US Senators have delivered near-unanimous bipartisan approval to NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, calling expansion of the Western defensive bloc a slam-dunk for US national security and a day of reckoning for Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine.
Wednesdays 95-1 vote for the candidacy of two Western European nations that, until Russias war against Ukraine, had long avoided military alliances took a crucial step toward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its 73-year-old pact of mutual defense among the United States and democratic allies in Europe. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invited ambassadors of the two nations to the chamber gallery to witness the vote.
President Joe Biden, who has been the principal player rallying global economic and material support for Ukraine, has sought quick entry for the two previously non-militarily aligned northern European nations. Approval from all member nations currently, 30 is required.
The candidacies of the two prosperous Northern European nations have won ratification from more than half of the NATO member nations in the roughly three months since the two applied.
Its a purposely rapid pace meant to send a message to Russia over its six-month-old war against Ukraines West-looking government.
It sends a warning shot to tyrants around the world who believe free democracies are just up for grabs, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in the Senate debate ahead of the vote. Russias unprovoked invasion has changed the way we think about world security, she added.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who visited Kyiv earlier this year, urged unanimous approval.
Speaking to the Senate, McConnell cited Finlands and Swedens well-funded, modernizing militaries and their experience working with US 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, McConnell said.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who often aligns his positions with those of the most ardent supporters of former President Donald Trump, cast the only no vote.
Hawley took the Senate floor to call European security alliances a distraction from what he called the United States chief rival China, not Russia.
We can do more in Europe … devote more resources, more firepower … or do what we need to do to deter Asia and China. We cannot do both, Hawley said, calling his a classic nationalist approach to foreign policy.
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, like Hawley a potential 2024 presidential contender, rebutted his points without naming his potential Republican rival.
That included arguing against Hawleys contention a bigger NATO would mean more obligations for the US military, the worlds largest.
Cotton was one of many citing the two nations military strengths including Finlands experience securing its hundreds of miles of border with Russia and its well-trained ground forces, and Swedens well-equipped navy and air force.
Theyre two of the strongest members of the alliance the minute they join, Cotton said.
US State and Defense officials consider the two countries net security providers, strengthening NATOs defense posture in the Baltics in particular. Finland is expected to exceed NATOs 2 per cent GDP defense spending target in 2022, and Sweden has committed to meet the 2 per cent goal.
Thats in contrast to many of NATOs newcomers formerly from the orbit of the Soviet Union, many with smaller militaries and economies.
North Macedonia, NATOs most recent newcomer nation, brought an active military of just 8,000 personnel when it joined in 2020.
Senators votes approving NATO candidacies often are lopsided the one for North Macedonia was 91-2. But Wednesdays approval from nearly all senators present carried added foreign policy weight in light of Russias war.
Schumer, D-N.Y., said he and McConnell had committed to the countrys leaders that the Senate would approve the ratification resolution as fast as we could to bolster the alliance in light of recent Russian aggression. Sweden and Finland applied in May, setting aside their longstanding stance of military nonalignment.
It was a major shift of security arrangements for the two countries after neighbouring Russia launched its war on Ukraine in late February.
Biden encouraged their joining and welcomed the two countries government heads to the White House in May, standing side by side with them in a signal of US backing.
The US and its European allies have rallied with newfound partnership in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putins aggression, strengthening the NATO alliance first formed after World War II. Enlarging NATO is exactly the opposite of what Putin envisioned when he ordered his tanks to invade Ukraine, Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Wednesday, adding that the West could not allow Russia to launch invasions of countries.
Biden sent the protocols to the Senate for review in July, launching a notably speedy process in the typically divided and slower-moving chamber.
Senators voted down a proposed amendment by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., intended to ensure that NATOs guarantee to defend its members does not replace a formal role for Congress in authorising the use of military force.
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