The price of Europe’s military underinvestment became clear as Russian tanks and artillery pieces started rolling. Just days into the war, Germany announced that it would increase its military budget by $105 billion, a much-needed infusion of cash to a fighting force that’s long been neglected. “For a long time, we believed that economic strength was enough,” a retired German officer told The Times. “But the events of the past few weeks have shown that we also need a strong military.”
The Russian government warned of serious consequences if Finland and Sweden join the alliance, including deployments of additional troops to the Baltic region, though it has also sent signals that it is resigned to the enlargement. Finland and Russia share an 810-mile border, and the Kola Peninsula is home to Russia’s Northern Fleet. St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest metropolis, is a mere 100 miles from the Finnish border. And yet Russia already violates the airspace of its neighbors and conducts withering cyberattacks. Moreover, Mr. Putin probably reasons that the two countries have long been tightly integrated with NATO, even if they are not formal members.
Sweden and Finland will bring important modern, highly professional militaries with them into the alliance, particularly submarines and fighter jets. (Finland is helping to build the F-35, a next-generation fighter jet, as a part of a consortium including the United States and about a dozen other nations.) Finnish and Swedish forces already conduct exercises with NATO troops, and much of the equipment is interoperable. And both nations are at the forefront of European efforts to combat disinformation flooding out of Russia.
One need not side with Mr. Putin or endorse his actions to understand why a Russian leader would be concerned about a military alliance further expanding to the country’s border. Yet the list of Russian provocations (election interference in the United States, Britain and Spain; invasions of Crimea and Georgia; and a campaign of assassinations using chemical weapons, to name but a few) is now so long and the legitimate threat it poses to Europe so acute that the desire of Finns and Swedes to seek protection under the NATO umbrella is entirely understandable.
Mr. Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine is changing the security balance in Europe, though not in the way he imagined. In this fateful moment, NATO must take a serious look not only at deterring Russia but also at itself, its purpose and its readiness to really share that burden.