far stiffer than what Russia has experienced in Ukraine. Finland’s acceptance into NATO would bring the alliance to Russia’s doorstep with a formidable new ally.

All of this is why Finland’s application for NATO membership would be a huge blow to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Putin can ill afford further loss to the Russian sphere of influence over Finland and is loath to bring NATO closer to Russia’s borders. Ukraine’s desire to join NATO has been cited as one of the rationales for Putin’s invasion — but Russia can’t block Finland’s application to NATO; only one of the 30 NATO member nations can do so. That is why I believe Putin has enlisted as his surrogate Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan to raise specious concerns regarding Sweden and Finland’s application saying, “As long as Tayyip Erdogan is at the head of the Republic of Turkey, we cannot say ‘yes’ to countries that support terror joining NATO.”

To date, Erdogan’s motives remain unclear. Is he Putin’s surrogate, more loyal to Russian aggression than NATO’s defense, or is he a shrewd negotiator in search of strategic accommodations on the Kurds and access to advanced weaponry? Who will play the fool, only time will tell. But America and our NATO allies would be well advised to bring to bear all of the necessary diplomatic resources to win Finland’s approval as a member of NATO.

Finland’s entry in NATO will galvanize that organization into a stronger, more powerful alliance. A safer world and a tipping of the scales away from chaos and war will be the result of Finland’s entrance into NATO.

Earle Mack is a former United States ambassador to Finland. He is a partner with the Mack Company, a real estate development and investment firm, and a trustee of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith partnership of business and religious leaders promoting freedom, democracy and human rights in countries around the world.

Read the full post from Earle I Mack on The Hill: https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/3510675-finland-and-nato-a-turning-point-the-west-should-not-miss/