HELSINKI — Nordic governments have set about deepening regional defense cooperation against the backdrop of the very real expectation that non-aligned Sweden and Finland will announce their decisions to join NATO as soon as May 16.

Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin issued a joint announcement on Thursday backing NATO membership. “Now that the moment of decision-making is near, we state our shared views. We believe NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security,” the leaders said in a statement.

“As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the steps at a national level that are still needed to make this decision possible will be taken rapidly over coming days,” the joint statement continued.

The joint statement by Finnish leaders, which is endorsed by the leaders of Finland’s main parties in the Eduskunta, the country’s national parliament, can be expected to have an influential impact on Sweden’s own decision-making process regarding NATO membership, said Ann Linde, Sweden’s Foreign Minister.

“The Prime Minister and President of Finland have sent a clear message. We have had close cooperation throughout the process on every level with Finland. I am clear about the position Sweden will take, even though I cannot reveal that position right now,” Linde said.

The decision-making process for Sweden and Finland has gained momentum in recent days as increased support emerges from major NATO states, such as the United States, France, Germany and Britain, urging the two Nordic states to join the alliance.

That support was evident on May 11 when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Stockholm and Helsinki to sign bilateral Joint Security Declarations (JSDs) with Sweden and Finland.

The JSDs are regarded as important, if somewhat symbolic, by Sweden and Finland given that they stand as political declarations and are not legally binding commitments under international law. Neither of the pacts require parliamentary approval.

Johnson’s presence in the two Nordic states came at the same time as a joint statement from Nordic defense ministers, including NATO members Denmark and Norway. The Nordic defense ministers promised new and concrete measures to bolster pan-Nordic defense collaboration, military readiness and more frequent joint exercises.

“Our ability to cooperate during peacetime is a foundation for our ability to act during crisis and conflict. We are in the process of deepening our operational cooperation that will enable us to improve our interoperability, deterrence and territorial defense,” the statement said.

Britain’s JSD with Sweden and Finland states that future cooperation with both countries, in the event of a potential future crisis, would include a broad range of assistance that “may also include military means.”

However, the document makes it clear that the bilateral declaration is “intended to complement and not replace existing European and Euro-Atlantic cooperation” with Finland and Sweden.

Finland’s decision-making process on NATO membership is being informed by 10 separate parliamentary committees. These committees are primed to submit their opinions on NATO membership to the Government’s Foreign Affairs Committee by May 15.

The Finnish national parliament’s Defense Committee has already declared in favor of NATO membership, describing the move as “offering the best solution for Finland’s long-term security, a security protected by Article 5.”

This view of regional security is shared by Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s Defense Minister, who believes that having all Nordic states in NATO would enhance the joint military capabilities of Nordic countries and better serve peace and stability in the neighboring High North and Baltic Sea regions.

“Being members of NATO, Sweden and Finland would benefit from joint defense planning within the framework of NATO. Membership would offer a completely different strategic depth. We could utilize each other’s strengths and advantages and complement each other fully while conducting operational planning that would make us stronger. These are some of the benefits of NATO membership if we decide to join,” said Hultqvist.

Gerard O'Dwyer is the Scandinavian affairs correspondent for Defense News.

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