WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly to add Finland and Sweden to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Tuesday, a historic move aimed at countering Russian aggression in Europe.
Only one senator, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), opposed ratification. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), meanwhile, voted “present.”
Hawley, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, argued that Finland and Sweden would struggle to spend on their own defence, forcing the United States to get even more involved in the region. He said the United States should instead focus on fighting China and could not do both.
“Our foreign policy should aim to protect the United States, our freedoms, our people [and] our way of life,” Hawley said in a floor speech. “Expanding NATO, I believe, would not do that.”
NATO was founded after World War II to create a mutual defense pact between member countries in the event of Soviet aggression. NATO member countries are bound by treaty to defend any member in the event of an armed attack.
Hawley, who led efforts to overturn the 2020 congressional election results that sparked the Jan. 6 insurrection, called for a “nationalist” foreign policy. He later appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to make his point. Carlson was an early critic of US efforts to counter Russia, amplifying Kremlin talking points as it launched its brutal invasion of Ukraine.
Almost all of Hawley’s GOP colleagues disagreed with his rationale.
“Both countries are already participating in NATO and U.S.-led missions,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday. “Finland is already meeting NATO’s 2% spending target, and Sweden is making significant investments in modernizing its military.”
“If a senator finds a valid excuse to vote no, I wish him luck,” McConnell added.
NATO members have pledged to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defence, a goal that some countries have achieved and others have yet to. Sweden is in the latter group, although it has said it will meet the target. Hawley said the goal should be higher.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) appeared to accuse Hawley of hypocrisy ― but without naming him ― for opposing Finland and Sweden joining NATO when vote in favor of North Macedonia joining the alliance in 2019.
“It would indeed be strange if a senator who voted to allow Montenegro or North Macedonia to join NATO would turn around and deny Finland and Sweden membership,” Cotton said. “I would like to hear the defense of such a curious vote.”
The Arkansas Republican is another official who appears to be laying the groundwork for a presidential bid in 2024, making several trips to the premier state of Iowa this year.
Hawley told HuffPost on Thursday that he doesn’t think Finland and Sweden joining NATO will be at all comparable to North Macedonia and Montenegro.
“Their entry into NATO has no strategic implications for the United States in terms of our posture, our military forces in Europe,” Hawley said. “Finland and Sweden have huge, huge strategic implications for the United States. Finland has an 830 mile border with Russia. Sweden already wants an increased US naval presence in the Baltic Sea.
Hawley also questioned whether Finland would maintain its current military spending and argued that adding the two countries to NATO would ultimately weigh on the United States.
Cotton, on the other hand, said adding Finland and Sweden to NATO would make it easier, not harder, for the United States and its allies to defend against Russia.
“Besides their military strength and economic might, Finland and Sweden also allow us to turn the Baltic into a NATO lake, bottle up Russia’s Baltic Fleet, cut off its isolated military base in Kaliningrad and ‘put Russia itself at much greater risk in the event of conflict,’ he said.
The entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO is not yet done. All NATO parliaments must ratify new members, and Turkey has threatened to block their membership.
But Tuesday’s landslide Senate vote sent an unmistakable message of bipartisan unity in favor of Europe, with the ambassadors of Finland and Sweden watching the proceedings from the public gallery above the Senate floor.
“We are at an unprecedented time in history,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). “Since Vladimir Putin’s cruel and unjustified invasion of Ukraine, people around the world have woken from a two-year scourge, a slumber, to realize how fragile our democracy is.”
“We realized it here in this building when, not so long ago, insurgents overran this Chamber,” Klobuchar said, referring to the events of January 6, 2021.
Hawley played a prominent role that day – raising his fist to Donald Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol and then, after the attack, voting against certifying Trump’s 2020 election defeat.
“We didn’t just sit down and say, ‘Well, here’s our democracy,'” Klobuchar said. ” We got up. We rose, Democrats and Republicans, in this same room.
The Huffington Gt