washington - The U.S. Senate approved Sweden's and Finland's accession into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Wednesday by a vote of 95-1, sending a strong bipartisan message of support for expanding the Western alliance against Russia.
"The NATO vote is a very important vote - for American security around the world: Finland's and Sweden's membership will strengthen NATO even further and is all the more urgent given Russian aggression, given Putin's immoral and unjustified war in Ukraine. Putin is strengthening the NATO alliance," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
The United States is one of 30 NATO member countries that will have to approve Sweden's and Finland's admission into the more than 70-year-old organization that has guaranteed European security since World War II. The usually lengthy process for admission has been fast-tracked in the U.S. Senate as part of a robust response to Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks during a Senate hearing, Jan. 27, 2021.
Prior to the vote, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said the Senate vote would send a powerful rebuke to Russian aggression in Ukraine.
The vote would 'send a signal to the world that we will unite against those actors who seek to destabilize the supply of food that threatens hunger for millions of people all over the world; who seek to weaponize energy in the middle of an unprecedented heat wave; and who think they can simply invade a neighbor with no consequences," the New Jersey Democrat said.
But Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who cast the only vote against the ratification, said the approval was not in the interests of U.S. foreign policy.
"I fear that some in this town have lost sight of that. They think American foreign policy is about creating a liberal world order or nation-building overseas. With all due respect, they're wrong. As you would pay this, you should be about protecting the United States, our freedoms, our people, our way of life. And expanding NATO, I believe, would not do that," Hawley said on the Senate floor.
The Missouri Republican argued the United States cannot afford to focus on security threats in Asia and Europe, and he suggested European allies must pay more for their own defense.
"We have to prioritize, to focus, and that means we have to do less, in Europe, in order to prioritize America's most pressing national security interest, which is in Asia, with regard to China," Hawley said.
Senator Rand Paul attempted to include an amendment ensuring NATO's defense guarantees do not replace Congress' own ability to authorize the use of military force. That amendment was not approved. The Kentucky Republican voted 'present' on allowing Finland and Sweden to join NATO.
FILE - Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 7, 2020.
An amendment offered by Senator Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, stating that Sweden and Finland should spend at least 2% of their annual GDP on military defense - in line with a 2006 agreement between NATO members - did pass.
But a majority of Senate Republicans voted in favor of the admission, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky warning members of his caucus ahead of the vote not to damage the bipartisan agreement on admitting Sweden and Finland.
"If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote 'no,' I wish them good luck. This is a slam dunk for national security that deserves unanimous bipartisan support," McConnell said.