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Turkey Rains on NATO's Parade

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On May 18, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a Norwegian named Jen Stoltenberg, stood on a stage, flanked by the ambassadors to NATO of Finland and Sweden, Klaus Korhonen and Axel Wernhoff, respectively.

It was one of those made-for-television moments that politicians dream of - a time of high drama, where the ostensible forces of good are faced off against the relentless assault of evil, which necessitates the intervention of like-minded friends and allies to help tip the scales of geopolitical justice toward those who embrace liberty over tyranny.

"This is a good day," Jen Stoltenberg announced, "at a critical moment for our security."

Left unsaid was the harsh reality that hundreds of miles to the east the military forces of Russia and Ukraine were locked in deadly combat on Ukrainian soil. Also left unsaid was the role played by NATO in facilitating that conflict.

But the gathering had not been convened for the purpose of self-reflection on the part of the civilian head of NATO. Instead, it was to commemorate the furtherance of the very same policy of expansion of the alliance which had helped trigger the ongoing fighting between Ukraine and Russia.

"Thank you so much for handing over the applications for Finland's and Sweden's membership in NATO," Stoltenberg continued. "Every nation has the right to choose its own path. You have both made your choice, after thorough democratic processes. And I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO."

The day prior, May 17, Finland's parliament voted 188-8 to join NATO, breaking its multi-decade tenure as a neutral country. Finland's actions followed a similar debate and vote on the part of the Swedish legislative body, the Riksdag.

Both nations cited Russia's invasion of Ukraine as their respective motivation to transition from neutrality to membership in an alliance whose behavior has itself transitioned over the years. From an exclusively defensive identity, NATO has embraced expansion both in terms of its own size and in its scope " by undertaking military operations outside of the confines of Europe that were both offensive and designed to promote political change in the targeted countries.

Historical Ignorance

The historical ignorance captured in the actions of Finland and Sweden was astounding regarding the role played by NATO in triggering the very conflict political leaders cited as the reason to seek the protection of alliance membership. It was as if a family whose house had been set afire sought shelter in the home of the arsonist in order to shield itself from the services of the fire department.

There was also an absolute ignorance of their own respective histories. The idea that Finland would cite Russia's special military operation in Ukraine as the trigger for breaking its decades-long pledge of neutrality is particularly troublesome. It is as if Finland forgot its own troubled past, in particular its role in the so-called War of Continuation in 1941-1944, where Finland allied itself with Nazi Germany in its war of subjugation against the Soviet Union, following the 1939 Soviet attack on Finland.

Finnish troops participated in the siege of Leningrad, where over a million Soviet civilians lost their lives. Only by pledging to become neutral in perpetuity did Finland avoid the logical consequences of its actions, namely dismemberment and elimination as a sovereign state. The Soviet Union and later Russia both were adamant in making sure Finnish soil would never again be used as a launching pad for foreign aggression against Russian territory. Finland appears to have forgotten both the pledge it had made, and the reasons behind that pledge.

Sweden, too, cites the Russian military invasion of Ukraine as the reason for ending centuries of neutrality. But the Swedish politicians behind this decision have yet to explain what exactly it is about the Russian action that sets it apart from, say, the behavior of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

If the slaughter of tens of millions of civilians and the destruction of nations were not enough to push Sweden off its neutral perch between 1939-1945, it is hard to see how Russia's actions, which did not take place in a vacuum, but rather in the context of eight years of conflict in the Donbass which killed over 14,000 people and the threat to Russian security posed by an expanding NATO, could be cited in good faith as a legitimate cause of action.

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Scott Ritter served as a former Marine Corps officer from 1984 until 1991, and as a UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 until 1998. He is the author of several books, including "Iraq Confidential" (Nation Books, 2005) and "Target Iran" (more...)

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