WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a treaty that would expand NATO to include Finland and Sweden, with Republicans and Democrats joining arms to pave the way for one of the most significant expansions of NATO. alliance for decades amid Russia’s continued assault on Ukraine.
The vote was 95 to 1, with only Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, opposing the decision. The lopsided tally, far exceeding the two-thirds support needed to approve a treaty, underscored the bipartisan appetite for a tougher Western military alliance, even amid threats from Russian officials that Sweden and Finland would face retaliation if they joined NATO.
“Finland and Sweden’s membership will further strengthen NATO, and is all the more urgent in view of Russian aggression, in view of Putin’s immoral and unjustified war in Ukraine,” he said. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and Majority Leader. “Putin is strengthening the NATO alliance, and nothing shows it better” than the resounding approval of the pact by the Senate.
The 30 current members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization must ratify the membership of the two countries. Twenty-two countries have already done so, but just two weeks ago Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to block membership bids from Finland and Sweden, which would prolong the process.
Still, US approval is a crucial step, and the vote was a triumph for President Biden. It was a vindication of his willingness to rally Western allies to confront Mr. Putin’s brutal campaign in Ukraine and a step towards fulfilling his commitment as presidential candidate to restore badly frayed alliances during the era Trump and to reaffirm the role of the United States in protecting democracy around the world.
“This historic vote sends an important signal of the United States’ sustained, bipartisan commitment to NATO and ensuring that our alliance is ready to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Mr. Biden in a statement, adding that he looked forward to welcoming “two strong democracies with highly capable militaries, into the greatest defensive alliance in history.”
Democrats have argued that adding Sweden and Finland to NATO would reduce the burden on the United States and the wider alliance.
“More than ever, it’s crystal clear that NATO plays a vital role in America’s security and as a bulwark in protecting peace and democracies around the world,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations.
“Seventy years ago, the democratic nations of Europe and the United States came together to defend the liberty, liberty and individual rights of their citizens against the threat of a militarized Soviet Union,” continued Mr Menendez. “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 voting margin also reflected a stark rejection by Republicans of the “America First” philosophy espoused by President Donald J. Trump, who openly disdained NATO and American commitments to international organizations.
Some Republicans in the Senate have watched with concern as a growing number of their colleagues, seeking to emulate Mr. Trump and appeal to his supporters, have taken anti-interventionist stances at odds with their party’s traditional hawkish stance. Even when Mr. Trump occupied the White House, foreign policy was one of the few areas where Republicans dared to challenge him.
Wednesday’s crushing tally – with just one defection – was one of the strongest rejections to date of this isolationist worldview. Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, voted present.
Few Republicans have expressed qualms about striking 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 came a day after Republicans in the House rallied around Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California – one of their bitterest political opponents – for defying Chinese government warnings and surrendering. in Taiwan. That support and Wednesday’s resounding vote stands in stark contrast to the pitched battles Republicans have fought with Democrats over domestic policy.
It also marked the success of a concerted effort by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and Minority Leader, who has long pushed against anti-interventionist tension in his party but has in recent months launched a particularly aggressive effort to publicly rallying support for the kind of assertive military presence abroad that was once considered Republican orthodoxy.
Determined to show the world that Mr. Trump’s views on military aid and alliances had no sway over Senate Republicans, the Republican leader visited Ukraine, Sweden and Finland in May. .
Mr McConnell argued that Sweden and Finland would be able to shoulder their share of the defense burden, in a bid to counter a concern frequently voiced by Tories about being added to the alliance. And he had argued to his members that ‘even closer cooperation’ with the two nations would help the United States counter China, another argument made by Republicans saying the United States needed to shift its defense resources. from Europe to Asia.
“Their membership will make NATO stronger and America more secure,” McConnell said in a speech to the Senate on Wednesday. “If a senator is looking for a valid excuse to vote no, I wish him luck.”
Only Mr Hawley, who is widely seen as an aspiring presidential candidate in 2024, voted against the treaty, writing in an opinion piece that ‘NATO expansion would almost certainly mean more US forces in Europe long-term”.
“Faced with this harsh reality, we have to choose,” Mr Hawley said. “We need to do less in Europe (and elsewhere) in order to prioritize China and Asia.”
The other four Republican senators who are widely believed to have presidential aspirations — 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 “bringing in serious additional military capabilities” would only strengthen it.
And Mr Cotton visited the Senate on Wednesday afternoon ahead of the vote to make a point-by-point argument against opponents of the treaty, calling them “scaremongers and backwards”.
“Some critics say America shouldn’t commit to protecting countries halfway around the world,” Cotton said. “But these criticisms come seven decades too late. We are already bound by treaty to defend more than two dozen nations in Europe.
The “real question today”, he said, “is whether adding two capable and strong nations to our mutual defense pact will make us stronger or weaker”.
Only the Senate has the power to review and approve treaties. Last month, in a show of solidarity, the House passed a non-binding resolution supporting Finland and Sweden joining NATO, by 394 votes to 18.