A Unified Senate, and a Unified NATO | Opinion

Six months ago, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to invade Ukraine with no provocation, breaking a European peace that has lasted since the Allies turned back Adolph Hitler's attacks during World War II. Today, this new dictator with delusions of grandeur is threatening global peace, and history shows that we cannot stand by and hope for the best. The free world must defend our shared values; that begins with presenting a united front.

This week, the U.S. Senate took a historic step to meet that responsibility by voting to approve Sweden and Finland's applications to join the NATO Alliance. The vote was overwhelming, and bipartisan—in total, the applications were approved by a vote of 95 to 1. The result shows that Putin's egregious and brutal power-grab has unified the U.S. Senate—just as it has unified the broader global community.

Since the war in Ukraine began, thousands of innocent Ukrainians have been killed, millions have been forced from their homes, and billions around the globe have been forced to shoulder increased costs on fuel and food. The damage wrought by Putin's forces is nothing short of horrific—but if Putin expected the rest of the world to roll over and accept his invasion, he miscalculated. Badly.

If you want evidence of this miscalculation, you need look no further than the state of North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has been reinvigorated in light of Putin's aggression and is only getting stronger. A wide range of countries have come together to provide military and humanitarian aid to help Ukrainians stand strong. Beyond supporting Ukraine during the current crisis, NATO members have also reaffirmed their commitment to one another in the event of further Russian aggression.

The crisis also prompted Sweden and Finland—two proud and strong nations that have long remained neutral—to seek accession into NATO. The addition of the two Nordic nations will make NATO stronger and more unified in the face of Putin's misguided and murderous ambitions to rebuild the Soviet Union.

I saw the potential benefits of these new additions earlier this year, when I traveled to Finland as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation (called a CODEL) shortly after they formally requested NATO membership. My colleagues and I met with the nation's president and his top defense officials to discuss the nation's position in the current state of play. Finland has a long history of dealing with Russia—a necessity, given the two nations' shared 800-mile border. They also have a very capable military, as does Sweden.

Combined, the two nations will strengthen the defensive capabilities of NATO—and I must stress the importance of NATO's defensive nature. NATO's charter does not require member nations to enter into proactive military activities; rather, military action is only invoked in collective defense. This is why Russian accusations of new threats posed by a larger NATO are flat-out false; the only way these new additions could create conflict between Russia and NATO is if Russia intends to launch yet another violent invasion of a peaceful neighbor.

A NATO flag is seen
A NATO flag is seen. MATEUSZ SLODKOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

On the heels of the Senate's overwhelming vote, I am hopeful that Finland and Sweden's applications will move forward swiftly. The lone NATO member that has expressed hesitancy to admit the new members, Turkey, has also demonstrated a willingness to waive its concerns if certain conditions are met. Our bipartisan CODEL also traveled to Turkey shortly after we left Finland, seeking to talk through their concerns and address their needs through tangible actions. My Senate colleagues and I left our meetings optimistic that the differences between Turkey and the Nordic nations can be resolved—and it now appears this is the case.

This week's vote and our trip to Eastern Europe has made one thing abundantly clear: the free world stands united against Vladimir Putin's would-be empire building, and is ready to respond against his illegal and immoral military attacks. NATO, the United States, and the U.S. Senate will not allow him to destroy freedom-loving nations; we will stand with our allies, as we have in the past, united against despotism.

Senator Angus King (I) served Maine as its junior senator, and was the 72nd governor of Maine. He sits on the Armed Services Committee, as well as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.