WASHINGTON. On Wednesday, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a treaty that would expand NATO to include Finland and Sweden, as Republicans and Democrats join forces to pave the way for one of the alliance’s biggest expansions in decades amid Russia’s ongoing assault on Ukraine.
The vote was 95 to 1, with only Republican Senator Josh Hawley, Missouri, opposed the move. The uneven tally, well above the two-thirds of the support needed to approve the treaty, underscores the bipartisan desire for a stronger Western military alliance, even amid threats from Russian officials that Sweden and Finland will face retaliation if they join NATO.
“The membership of Finland and Sweden will further strengthen NATO, and this is all the more relevant given the Russian aggression, given Putin’s immoral and unjustified war in Ukraine,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat and Majority Leader. “Putin is strengthening the NATO alliance, and nothing shows this better” than the loud approval of the pact by the Senate.
All 30 current members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization must ratify the accession of the two countries. twenty two countries have already done so, but as recently as two weeks ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to block Finnish and Swedish membership applications, which would delay the process.
However, the approval of the United States is a decisive step, and the vote was a triumph for President Biden. It was a confirmation of his desire to rally Western allies against Mr. Trump. Putin’s brutal campaign in Ukraine and a step towards fulfilling his promise as a presidential candidate to rebuild alliances badly battered in the Trump era and reaffirm the United States’ role in protecting democracy around the world.
“This historic vote sends an important signal of the United States’ continued bipartisan commitment to NATO and to ensuring that our alliance is ready to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” he said. Biden said in a statement, adding that he looks forward to welcoming “two strong democracies with very capable militaries into the greatest defensive alliance in history.”
The Democrats argued that having Sweden and Finland join NATO would reduce the burden on the United States and the broader alliance.
“It is more than ever clear that NATO plays a vital role in the security of the United States and as a bulwark in the defense of peace and democracy around the world,” said Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the Committee on international relations.
“Seventy years ago, the democracies of Europe and the United States came together to defend the liberty, liberty, and individual rights of their citizens against the threat of the militarized Soviet Union,” he said. Menendez continued. “Now – as then – the defensive alliance serves as a bulwark of stability and the rule of law for the peoples of its member states.”
The majority vote also reflected the Republicans’ striking rejection of the “America First” philosophy espoused by President Donald Trump, who openly disparaged NATO and America’s commitments to international institutions.
Some Senate Republicans are watching with dismay as a growing number of their peers seeking to emulate Mr. Trump and appealing to his supporters have adopted anti-interventionist stances that are at odds with their party’s traditional hawkish stance. Even while Mr. Trump has taken over the White House, foreign policy has been one of the few areas where Republicans have dared to challenge him.
Wednesday’s overwhelming count – with just one deserter – was one of the most drastic rejections of this isolationist worldview. Senator Rand Paul, Republican from Kentucky, voted in favor of those present.
Few Republicans have expressed doubts about the idea of a mutual defense pact with a country that shares an 800-mile border with Russia, arguing instead that it would strengthen the alliance.
The vote comes a day after Republicans in the House of Representatives rallied around Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat — one of their fiercest political opponents — for ignoring warnings from the Chinese government and going to Taiwan. That support and Wednesday’s high-profile vote contrasted sharply with the bitter battles Republicans have been waging with Democrats over domestic politics.
It also marked the success of a concerted effort by Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and minority leader who had long opposed anti-interventionist tension in his partybut have made particularly aggressive efforts in recent months to rally publicly in support for an assertive military presence abroad that was once considered Republican orthodoxy.
Decided to show the world that Mr. Trump’s views on military aid and alliances have had no effect on Republicans in the Senate, with the Republican leader traveling to Ukraine, Sweden and Finland in May.
mr. McConnell argued that both Sweden and Finland would be able to bear their share of the defense burden in an attempt to counter the fears that conservatives often expressed about expanding the alliance. And he convinced his members that “even closer cooperation” with the two countries would help the United States stand up to China, another argument made by Republicans that the US needs to shift its defense resources from Europe to Asia.
“Their entry will make NATO stronger and America more secure,” he said. McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “If any senator is looking for a justifiable excuse to vote no, I wish him the best of luck.”
Only Mr. Hawley, widely regarded as the 2024 presidential candidate, voted against the treaty. writing an article that “NATO expansion will almost certainly mean more US troops in Europe in the long run.”
“In the face of this harsh reality, we must make a choice. Howley said. “We need to do less in Europe (and elsewhere) to prioritize China and Asia.”
Four other Republican senators widely seen as fueling presidential ambitions — Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida — all voted in favor of the expansion.
mr. Cruz, in a brief interview, called NATO “the most successful military alliance in modern history” and said that “bringing in serious additional military capabilities” would only strengthen it.
And Mr. Cotton took to the floor of the Senate on the Wednesday afternoon before the vote to present point-by-point arguments against the opponents of the treaty, calling them “alarmists and retards.”
“Some critics say America should not be committed to defending countries halfway around the world. Cotton said. “But these critics are seven decades too late. We are already bound by a treaty to protect more than two dozen countries in Europe.”
“The real question today,” he said, “is whether adding two capable and strong countries to our mutual defense pact will make us stronger or weaker.”
Only the Senate has the power to review and approve treaties. Last month, the House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution in solidarity in support of Finland and Sweden joining NATO by a vote of 394 to 18.