The Senate voted 95-1 on Wednesday has planned to ratify NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, with overwhelming bipartisan support expected for quickly expanding the Western military alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The sole no vote was Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri. Fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky voted present.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who visited Kyiv and the region earlier this year, had urged a unanimous show of approval. Speaking from the Senate floor, McConnell cited the two Nordic nations’ well-funded, modernizing militaries and their experience working with U.S. forces and weapons systems, calling it a “slam-dunk for national security” of the United States.
“Their accession will make NATO stronger and America more secure. If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote no, I wish them good luck,” the Senate Republican leader said.
After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted that Sweden and Finland’s “membership will strengthen NATO. It will advance the cause of democracy. And it is all the more urgent given Putin’s barbaric, immoral and unjustified war in Ukraine.”
Senators invited the ambassadors of the countries to witness the debate and vote, which would open a new era for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. President Biden has sought quick entry for the two previously non-militarily aligned northern European allies, and approval of the ratification resolution has vast bipartisan support in Congress.
“Our NATO alliance is the bedrock that has guaranteed democracy in the Western world since the end of World War II,” Schumer said before the vote.
Schumer said he and McConnell had committed to the country’s leaders that the Senate would approve the ratification resolution “as fast as we could” to bolster the alliance “in light of recent Russian aggression.”
The vote took place in the late afternoon following debate on the measure and various amendments. One amendment from Paul ensured that NATO’s guarantee to defend its members does not replace a formal role for Congress in authorizing the use of military force. Another from Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska declared that all NATO members should spend a minimum of 2% of their gross domestic product on defense and 20% of their defense budgets on “major equipment, including research and development.”
NATO’s 30 member countries are in the process of considering the addition after Sweden and Finland set aside their longstanding stance of military nonalignment. It was a major shift in security arrangements for the two countries after neighboring Russia launched its war on Ukraine earlier this year.
The U.S. and its European allies have rallied with newfound partnership in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression, strengthening the NATO alliance first formed after World War II.
Mr. Biden sent the protocols to the Senate for review in July, launching a notably speedy process in the typically divided and slower-moving chamber.
Each member country in NATO needs to approve the accession of new members. The process ran into trouble when Turkey raised concerns over adding Sweden and Finland, in part because it views the two countries as soft on banned Turkish Kurdish exile groups. But the process has continued to move forward despite those early reservations.