NATO alliance 'more united than ever,' says Biden, as he celebrates newest member Finland

President Joe Biden waves following a family photo with Nordic leaders  at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Thursday, July 13, 2023.
President Joe Biden waves following a family photo with Nordic leaders at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Thursday, July 13, 2023. Copyright Susan Walsh/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews with AP
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The itinerary included a NATO summit, a brief stop in the United Kingdom and a coda in the Finnish shoreline capital that included a news conference in the ornate Gothic Hall at the presidential palace.


The president was Donald Trump and the year was 2018. In July of that year, Trump had upended the annual gathering of the military alliance, criticized the British prime minister to the London tabloids and ultimately, in Helsinki, sided with Russian leader Vladimir Putin while casting doubt on his own intelligence community.

President Joe Biden’s journey through Europe this week was nearly identical, but every point of his three-country tour was an unsaid yet indelible rebuke of his predecessor who tore through the continent a half-decade ago. It was a portrait of a leader whose ardent belief in international alliances will be part of his case for reelection, particularly if Biden faces a rematch against Trump and his opposing worldviews next year.

During Biden’s concluding news conference in Helsinki, he took umbrage at a question about whether he could guarantee the United States would continue to be a reliable partner abroad, a query that conveyed allies’ concerns about Trump, whose foreign policy disdained the same alliances Biden cherishes.

History of military nonalignment

Earlier Thursday, Biden met with the leaders of other Nordic nations including Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Sweden is poised to be admitted as NATO’s 32nd member country after it pledged more cooperation with Turkey on counterterrorism efforts while backing Ankara’s bid to join the European Union. Finland gained NATO membership earlier this year.

Both Finland and Sweden abandoned a history of military nonalignment and sought to join the NATO alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

Biden's brief stop in the shoreline Finnish capital is the coda to a tour that was carefully sketched to highlight the growth of a military alliance that the president says has fortified itself since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Finland's admittance to NATO effectively doubled the alliance’s border with Russia.

Biden arrived in Helsinki after what he deemed a successful NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, where allies agreed to language that would further pave the way for Ukraine to also become a future member. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the summit's outcome “a significant security victory" for his country but nonetheless expressed disappointment at not getting an outright invitation to join.

Biden and other administration officials also held what aides said were pivotal conversations with Turkey before that country dropped its objections to Sweden joining NATO.

Biden said he felt good about the trip. “We accomplished every goal we set out to accomplish,” he told reporters Wednesday before the flight to Finland.

And despite Zelenskyy's expressed frustrations, Biden - who met with the Ukrainian leader Wednesday in Vilnius - said Thursday that Zelenskyy “ended up being very happy.”

AP/Ukrainian Presidential Press Office
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, talk during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 20, 2023.AP/Ukrainian Presidential Press Office

International opposition to Russian invasion

The US president’s trip this week — a meticulously choreographed endeavour meant to showcase international opposition to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine — played out nearly five years to the day since then-President Donald Trump infamously stood alongside Putin in Helsinki and cast doubt on his own intelligence apparatus. That was just days after Trump tore through a NATO summit where he disparaged the alliance and from which he threatened to withdraw the United States.

In contrast, Biden has heartily embraced the tenets of multilateralism that Trump shunned, speaking repeatedly of having to rebuild international coalitions after four tumultuous years led by his predecessor. The garrulous former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman is in his element at summits abroad and speaks of how his background in international policy is proof positive that decades of experience on the world stage has mattered for the presidency.

Opening the broader meeting, Niinistö said his Nordic counterparts had one overriding objective: “guarantee the future — security-wise, environmental-wise and technology-wise.” Biden added that the “nations around the table not only share a common history, but we share common challenges, and I would add presumptuously, common values.”

'Finland is a symbol'

Biden is the sixth US president to visit Finland, a country of 5.5 million that has hosted several US-Soviet and US-Russia summits. The first involved President Gerald Ford, who would sign the so-called Helsinki Accords with more than 30 other nations in 1975.

But Charly Salonius-Pasternak, senior researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, noted that Biden's visit marked the first time a sitting US president came to Finland to honour the country itself, rather than as a neutral location for meeting Russian leaders or other similar reasons.

“The fact that Biden has chosen to go specifically to Finland for Finland is symbolic and, in some ways, very concrete,” he said. "It’s a kind of deterrence messaging that only the United States can do.”

Sergei Grits/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
People watch as motorcade with U.S. President Joe Biden drives through the streets of Helsinki, Finland, Thursday, July 13, 2023.Sergei Grits/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

In the Cold War era, Finland acted as a neutral buffer between Moscow and Washington, and its leaders played a balancing act between the East and West, maintaining good relations with both superpowers.

Finland and neighbouring Sweden gave up their traditional political neutrality by joining the European Union in 1995 but both remained militarily nonaligned, with opinion polls showing a clear majority of their citizens opposed to joining NATO. That changed quickly after February 24, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine.

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