As NATO Member, Finland Could Have Nuclear Weapons 600 Miles from Kremlin

Finland could host NATO nuclear weapons within 600 miles of Moscow after Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said there were "no preconditions" to the country's accession to the international body, although officials told Newsweek that the move is currently unlikely.

There had been speculation that Finland would be reluctant to host nuclear weapons or permanent troops on its land, and that it may seek assurances that this would not be the case. Prime Minister Sanna Marin said earlier this year that NATO had no interest in bases or nuclear deployments.

But at this weekend's inaugural Helsinki Security Forum in the Finnish capital, President Niinisto said: "Finland is seeking to become a NATO member, full stop. Nothing more, nothing less.

"We don't have any particular requests or reservations that we would be setting as preconditions for our membership."

This statement, in theory, opens up Finland to hosting NATO nuclear weapons, with the country's southern border sitting less than 600 miles away from Moscow.

NATO's Nuclear Deterrent

Finland and Sweden are set to become NATO's 31st and 32nd members, pending ratification by the Hungarian and Turkish parliaments which officials believe will happen in the coming months.

The joint decision to join the transatlantic alliance ends a decades-long policy of military neutrality in Helsinki and Stockholm; a historic strategic failure for President Vladimir Putin stemming from the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The imminent double accession will transform the geostrategic situation in northern Europe. The Baltic Sea will become what some observers have called "a NATO lake," while the 810 mile-long Finland-Russia border will become NATO's new front line with Moscow.

The question of membership is all but settled. The issue of whether the two states will host nuclear weapons is not, though all involved parties suggest it is unlikely.

Finnish F-18 on exercises in the Arctic
A Finnish F-18 Hornet lands at Jokkmokk Air Base during a joint exercise between Finland and Sweden over the Arctic Circle on March 25, 2019. Versions of the F-18 Hornet are capable of delivering nuclear weapons. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images

Currently, the deterrent is located in NATO's three nuclear nations—the U.S., U.K., and France—and at bases in non-nuclear states Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. No country that has joined the alliance since the collapse of the Soviet Union hosts nuclear weapons.

Russia has several nuclear facilities close to Finland's borders. These include intercontinental ballistic missiles based at Vipolzovo, around 300 miles from the frontier, and several nuclear-capable submarine bases within 150 miles of the border in the Barents Sea.

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in May that the alliance has shown no desire to place such arms on Finnish territory. "Nobody will come to us to impose nuclear weapons or permanent bases on us if we don't want them," Marin said in Rome. "It does not seem to me that there is even interest in deploying nuclear weapons or opening NATO bases in Finland."

This does not appear to have changed, according to NATO and Finnish officials who spoke with Newsweek in Helsinki this weekend, although they did not rule out the possibility.

"It's rather a theoretical discussion," said Kai Sauer, the under-secretary of state for foreign and security policy at Finland's Foreign Ministry. "According to my knowledge, none of the so-called 'new' NATO member states have actually been offered nuclear weapons."

Sauer added: "It has figured in our internal debate. And I think, with this speech yesterday, the president made it quite clear that 'no reservations' is a good guideline in a situation where the security environment is rather unstable.

"Why should we limit any of our options? I'm not saying that we are too enthusiastic to get nuclear weapons. But it's a political decision in the end, and we are not in the phase where we are a member. So it remains to be seen."

Finland Investing in Defense 'For New Types of Threats'

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told Newsweek that Helsinki's priorities lay with its conventional forces, which will immediately become among the largest and best equipped in the alliance upon joining.

"We have a very strong national army," Haavisto said. "We are very security-oriented people: the last ones, I think to build bomb shelters in Europe, and we are almost the last ones to have obligatory military service and conscription."

The foreign minister noted Finland's recent $10 billion deal to buy 64 Lockheed F-35 fighter jets from the U.S., adding: "We have been investing in defense, in our military...we have to be prepared for new types of threats."

Haavisto suggested that Finland, like other recent new members, is unlikely to be asked to host the alliance's nuclear deterrent. "When you look at countries who have nuclear weapons, they have very restrictive policies on how to handle those," he said. "I haven't seen that NATO would put nuclear weapons close to outer borders."

Nuclear weapons or not, Finland and Sweden will both be admitted to NATO's Nuclear Planning Group once they become members.

The body "discusses specific policy issues associated with nuclear forces and wider issues such as nuclear arms control and nuclear proliferation," and includes all member nations except France, which has decided not to take part in order to retain total independence in nuclear weapon matters.

Sauer said Finland's future membership of the planning group "doesn't mean that we would have the weapons."

Admission to NATO's full roster of planning groups will come before any decision on nuclear weapons, alliance Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges James Appathurai told Newsweek in Helsinki.

"The priority right now is working through the accession process; there are things that can only happen once they become members," he explained.

"Finland and Sweden, right now, are invited to almost all NATO meetings: Committee meetings, discussions, planning meetings. But there are some areas where they're not invited. Because they're not yet members, there is defense planning that cannot take place until they are members."

NATO, Sweden, Finland, Poland flags nuclear weapons
This file photo shows Polish, Swedish, Finnish and NATO flags on board the Polish Navy frigate ORP Kosciuszko in Gdynia, Poland in July 22, 2022. Only Turkey and Hungary are yet to ratify Finland and Sweden's planned accession to the alliance. MATEUSZ SLODKOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

"There is a step by step process," Appathurai said. "There are things that are going to come, discussions that are going to come later...It's not for now."

Finnish-Swedish accession to NATO will redraw the security environment in northern Europe whether they host nuclear weapons or not. Russia has been fiercely opposed to NATO's imminent expansion, warning in April it may deploy nuclear and hypersonic weapons to its Kaliningrad European exclave in retaliation.

Sauer told Newsweek that the nuclear debate—which has loomed over the situation in Ukraine—has been revived by Russia alone.

"Who would have thought that we would be back in this debate, which was wrapped and packed and put on the shelf decades ago?" he said. "Who has brought us back to this debate? I think the answer is quite clear."

Newsweek has contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.